But first, a quick Sean Smith update: After York Revolution team physician Dr. John Deitch performed successful knee surgery on him on Saturday, 9/27, he is recovering and in good spirits. The YouTube video is approaching 1.2 million views- give it another whirl and keep that counter going up. You might be able to convince ESPN to fly the whole front office to the ESPY’s in L.A. once Sean is nominated.
Now, on to pace of play. You may remember back in June, the Atlantic League unveiled it’s pace of play committee and an opening list of initiatives to try. All except the controversial “courtesy runner” should the catcher reach base made it to the field. What remained was enforced and did make an impact; between eight and 10 minutes were shaved off Atlantic League games on average this season after the rules were enacted. High profile reporters such as Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated even took notice and applauded the Atlantic League’s efforts. Pace of play has been a Verducci peccadillo for a long time, and if you click that link from earlier this year, he shared some rather awe-inspiring numbers about how much longer MLB games have gotten in just the last few seasons.
OPINION ALERT: Some will say “what’s the big deal about just eight to 10 minutes on my night out or if I’m watching/listening at home?” The answer is, not much. However, it’s important we distinguish between time of play, and PACE of play. The real onus on baseball leadership is to make every moment of the in-person or television experience exciting for fans, to ensure the game’s stability and growth. A game with countless stoppages that takes over three hours usually does not pass the excitement threshold. Don’t get me wrong, a 2-1 game can of course be exciting in its own right, but that game should take no more than two and a half hours. Of course an 8-7 game with dramatic home runs and lead changes will not be confined to that time, but as long as it’s free of unnecessary jock strap adjustments, wandering out of the batter’s box and excessive, extemporaneous timeouts with pitchers, it will be an exciting event regardless of the time it takes. In an 8-7 game, there’s all the more reason to keep the focus on pace of play to make the whole game digestible, allowing fans with children, jobs to wake up for and alike the ability to experience that game in full. Likewise, the crispness of a 2-1 game should not be sullied with clunky stopping and starting.