When I was younger, I did not like drinking milk. I did whatever it took to not drink it. I sat in my seat for hours after dinner because I was not able to leave the table until I finished my milk. Eventually I would drink it down because my punishment for not drinking it was not getting dessert and I loved dessert.
The punishment snapped me out of my habits, but Major League Baseball does not believe in that philosophy, at least not yet.
On Feb. 19, Major League Baseball announced its latest enforcements to help shorten the length of baseball games, including limiting visits to the pitcher’s mound to six. This involves not just catchers, but also pitching coaches who visit the mound without making a pitching change.
It is great for MLB to try to shorten the game and appeal to a wider audience, as the quality of the sport is deserving, but this move can impact the quality of the game itself. I ended up finishing my milk because I knew there would be punishment if I did not. If a seventh visit to the mound is committed, though, there is no set punishment.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and chief officer Joe Torre said that if the mound visits exceed six during a game, umpires will tell a catcher or other player to return to his position. If a catcher defies that order and gets into an argument with an umpire, then an ejection could take place, according to ESPN.
This is not enough of a threat to stop players from doing their jobs. Chicago Cubs catcher Wilson Contreras is not afraid to do what it takes for his team to win.
“What about a tight game or an extra-inning game and you have to go out there?,” Contreras said, according to ESPN. “They cannot say anything about that. That’s my team. If they are going to fine me for mound visit No. 7, I’ll pay the price.”
This move is being made by MLB ultimately to shorten the game, but it is hard to imagine how much time will actually be saved. There are catchers like the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez who visits the mound often, while others like to stay put most of the time.
It is possible the rule change can even extend games. If a player visits the mound for a seventh time, an argument with an umpire will eat up the time the rule is saving. Some of these trips are a part of a player’s nature, and cutting that out can not only affect rhythm but the performance and game quality as well.
“Some of the stuff that is just second nature to baseball players is now being counted as a mound visit, and it’s going to be a weird situation to follow because that’s just part of the game,” Houston Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel said, according to ESPN. “When you change part of the game [that’s] second nature to guys, it’s going to take a while to get used to.”
A rule change MLB made during the 2017 season governed when players could leave the batter’s box between pitches, and the rule will remain in effect for the 2018 season again without clear punishment. Instituting a pitch clock was also discussed for the 2018 season, but MLB wants to “give players an opportunity to respond to the new rules and positively affect pace of play throughout the 2018 season,” according to the league’s website.
The batter’s box initiative did not seem to make an impact on game length though, as the average length of an MLB game was listed as 3 hours and 5 minutes following the 2018 season, a jump of about four and a half minutes from the season prior, according to Sports Illustrated. It is a good effort by MLB to shorten games to draw a deserved wider audience, but rules are nothing without punishment. A rule without a punishment is just a suggestion and players are not going to follow it if a win is on the line.
It is to be determined if the changes will shorten the length of games significantly, but the suggestions made by MLB are setting up potential disputes that will disrupt the game rather than make it shorter. If Manfred wants to shorten games, punishments need to be put in place along with the rules. If not, there is no reason for catchers to resist putting down the metaphorical milk glass to visit their pitchers for a seventh time.
Elizabeth Swinton is a broadcasting and visual media major from Linden, N.J. She can be reached at Elizabeth.firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @eswint22.