HomeSportsTim Benz: Embrace the pitch clock, but pace isn't MLB's biggest problem

Tim Benz: Embrace the pitch clock, but pace isn’t MLB’s biggest problem


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I used myself as my own baseball-fan guinea pig on Tuesday. I set up as much of a real life, everyday, control environment as I could to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates spring training game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

I made a turkey sandwich. Brewed a cup of coffee. Opened the laptop to do some work with the game on in the background.

Let’s see what the typical baseball fan viewing experience is like with this new fangled pitch clock thing in place.

Initially, I found myself focusing exclusively on the clock. Distractingly so. Like, I forgot to start eating my turkey sandwich.

That never happens.

I’ll admit to having been in a basketball frame of mind lately. But for the first few minutes of watching the game, I felt antsy. As if I was worried the pitchers were going to get a shot clock violation.

The very concept of a visible clock dictating any element of time in a sport that has, for over a century, prided itself on the concept of being untimed was jarring.

That lasted all of about an inning and a half.

Maybe I just got used to the 15-second clock (20-seconds with a man on-base) quickly. Maybe the players are acclimating to it so seamlessly it ceased to be an issue.

Maybe the wasted motions and empty downtime in between pitches from fidgety batters and pokey pitchers was even more disruptive of pace than I ever realized because for my first 48 years of watching baseball, that was just the norm. I just never knew how it could look any other way.

Or maybe I just got hungry and remembered to eat my lunch.

But once I started eating, writing and made a phone call or two, I consumed that baseball game as much as I did any other. It just didn’t take as long to consume — only two hours, 13 minutes to be exact.

Even watching passively, I did notice how quickly the game was zipping along. The innings managed to move fast without the pace feeling rushed.

In fact, when Greg Brown and Bob Walk were trying to interview pitching coach Oscar Marin, the inning flew by so fast they barely got a few comments in before they had to go to commercial. So they brought Marin back again in the bottom half of the next inning.

That second attempt at the interview didn’t last very long either.

The only time I felt like the pitch clock was truly intrusive, though, was when Toronto’s Nathan Lukes was assessed an inning-ending third strike because he wasn’t “alert to the pitcher” with eight seconds remaining.

I mean, come on. It was after a foul ball. He was getting in his stance. He was in the box. The umpire himself wasn’t even set behind the catcher after getting fresh baseballs until nine seconds were left. That’s anal retentive.

I understand. The umpires are being fussy about it now in spring training so the players are used to the rules on Opening Day. But that gray area of what is “alert to the pitcher” might need some more latitude than that, don’t you think?

Now, to be fair, that was naturally a pretty quick game. Not a lot of baserunners. Quick outs. It was 2-2 up until the seventh-inning stretch.

But as ESPN’s Jeff Passan tweeted out, singles, runs and stolen bases are up because of MLB’s other rules (bigger bases, banning the shift, limited checks of runners) to promote action and the “non-homer” elements of scoring. Yet the spring training games are still ending 25 minutes faster on average than in 2022.

Will that ratio hold up as the regular season rolls around? Probably not. But even if games are 15 minutes faster as opposed to 25, that’s progress.

However, I’m not really sure how much 10-15 minutes of saved game time is really going to retain viewership or encourage people to come back to ballparks across America.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the pitch clock is a good idea. I hope MLB keeps it.

I just never thought to myself, “Sure, let’s go to Pirates-Reds at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night in April. But only if the game ends at 9:30. If it ends at 9:50, I ain’t gonna go.”

Baseball’s problem hasn’t been keeping fans interested for the last 25 minutes after the seventh-inning stretch. It’s been bothering to get them to show up at the stadium (or watch on television) for the first two hours. Baseball’s audience engagement and retention issues aren’t really the length of time invested per game.

It’s the number of games worthy of investment.

Give me a meaningful game in October, and I’ll watch it for more than three hours. But A’s-Rangers in May on Wednesday afternoon isn’t going to hold my interest even if it’s played at a brisk two hour, 10 minute clip.

I’ve always maintained that baseball’s biggest problem attracting an audience in the 21st century isn’t pace of play. It’s the lack of stakes.

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Subconsciously, I wrote the word “background” earlier. I didn’t realize it until I re-read what I had written to this point. Although, that’s what most baseball broadcasts are these days unfortunately. Background noise at home. Something to glance at while hanging out with friends at a bar. Especially in a typically sub-.500 market like Pittsburgh.

These games aren’t events. They are elevator music. You might buy a ticket a few times a year to pass the time. “Sure. We’ve got no plans Friday after work. Is it a fireworks night at PNC Park?”

Too many games. Too long of a season. Too watered down of a regular season with all the playoff slots nowadays. And most importantly, too many cities with fan bases that feel like their team doesn’t have a chance to win before they even break spring training.

You know any cities like that? Any come to mind for you?

Like many other things with baseball, there are issues to fix heading into every year. Those can be addressed. Pace of play has been an issue. They seem to be taking good steps toward fixing it.

Well done. Keep it up.

Yet there are major problems that feel insurmountable. Faults about the game that are economically and operationally inherent. Those can’t be fixed in one offseason.

Hey, but at least the games will end faster.

Anyone else want a sandwich?

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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