Time waits for no one this baseball season

The Milwaukee Brewers have been told to get a move on this season.

Not that the Brewers are being singled out for slacking last year. To the contrary — they led the National League in stolen bases in 2017.

The chop-chop edict was issued league-wide.

In a bid to reverse the growing indifference to the game that once held the nation’s undivided attention, Major League Baseball hung out the “No Loitering” sign to all 30 teams, announcing a series of rules tweaks designed to speed up play and hopefully bring back the casual fan.

It’s a laudable effort, but one that probably won’t produce the desired result.

Baseball’s unique and once-charming aspect of having no game clock has worn thin over the years, largely because people have too much on their plates these days. The average time to complete a nine-inning game last year was a slowest-ever 3 hours, 5 minutes.

A far more concerning number to MLB was the attendance falling for a fifth consecutive season. Last year, the game drew the fewest fans since 2003, prompting those at the helm to roll out the new, streamlined product.

There will be no 20-second pitch clock nor a between-batter clock, as had been considered, but catchers will no longer be able to make endless jogs to the mound. Teams will be allowed a total of only six visits to the mound for every nine-inning game.

This includes any visit to the mound by a manager, coach or player, or any walk off the mound taken by a pitcher to talk to a teammate. There is some wiggle room to work around it, though, because one of the exceptions to the rule is that trips to the mound when a pitcher is injured won’t be counted.

It’s not that hard to fake an injury to squeeze in an extra visit to the mound, which is now a variable that umps will have to consider.

There is no single reason that baseball games got longer, but the most obvious is that relief pitchers are used more than ever.

Not only that, but batters also are working the counts longer. The average number of pitches per plate appearance last year was the highest since they started keeping track of it in the 1990s. Hitters wait on a good pitch to hit in hopes of going deep because home runs translate, very generally, to bigger contracts.

When a sport announces rules changes to improve its game, it’s reasonable to infer that their bottom line may be teetering. There is rarely a push to fix something that isn’t broken. Over in the National Basketball Association, they’re considering a revamped playoff structure. Neither the NBA nor MLB touch-ups addressed the elephant in the room, which is that the average sports fan today can’t afford the cost of going to many games.

A final new, brevity-inspired twist to baseball will include speed-up rules for replay challenges. Every team will have direct, slow-motion camera angles in their video review room, which will be linked to phone lines in the dugout.

This change comes with Big Brother intrigue. League officials will be listening in on all of those conversations to prevent the camera’s use to steal signs. It’s interesting that the new pace-of-play rules included no language to hustle up the actual replay staff. They’re not exactly known for their punctuality.

Like a logroller thrashing around for that happy middle point, baseball is looking for a way to keep the game short enough to hold the fan’s interest and long enough to sell merchandising and ad space to meet payrolls.

Baseball will never regain the glory of its heyday. There are too many entertainment alternatives today than there were in the pre-media era of baseball. As always, gains in attendance will continue to be regional, wherever the Ws outnumber the Ls.

Veteran sportswriter Gary Seymour’s column appears weekly in the Leader. He can be contacted at sports@wolfrivermedia.com.