History of the pace of the game–will instant replay speed up or slow down games?


Today there are concerns about the pace of the games; many fans say that the games take too long and the Commissioner whines and wrings his hands about the problem; the pace of games has been an issue since the game began and various solutions were attempted.

Letter to the Sports Editor, Washington Post, October 11, 1908

"“Why does the batter get out of the box when a foul ball is knocked?”"

In 1887 umpires were chastised if they did not adhere to a strict rule about time-outs, the men in blue were not allowed to stop the action

"“for trivial causes at the request of any player.” [Section 7, Rule 2]"

One of the few exceptions was a lost ball; early games were played with one ball and, when it went out of play, the game was stopped until it was found.

At one time there was a specific rule that the game “be stopped for five minutes so that everyone could search for the lost ball.”  This rule became moot when more balls were provided.

In 1874, when American baseball teams toured through England, the British sporting press marveled at the rapid pace of the game:  “In the cricket field there is at time a wearisome monotony that is entire unknown to baseball.”

Years later, in 1866, American Sports writer, Charles Peverelly, warned that:

“An American assemblage cannot be kept for…two or three hours without being offered something above the ordinary run of excitement and attraction.” [The Book of American Pastimes,” p 338.]

Peter Morris suggests that the reason baseball does not run by a clock is a cultural-temporal issue; the game emerged before a time of national perceptual change:

“Americans attitude toward time had fundamentally changed by the 1883 introduction of standard time at the behest of the railroads.”

Commenting on the final decades of the nineteenth century, Historian Michael  O”Malley observed:

“…a constant process of a negotiation and redefinition of time’s role and meaning in daily life.” [Keepiing Watch, p. 338.]

In this context, baseball, which sprang up in the pre-clock era, when Americans “experienced time as relationship between God and nature,” [O’Malley], baseball was making adjustments to keep up.  An example was the introduction of Section 7, Rule 2 to speed up the game by denying time-outs by players.

By 1877, the press was commending baseball leaders for limiting time outs:

An umpire is now restricted to cases of” illness or injury to himself or a player.”  [Chicago Tribune, December 9, 1877.]

This Draconian rule was soon amended to include the umpire’s right to call time out “in case of annoyance from spectators” and when a spectator ran off with the ball or intentionally redirected it [touched it].

As more and more exceptions were added, the pendulum swung toward more time outs and the press complained:

“…the spectacle of a batsman selecting a bat, fumbling over a pile of sticks like an old lady gathering huckleberries breeds a tired feeling among spectators.” [When Baseball Was Young, p. 63.]

By the 1880s signs and signals slowed down games, because the batter needed to step out of the box to pick up the signal from the 3rd base coach and the pitcher had to do the same on the mound from the catcher.

In the early Twentieth century removing scuffed balls began and that was another cause for a break in the action.  Then, with the suspicions that the “Emery Ball” was being thrown, batters were permitted to ask the umpire to inspect the ball—another interruption.  The “Emery Ball,” was created by hiding scraps of sandpaper in the pitcher’s glove and it was the first pitch to be officially banned.

Prior to WWII organized baseball pushed back on the trend to slow the pace of the game with time outs; umpires were encouraged to enforce rules with attention to time.  Umpires who did not keep the game moving at a reasonable pace were fined by the leagues.

The advent of night games turned things around again.  As Bill James noted:

“Baseball’s poetic and lyrical celebrants are fond of pointing out that baseball is the only major sport without a clock… [But] until 1945, it did have a clock, it was called the sun.” [The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, 319-20.]

Peter Morris concludes that, with the arrival of lights for night baseball:

“…there was no longer a sense of urgency about moving the games along. The effect was dramatic.” [A Game of Inches, p.488.]

By the 1970s, retired umpire complained about his Blue Fraternity:

“One thing that I detest about the umpires today is that they call time too often.  They call time twenty times in a ball game.” [The Men in Blue, pp. 122-23]

In 2006, author Morris observed:

“Nowadays twenty stoppages in a game would be a remarkably small number, and too much has changed for it to be likely that this trend will ever be reversed.” [A Game of Inches, p.488.]

The pace of games took another turn when on November 14, 2013 MLB unanimously approved funding for expanded instant replay in 2014.

Will it slow down or speed up the games?

It will essentially eliminate the manager charging onto the field and arguing with the umpire, since most calls on the field next season will be subject to video review by umpires in New York.

After stalling for decades, Commissioner Bud Selig trumpeted the news:

"“We made a gigantic move today…This is quite historic.”"

“Butt” Selig long opposed replay, while it was first used by the NFL in 1986, the NHL in 1991, the NBA in 2002 and Wimbledon in 2006. Even the Little League World Series put replay in place for 2008.

Selig finally allowed it starting August 2008, but limited it to calls to determine whether potential home runs were fair or cleared fences.

Now, except balls and strikes, checked swings and some foul tips, virtually every decision will be subject to review.

“Tag plays, out/safe at first, fair/foul past the bags, those are all going to be included,” said Rob Manfred, MLB’s chief operating officer.

“Manfred said when a manager wants to challenge a call, he will notify an umpire, triggering a review in New York by what are likely to be present or retired big league umps. A headset would be brought to the crew chief, who would be notified of the decision.

There will be a maximum of two challenges per manager in each game—“it could be less,” Manfred said—and if the challenge is upheld it would not be counted against the manager’s limit. If a manager is out of challenges, umpires probably will be allowed to request a review on their own.” [Yahoo Sports http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=ap-owners]

The video being reviewed in New York might even be shown to fans in stadiums, or possibly on television broadcasts.

Selig has emphasized that he doesn’t want replay to slow games, whose increased length in recent decades has been targeted for criticism.

“The current thinking is that if a manager comes out and argues, once he argues, he can’t challenge that play,” Manfred said. “One way to control the timing of challenges is to use the natural flow of the game, that is the next pitch cuts off your right to challenge.”

But MLB doesn’t want managers to tell players to stall to give team employees time to review video on their own and instruct the dugout whether to use a challenge.

In tests last week at the Arizona Fall League, most reviews averaged 1 minute, 40 seconds.

Former manager Tony La Russa, now an MLB special adviser, said managers will have to “rely on their integrity” and not cause delays.”

[Yahoo Sports http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=ap-owners]

Thus, if both managers use there allotted two challenges, the total time would be 4 X 100 seconds = 400 seconds or 2 minutes and 34 seconds.  However, if a manager wins a challenge, he gets to keep his allotted challenge to use again in that game; theoretically, a manager who wins the challenges has an unlimited supply of challenges in a game.

Also, the rules state that umpires can request an unlimited number of replays during a game, but would any umpire request that his call, or the call of a fellow man in blue, be reviewed?

How do you think removing manager/umpire arguments, like the infamous Earl Weaver kerfuffle routine, and adding instant replay will effect the pace of baseball games?

[“In the Big Inning” will appear every FRIDAY here on BSI.]