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Minor league rules changes won't fix pace of baseball like re-examination of strike zone would

March 14, 2018 Updated: March 14, 2018 at 10:41 pm
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photo - Sox the Fox pumps up the crowd as the Sky Sox finish up their home season with a 10-7 loss against the Las Vegas 51s Thursday, August 29, 2013 at Security Service Field. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette
Sox the Fox pumps up the crowd as the Sky Sox finish up their home season with a 10-7 loss against the Las Vegas 51s Thursday, August 29, 2013 at Security Service Field. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette 

Baseball has a hangnail, so it is amputating the whole hand.

At least that’s how I see the new regulations enacted in the minor leagues. Umpires will be asked to monitor pitch clocks of various lengths depending on the situation. Mound visits will be limited (OK, that one isn’t so bad). Most jarring is a move toward making extra innings tilt toward a hockey shootout or start-at-the-25-yard-line overtime that bears little resemblance to the rest of the game, beginning each extra frame with a runner on second base.

How about this instead, enforce a rule that has always existed:

Rule 2.00: The Strike Zone. The strike zone is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap.

Yes, put the scalpel away. Stop the piling on of new rules. I’m not saying a problem doesn’t exist, but what ills wouldn’t be fixed with a more literal interpretation of the strike zone?

Batters will go to the plate knowing they need to swing early in counts rather than fall behind. Walks, which are the biggest time suck in the sport, will decrease. I would guess even strikeouts would drop, as hitters would be less likely to risk watching borderline pitches because they know any offering not fitting in a zone the size of a softball will be called their way.

Show of hands, who wants more marathon Barry Bonds-type at-bats? Go up there swinging. A wider, taller strike zone would promote more balls in play, and isn’t that what this sport needs? No one is bored when the ball is in play. They are bored when counts hit 2-2 and 3-2 multiple times.  

As pitch counts drop, so would time-consuming pitching changes. Also, the longer starters can remain in games, the more likely they’ll be to figure in decisions … meaning more 20-game winners and, as a result, more stars in a game that needs headliners to increase attention as much as anything.

This one simple measure – wresting control from stubborn umpires and whiny hitters – would transform the game into something leaner and more fun. Contact rate could become coveted and a premium would again be placed on speed, as opposed to the slow, steady march toward more strikeouts, walks and home runs that make a lot of sense when it comes to gaining a competitive edge in the current game but does nothing for the growth of the sport into the demographics turned off by the pace.

If the game can be made more exciting, the complaints about the length of contests will diminish. Time is relative anyway.

If you make the baseball product better, you will make games feel shorter. And if they can actually be shorter, too, great!

Listen, I love baseball but I’m no hard-line traditionalist. I think the wild card is the second-best innovation baseball has brought in the past 30 years, trailing only the addition of the second wild card. So many more cities are involved in pennant chases, and that’s great for the game because it generates excitement and places the focus where it needs to be – accentuating what’s already working.

The minor leagues will serve as the test lab for these new rules, so we’ll get a front row seat here in Colorado Springs. Maybe I’ll be swayed by seeing them in place, but right now I’m convinced these efforts miss the point. If you insist on rigid time limits, shorten the time between innings – hustle in, hustle out – and go to the root of the problem instead of bringing more bells and whistles to confront its symptoms.

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