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Sport and Competition

Are We Nearing the End of Baseball?

A Personal Perspective: A new pitching clock could strike out America's pastime.

Key points

  • The awareness of time takes us outside of the moments we are in.
  • Baseball has historically been a game that unfolded rather mindfully, with no attention to time.
  • Implementation of an obvious and literal pitch timer could forever alter the experience of watching baseball.
  • We need more emphasis on journey and less on products and destinations.

You may or may not be aware that a major change has entered baseball's major leagues. Pitchers now have either 15 or 20 seconds to deliver a pitch to a batter. And they are reminded of this by a literal clock counting down in the park and on your screen.

The rule says that a pitcher must begin the motion to deliver the pitch before the expiration of the pitch timer, and the batter must be ready to hit with eight seconds left on the clock. A violation on the part of the pitcher means an automatic ball to the batter, and batters who violate the rules are charged with an automatic strike.

Baseball is a Willfull Suspension of Time

This is a travesty, at least for me. Contrary to pretty much every other sport I watch, baseball is meant to be outside time. Not to get all Marvel-multiverse or "Everything Everywhere All at Once," but time should not be of the essence in baseball. That's what makes it good.

The fact that a game could take two hours or five hours is part of what makes it great. In pretty much every aspect of our lives, we work to the clock. Red light, green light, go. Time to get up, time to go, time to leave, time to stop. Time, time, time. We rush hither, thither, and yon. Accomplishing stuff. Maybe.

But baseball used to be something you could watch that took you outside of all of the time pressures of daily life. It got you outside of your head because you just had to watch it to see what happened. The uncertainty of when something will happen is part of what makes baseball great.

A game would be as long as was needed to play the game. That could be as long as 8 hours and 25 minutes when the Pawtucket Red Sox beat the Rochester Red Wings 3-2 in 1981 or as short as 32 minutes when the Mobile Sea Gulls beat the Atlanta Crackers 2-1 in 1910.

What We'll Miss Every Now and Zen

It felt very mindful, very Zen. Instead of time management, baseball managed time. Except now it isn't, now it doesn't, and it's ruined the experience for me. It's probably also taken away all kinds of enthralling future drama we'll never see.

One of the most famous home runs in MLB history was hit by the LA Dodgers Kirk Gibson in game 1 of the 1988 World Series. There was a lot of gamesmanship with delays delivering pitches, that batter stepping out of the batter's box and so on. It took eight pitches and a whole lot of things went on between pitches that could not be accomplished with a clock because of violations given to both batter and pitcher.

Embracing the Journey

The inclusion of the pitch clock is, I feel, another example of consumerism and consumption. We want the next thing and the next thing without appreciating the thing that's in front of us. Get the game over as soon as possible so I can watch another game!

Life is a journey and so is a baseball game. Enjoy it while it lasts and don't be obsessed with the future while you're watching. Both the game and your life are happening now in the present.

Watching baseball is a journey, not a destination. And journeys have unplanned and untimed stops along the way. We need to find more time to get outside of time in our daily lives. Inserting time clock pressure to activities that don't need them isn't helpful.

So, Major League Baseball, let me paraphrase Johnny Paycheck and his hit song from 1977; you can take this pitch clock and shove it, I ain't watching here no more.

(c) E. Paul Zehr (2023)

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