Column: What we learned about MLB’s new pace-of-play rules

By Paul Sullivan - Chicago Tribune

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (McClatchy) — You learn something new every day.

Here are some things I learned from Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre Tuesday during the MLB media day at the Glendale Civic Center.


Deadening dead time

While everyone talks about pace-of-game changes as a way to shorten games, the new six-mound visit limit isn’t expected to accomplish that.

“I used to get calls from Commissioner Selig, ‘Why do the Yankees and Red Sox play such long games?’ ” Torre said. “It was all strategy. I said ‘Commissioner, nobody left the ballpark.’ It’s the dead time. I don’t think it’s the length of game as much as it’s the time when nothing happens.”

Well, Selig wasn’t wrong, was he?

“We did play some long ballgames,” Torre said. “It was like World War III all the time.”


Slow-mo arrives

Torre said the average time from a manager’s challenge to the actual decision was one minute, 20 seconds. This year every replay room will be equipped with slow-mo, which I’d assumed everyone had before.

“That’ll help speed things up,” he said.

Of course. They should’ve been equipped with slow-mo from the get-go.


Details, details

Catchers can still talk to pitchers from the infield grass without going to the mound for a visit, and they can talk to them behind the plate after pitchers come home to cover a play.

So how will managers know when an official mound visit is called so they can keep track?

Torre said they hope to have the number of remaining visits up on every video board, like timeouts in basketball. The umpires will also have to designated signal to dugouts every time a “visit” is officially called.

“It’s got to be pointed out,” Torre said. “I don’t want a manager surprised, ‘What do you mean I don’t have any left?’ It’s going to be acknowledged in some way.”


No relief from walk-up songs

Walk-up songs, my pet peeve, are here to stay.

I asked Torre is there was any discussion of banning the walk-up music, which I figure could save about five minutes per game since players wait until their song starts, then go to the box and adjust their gloves and finally get set when they know the final chord of their sound bite is over.

Sorry Grandpa, but by the time David Ross got into the box to “Forever Young,” we were forever old.

“In most cases they’re walking up a little sooner,” Torre insisted. “Also we’ve talked to the people playing the music to keep it to one stanza.”

I’ll believe that when I see it.


Wheel play

When a team is preparing for a bunt, often the first baseman goes out to the mound for a few seconds to make sure the pitcher knows the plan. Anthony Rizzo, for instance, likes to make a running charge towards the hitter on bunts, and will let the pitcher know so he won’t be surprised. Or perhaps they’ll confirm if a wheel play is on.

That’s no longer going to happen, unless teams want to waste a “visit” on it.

“I had a job when I was a first baseman to go tell the pitcher during bunt plays what was the case,” Torre said. “You have to do it a different way now, unless you want to invest a trip to the mound every time you have a pitch thrown with a bunt in order, or else you’ll eat them all up. It’s just going to be a different way to do it.”

Rizzo can still charge in, but he’ll have to let the pitcher know some other way.


Strikeout totals are ‘weird’

One reason the games are longer is the increasing amount of strikeouts instead of putting the ball in play.

“Strikeouts are not something we’re looking forward to going into ‘18,” Torre said. “We want more balls in action. But again, I’m not going to tell a player how to play. But I think that was just a weird happening last year.”

Not sure it’s really a “weird happening.” I think it’s more of a trend.


Get on that bus, boys

Starting March 1, teams will be monitored to ensure at least four regular players are on the traveling squads at Cactus and Grapefruit League games. MLB is allegedly cracking down on teams that let almost all of their regulars play only home games so they don’t have to drive or take the team bus to an opposing venue.

“Those teams have fans too, that come in (to games) and say, ‘What are you doing to us?’ ” Torre said.

It’s nothing new. The stars don’t like to be inconvenienced for meaningless games, even though the fans are paying outrageous prices to see them. And it’s a bigger problem in the Grapefruit League, where some teams have to travel several hours to get to opposing ballparks. In the Cactus League, the longest trip is generally an hour or so, depending on traffic, which is brutal in the valley.

The games start this Friday, but due to the condensed time between the first full squad workouts and the start of the exhibition games, they’re giving teams a break for the first week.


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By Paul Sullivan

Chicago Tribune