By In Stuff

500 (More) Words on Baseball Clocks

TOLEDO, Ohio — Some months ago, you might recall, I wrote how much I hate the idea of a clock in baseball. Well, here is what I wrote.

Baseball — it’s an escape from clocks. Baseball is a vacation from clocks. In baseball, there is none of that time anxiety, none of the feeling that every second matters, none of that clock-watching. There’s a certain tranquility, a certain calm in the rhythms of baseball. I don’t want some stupid clock ticking behind a pitcher, people in the stands counting down, pitchers throwing at the last possible second. Baseball is at its best when you can melt into the game. Sure it’s a cliche, but when just right baseball does feel timeless. Who brings a timepiece to a timeless game?

Thursday, I was in Toledo to do a story on minor league home run champion Mike Hessman, and I watched my first baseball game with a clock. And I’ll just say it right out because there’s no point in playing games here: I was 100% wrong. I was so totally, ridiculously and absurdly wrong that, frankly, I want to write an angry email in response to myself. It is hardly the first time I was this wrong. It won’t be the last.

It turned out that the digital clock — which rolled somewhat unnoticed behind the batter — was absolutely fantastic. It did not distract from the game the way I had thought it might. Instead, it kept the game flowing. It kept the action rolling. After years of watching baseball players stretch out the game the way George stretched out James Spader’s sweater on Seinfeld, this was mind-blowing. The pitcher pitched. The hitter swung. The fielder caught. The pitcher pitched again. The game propelled itself. Yes, There was still the nice relaxed pace of baseball that I worried might be lost, but within that easy pace was a steady drumbeat of action. It was, I must admit, glorious.

And here’s what made it even better: My daughters were at the game. They are 13 and 10 and have shown very limited interest in baseball. Well, Katie, the 10-year-old, has shown limited interest. Elizabeth, our oldest, had shown exactly zero interest at all. The game bored her silly. She would — this is absolutely true — bring a book along to games, and she would read straight through, only occasionally looking up when there was a particularly loud cheer.

But this game, Elizabeth was enthralled. I kept waiting for her to say she wanted to leave — that usually starts the third inning. Instead, after every inning she said, “Can we stay?” She opened up a book and then immediately closed it. The game was a story; the drama built up. We still talked about nonsense (we learned, for instance, that Tigers prospect Dixon Machado is nicknamed Skippy, likes playing Call of Duty but loves doing laundry  — we discussed this at length). But the focus was the game.

When it ended, Elizabeth said, “I like minor league baseball a lot more than major league baseball.” Sure, some of it was the kitsch, the smallness, the weather. It was a perfect night for baseball. But I’m pretty sure that some of it was that clock. It felt, for me, a little bit like going back in time, to my own childhood, when the game moved. There was no clock then. There was no need. But this is a different time.

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43 Responses to 500 (More) Words on Baseball Clocks

  1. Donald A. Coffin says:

    I’ve been attending some Indianapolis Indians games this summer (for the first time in years), and I’ve also noticed how that little timer (it’s mounted on the CF fence, so the home plate umpire can see it) really makes a difference, even with players who have spent time in the bigs. Clayton Richards pitched for the Indians for a while, and (as I remember him in the past) he took forever between pitches. Now it was get the ball, get the sign, pitch. The thing is, it never felt *rushed.* It just felt natural…get the ball, get the sign, pitch…games are probably 20 to 30 minutes shorter than they would otherwise be. (Of course, in the majors, in my opinion, the time *between* innings is at least as big a problem–but there is a clock on that in the minors as well.)

    • Jim says:

      Clayton Richard has always pitched super-quickly, as far as I know. I saw him strike out a batter in 23 seconds when he pitched in Charlotte, before pitch clocks. Perhaps he tried slowing down with one of his Indianapolis stints, but that faster pace you mentioned is probably Richard’s natural one.

  2. wordyduke says:

    I live in Toledo, coulda/shoulda been there. Woulda, had I known the Posnanskis were coming. Glad you had a fine time in the kitsch, smallness, perfect weather. And there’s nothing poisonous in the water, either.

  3. Brian Bratt says:

    My wife is the exact same as your daughter. We live 45 min. south of Toledo, so we attend our share of Mud Hens games. She goes to be entertained, and minor league baseball does a much better job with that than major league baseball. I also agree that the clock does not detract from the game; it keeps the game moving.

