It’s an extreme example, Brian Dozier concedes, but just the fact it would be possible bothers him.
“Say it’s the bottom of the ninth, full count, bases loaded, and a guy needs to take a deep breath or gets the hiccups or something,” the Twins second baseman said Saturday. “Is that a walkoff? Come on.”
Dozier, who participated in a two-hour conference call Tuesday with player representatives from all 30 MLB teams, said the players’ union is unanimous in its opposition to a set of proposals from MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred to speed up the game. The most obvious — and most objectionable — proposal, Dozier said, is the installation of a clock that would require pitchers to throw a pitch within 20 seconds of receiving the ball.
“We are all for speeding the game up,” Dozier said. “This is not the way to do it.”
Telling hitters to stay in the batters box, or restricting pitchers from wandering off the mound, is one thing, Dozier said. He had even heard talk of penalizing the worst offenders, perhaps with fines, after the fact. But MLB wants to mandate that umpires change the count — calling a ball for clock violations after the first offense, for instance, or adding a strike if a hitter isn’t ready in a timely manner — and that’s a step players cannot support, he said.
“We don’t want to damage the integrity of the game and change the game completely. If [Manfred’s proposal] does go through, it definitely changes the integrity of the game, and we are all against it,” Dozier said. “There’s so much gray area in the proposal, it just didn’t sit well with us.”
ESPN reported last week that MLB is prepared to overrule the union’s objections and implement pitch clocks, plus a rule to limit catcher’s visits to the mound, in time for the 2018 season. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, Manfred has that right, and he made it clear he intends to use it.
“My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players,” Manfred told reporters in November. “But if we can’t get an agreement, we are going to have rule changes in 2018, one way or the other.”
The 30 teams have given their input, said Derek Falvey, Twins chief baseball officer, and are reportedly strongly in favor of addressing the issue. Game lengths have gradually increased, and the 2017 average of 3 hours, 5 minutes was the longest ever. All sides agree dawdling pitchers and lollygagging hitters are only one cause for the slowdown — hitters taking more pitches, and managers using more relievers has added time to games, too — but MLB appears adamant about adding a clock.
“This is something that clearly has been a Major League Baseball initiative for a lot of reasons, and we’re fully supportive of that. We all would love to trim some time off our games these days,” Falvey said. “We just need to be in position to prepare our players for the rule changes in spring training. … If changes happen, we hope they tell us soon.”
MLB asked minor leagues to institute a pitch clock as an experiment two years ago. There was some initial adjustment, said Twins pitching prospect Stephen Gonsalves, but it wasn’t as big an issue as it might be at the major league level.
“Minor league games are going to be quicker than big-league games most of the time anyway,” Gonsalves said. “Honestly, I think I’ve seen it called twice in two years. Umpires knew it was experimental, so if you’re in the stretch or you’re only a few seconds off, most umpires won’t call it.”
An additional rule that is not necessarily in MLB’s plans — limiting relievers to 90 seconds to enter and warm up — sometimes had an effect, he said. His teammate Jake Reed has a routine that includes a quick prayer, “and by the time he gets to the mound and starts throwing, sometimes he only has time for two or three [warmup] pitches,” Gonsalves said. “That’s where I’m a little skeptical. But I like the idea of keeping the game moving. I think most guys do.”
The answer, Dozier suggested, is not in a rule but in reaching a basic understanding with players.
“It’s up to us as players, especially the more veteran guys, the leaders, to make sure players aren’t taking 30 seconds to get up to the plate, listening to their walkup song, or getting on and off the field,” he said. “There’s so many ways to speed up the game beyond this.”