Bases Loaded, 3 And 2, And 12 Seconds To Pitch

Posted: March 30, 1998

We're not sure exactly when baseball leaders noticed that their games no longer zip along at the same pace they did in, say, 1911.

It may have been when a camera once caught Tommy Lasorda asleep in the dugout during a Dodgers game.

It may have been when the Marlins and Indians played a World Series game last fall that lasted so long (4 hours, 12 minutes), it made Titanic look like a station break.

But it's not important when baseball leaders noticed. It's just important they noticed. And this spring, they announced measures designed to shorten games dramatically:

They're now eliminating all television commercials.

Oh, OK. No, they're not. But here's some of what they're actually trying:

* Batters can't wander more than three feet out of the box (or umpires can call a strike).

* Pitchers have 12 seconds to throw a pitch with no one on base (or umpires can call a ball).

* Managers are supposed to signal for pitching changes as they leave the dugout.

* Pinch-hitters are supposed to be warmed up and in the on-deck circle ``if possible.''

* Bat boys are supposed to have an extra bat ready for all hitters.

* And, in perhaps the most dramatic measure, mascots have to finish their between-innings hijinks in a mere 1 minute, 45 seconds. (Really.)

These moves are supposed to lop up to 15 minutes off every game. Still-acting commissioner Bud Selig said this was now ``a very high-priority matter.'' And that always-persuasive Hall of Famer, Frank Robinson, has met with every team during spring training to echo that sentiment.

But now what? Will these rules work? Or will everyone forget them by Memorial Day? We surveyed baseball people this spring, and here's a sampling of the mixed reaction:

Twins catcher Terry Steinbach: ``I just want to know who's timing the 12 seconds. Are we going to have to worry about the plate ump looking at his clock, and all of a sudden the pitch comes in, and he's looking at the clock? But I just say that as a catcher dealing with umpires. In general, I think this is a step in the right direction. If everybody just does what he can do, we might be able to trim 10, 15 minutes off a game without people even noticing what's missing.''

Blue Jays catcher Darrin Fletcher: ``My question about these rules is how they're going to enforce them. If a guy steps out in a tight situation on a 3-and-1 count, are they really going to call a strike to make it 3 and 2? In baseball, things change with every strike and every ball. If they really want to speed up the game, they should widen the strike zone.''

Blue Jays manager Tim Johnson: ``I think it's fine. I think it will help. And I hope they stick with it. I think it will keep the game going, and everybody likes a quicker pace in the game. It keeps everybody sharper - the infielders, the pitchers, the catchers. The games won't just be faster. They'll be better.''

Phillies manager Terry Francona: ``I think they're trying to set a tone, and we'll do the best we can. But I also like the game the way it is. People who love baseball know it's unique. Every game has its own personality and its own pace, and I don't think you can force it. But you live and learn. This is the '90s. I won't fight it.''

Some people undoubtedly will fight it, though. And then what happens? National League president Len Coleman said that if teams ignored the rules, they'd be visited by Robinson, who can be as intimidating at age 62 as he was at 32.

``Oh, I don't mind if he visits,'' Francona said. ``As long as he doesn't slide into you at second base.''

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