  4. Laurence says:

    Durham Bulls fan here…. Went to a game two weeks ago. Saw the clock, and my 12 year old son commented on it’s presence early on. Then? Nothing. didn’t notice it, didn’t feel it a hindrance to the flow of the game. I’m an old school, traditional baseball guy, so my initial take reflected Joe’s. Now? Seems to be a positive, yes.

  5. Carl says:

    This makes me feel so much better about it.

  6. BobDD says:

    Of course it takes longer in the bigs; they don’t call it “The Show” for nothing.

  7. Dale says:

    Glad you’ve turned around on this, Joe. Pace of play is a major issue for MLB. It’s difficult for all but the hardiest souls to sit through a nine inning game anymore. Times have changed, and so must MLB, especially if they wish to attract younger fans.

  8. Davan S. Mani says:

    Baseball also symbolizes the woman we want to marry not forced to marry.

  9. blair says:

    That game they played in Baltimore with nobody in the stands was (I’m pretty sure) the shortest of the year; one of the shortest in the last 50 years. Even with the TV breaks intact (nb: the TV industry should prefer short games; they get in a fixed pattern of commercials that varies based only on the structure of the game, not the time on the clock, so a short game means they make more money per hour during the game and can move on to other programming and the commercials they can sell there).

    Maybe it was just a quick game. Maybe the players and umpires and especially the pitchers were less self-conscious, preened less, and paid proper attention to making the ball move where it’s supposed to go.

    Or maybe they didn’t need a few seconds every time they stepped into the box or threw a pitch to tune out the distractions. This has to be a residue of the tradition of shouting insults at opposing players from the stands. Players have evolved to ignore that completely. But the process isn’t instantaneous. So it’s the crowd that’s causing its own problem in making the games longer.

    So, if we aren’t going to remove the stands and play the games in an open park (which would be gorgeous on TV), maybe we need to educate the crowd to be less invasive (which will take 20 years to work its way into players’ heads). Or, more reasonably, we should educate baseball fans, with a paragraph on the back of every ticket and posters around the stadium, that baseball takes as long as it takes and that’s the point of it and the ballpark isn’t a place to ramp up your adrenaline, it’s a place to chill.

    (270 words)

  10. Andrew says:

    The most underrated reason why Tiger fans enjoyed watching Mark Fidrych in 1976 was the tempo he enforced on the field. Never saw a faster pitcher in my life. He’d get two strikes on a batter within 30 seconds, and somehow his pace would transmit itself to both teams. Average game time: 2 hours, 11 minutes. That was 17 minutes faster than the norm, per Bill James.

  11. nfieldr says:

    Joe, I’ve always felt a digital kinship toward you because so much of what you enjoy and write about dovetails closely with my experiences. And once again, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Like you, I absolutely hated the idea of any clock in baseball, but last night at my first game of the year for the AAA Albuquerque Isotopes I noticed the clocks in center field and between the plate and it actually took me a minute or two to remember why they were there. But as the game went along, I too noticed the nice flow of the game and would occasionally “check the clocks” to see how the pitchers were doing. It all just seemed “normal”.

  12. I remember flipping through the TV channels a few years back when I came upon a Little League World Series game. I watched for a few minutes, thinking what a strange game it was. Then I realized it was because nobody ever stepped out of the batter’s box, the pitcher caught the ball, got on the rubber, and threw the next pitch. Sure, it was little league, but the continuous action was just the way it should be.

    I am for nearly anything that keeps the teams playing. I don’t care if games take 2 hours or 4 hours, as long as I am watching baseball the whole time, not some batter adjust his damn batting gloves for 20 seconds between every pitch.

  13. DjangoZ says:

    Thanks for admitting your conversion, Joe. One of your qualities that I really appreciate.

  14. BMan says:

    I go to a few minor league games a year, in various parks, and much prefer it over MLB because of how close my kids and I can get to the game without it costing a fortune. The pace of play is so much better. Seeing the clock this year, has been no distraction. Recently, I was watching an old MLB All Star Game online, I think from 71. It was remarkable how much faster the pace was. Nearly every batter just stayed in the box between every pitch, with a rare exception of a foul ball out of play. No one was stepping out to adjust their batting gloves after each pitch, because hardly anyone wore batting gloves. The game was filled with Hall of Famers, so if anyone had a right to be a diva in the box, it was those guys.

  15. Stephen says:

    I will join the “completely agree” chorus (though I didn’t have any issue with clocks to begin with and have always been a proponent of speed-it-up).

    I’ve been to five games this year, one each at the major league, AAA, and AA levels and two at short season A. The first two were the AA and AAA ones, and the pace was great, especially when no one was on base, and the clock did not interfere, and I enjoyed both enormously.

    The other three–no clocks at the MLB or A levels, and the games were long and much more dull than the AA and AAA versions. And the longness and dullness really stood out given the crispness of the other two games. Small sample sizes and all, but now that I see how it can be, I REALLY don’t want to go back!

  16. Wayne C says:

    As kids on a sandlot, when a half-inning ended you picked up your glove and jogged to your position, or grabbed a bat and stepped to the plate. Either way, you hoped to get where you needed to be before the pitcher threw the first pitch.
    Baseball is the sport most aware of its past, so it makes sense that our enjoyment as fans would increase the more the game resembled that of our childhood.

  17. bake mcbride says:

    what I’ve noticed about the MLB pace of play “rules” is they go completely out the window late in a close game, where guys still step out after every pitch and pitchers seem to take forever with runners on base.
    I imagine this will be even worse in the playoffs.
    so I wonder if it’s the same in minor league games with the clock?

    • We went to a game about a month ago that was a close one. And it seemed that the clocks were ignored when there were two strikes on the batter. And they even turned it off early when there were two outs and two strikes (for the home team, of course).

  18. Nick says:

    I must say, I am a little amused. I am with Joe on most issues, the clock included. I have attended on minor league game this year (single A I think) and didn’t notice any clock but it may have been there. However, what I remember as a kid was being taught to step out of the box after every pitch. It let me get my head in order (not that there is much to get in order) and tell myself how I was going to crush the next one (“hope springs eternal within the human breast”). But there was more, it was also a type of control of the flow of energy. Taking control and trying to get under the pitcher’s skin you might say. I don’t mind the batters stepping out for a short time to mentally prepare for the next pitch, but like BMAN am not a fan of watching them loosen and tighten their gloves between every pitch, or worse yet, spit….

  19. T206 Springsteen N/MT Off-Centered says:

    “I want to write an angry email in response to myself.” I laughed loudly – nearly woke the house when I read that. And I thought the same thing about the clocks, and then realized the same thing, having once complained about the same thing. Now, well…

    No wonder so many of us heart Joe.

  20. Michael Green says:

    Recently I went to two Dodger games. The first one was completed in less than 2:30. The second one went well over three hours and had a lot more offense. But it struck me how much louder the stadium was, how much more noise was being generated by the stadium operators as opposed to the fans, and how it amounted to a law of diminishing returns in that I ended up enjoying the game less. Not to mention the fans who clearly have no interest in the game but are there for the promotions or the people they want to talk to.

    There should be a clock, in the sense that pitchers should get pitching and batters should stay in the box. I’d also add that the longer the time between pitches, the likelier it is that the fielders rock back on their heels and play worse.

  21. sanford Sklansky says:

    How much time are pitchers allowed to take between pitches. Does the rule only apply to when bases are empty. I assume the batter has to keep one foot in the box. Does this apply just to when bases are empty? No doubt commercials add a lot of time in the major leagues. What about visits from the catcher. A certain amount per inning? per game?

    There is a rule about how long a pitcher can take, but it is never enforced.

    Maybe this is done, but in the major leagues do they have some one keeping track on how long a pitcher is taking between pitches. I assume they take longer with men on base, but does it matter what inning it is? With all the stats that they measure, I can’t believe this sort of thing is not being done.

  22. Michael Maskill says:

    Joe just wanted to say thank for another great story. I am here in Kansas City and truly miss your daily articles. Thank you and GOD bless.

  23. slackerjoe says:

    I too was at the Mud Hens / Iron Pigs game Thursday night and loved the clock. Yes it was a 1-0 pitchers’ duel but the game finished in 2 hours. My 10-yr old was engaged till the end. Time to introduce this at the major league level ASAP!

  24. Robert says:

    I went to the first Blue Jays game ever and thereafter was a season ticket holder for many years. I eventually gave it up because I just couldn’t sit still for all the foot-dragging and drawn-out games. Anything that puts the game back within my 67 year-old attention span would be welcomed wholeheartedly.

  25. Kuz says:

    George didn’t stretch out James Spader’s sweater. He never got to wear it. I believe James lent him a Met Life game give a way windbreaker instead.

  26. Jesse Steck says:

    I can’t wait to read the article about Hessman. He must truly love the game to keep playing minor league baseball. I’m sure the Crash Davis comparisons await.

  27. My kids don’t watch baseball. They like going to games, but it’s more the atmosphere at the stadium. They NEVER will watch baseball on TV. For the older folks, they prefer soccer. So, if you think soccer is slow, they consider baseball to be even slower. That’s what it’s come to. Everyone seems to be agreeing on this. So yes. A clock will help. Cutting down mound visits from catchers and managers will help. Charging a strike every time a batter steps out to adjust his batting gloves will help. I’m in favor of all of the above, plus anything else anyone can think of. We have about an hour of extra baseball that’s crept into the the game over the past 30 years, so drastic steps are needed. Bring on the clocks!!!

  28. chris says:

    I grew up with the nbc tournament and I recall it having a clock as well. I always wanted to see it reach zero for the experience but that never happened on my watch. So I guess then it must not have bothered any of the posters too much.

    Now, I see many people disagree with it without having experiencing it. I think it can work and I hope your story can show people that because you are much better at describing these things than I am.

    It also hurts me to see the nbc tournament in the news for the worst reason. I hope you’ve seen some games there, Joe. I suspect that you have since it seems like your brand of baseball.

  29. Jonathan Doe says:

    Clocks and baseball. I kid you not but some company created a baseball-shaped alarm clock. It had a soft baseball shell and, when the alarm went off, you de-activated it by grabbing the device and throwing it off the wall. Can you imagine? It really exists. I am not making it up. I wanted to get one but was afraid I might miss the wall and end up throwing a fastball through the bedroom window.

    • Robert says:

      They were for sale at the Baseball Hall of Fame some years ago. WE bought one for our daughter who is notoriously hard to wake up. She threw it once and it laid where it landed for years.

  30. […] Joe Posnanski is now pro clock in baseball because of the way he saw how it dramatically improves the pace of the game when he watched a minor league affair with his kids. […]

  31. Himself says:

    When they showed the kinescope of 1960 Game 7 a few yeas ago, I was startled how quickly they played. 10-9, 24 hits, 7 pitching changes — in 2:36.

  32. Frog says:

    Hi – what is the clock used for? Just time to deliver the next pitch or other things as well?

    • MCD says:

      Once the clock is reset between pitches, the pitcher has 20 seconds to come to a set position to begin his delivery. There is also a 2:25 clock between innings. Even for the 2:25 clock, the onus is on the pitcher to be at the set position any time in the last 20 seconds.

  33. Alec Rogers says:

    Rare to see someone with such a big name be so ready to admit a mistake, but refreshing. My son enjoys watching the local college league team, the Bethesda Big Train, more than the Washington Nationals. Of course they’re winning more this season…

  34. Jake says:

    What do you say to the idea that one alluring aspect of Baseball, and potential selling point in differentiation is the fact there is no clock? I do want less standing around, but do to this at the big league level…eh I’m not so sure.

  35. Gesge says:

    I feel like a lot of anti-clock people are doing what Joe did in his first piece on this issue, and conflating a pitch clock with a game clock. When we say “baseball has no clock” we mean that there is no timer telling you when the game has to end. There has always been an expectation of timely play in baseball.

  36. […] Joe Posnanski is becoming a convert for pitch clocks in baseball. […]

  37. MCD says:

    For what it is worth, I have seen quite a few minor league games this summer (at different stadiums) and to my recollection, all of them had two clocks: one in CF (presumably for the umpire to see) and one behind the batter to one side (presumably for the pitcher to keep tabs)

    A recurring theme that I have noticed is that major leaguers on rehab assignments tend to be the worst offenders in pushing the boundaries of the 20-second pitch clock to the limit. Based on that observation, one would speculate that it *does* take some getting used to on the pitcher’s part.

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