Rosenthal: With the ballpark clock, will MLB sacrifice its most memorable moment?

Many fans and baseball people already consider the pitch clock a success, but during spring training, right-hander Zach Wheeler identified a lingering problem that remains unresolved.

“I always go back to Bryce hitting that home run in the playoffs last year,” Wheeler said, referring to Bryce Harper’s rousing signal in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. “This wouldn’t have happened if we had these rules in place. Sometimes guys just need a moment, especially in a high leverage situation.”

When Wheeler said, “This wouldn’t have happened,” he wasn’t talking specifically about Harper’s two-run shot off Padres’ Robert Suarez. No, he was talking about the rhythm of the painting’s appearance, the tension built up through seven notes, culminating in what Fox announcer Joe Davis called “swinging for the ages.”

Fifty seconds passed between JT Realmuto’s single and Suarez’s first step in front of Harper, 20 more than is now allowed. The time between each step averaged about 25 seconds, five times more than is now allowed when the runner is on base. Harper and Suarez both had more time to think, breathe, and add to the drama.

Was the sequence memorable under the new rules? Well, it sure would have ramped up. And while the stadium clock serves its intended purpose, greatly improving the pace of play while reducing game times, a broader question remains: Will it add time to the clock or even take it away during close quarters and late-stop situations, particularly in the postseason. , a better service for sports?

My gut tells me that while the answer may be yes, there is no turning back. It’s kind of like when the sport introduced instant replay back in 2008. The change was mostly for the better, which helped right wrongs. But it had some unintended consequences, notably the outfield call on a runner who was tagged an inch or two off base.

The stadium clock also serves the common good. Some late and postseason drama may be sacrificed, but it will most likely take a different shape. Great post-season moments will continue to be great post-season moments, just as they are in other clock sports. Some may develop a little faster, that’s all.

For now, Commissioner Rob Manfred is keeping his options open, reserving judgment.

“Our feet are not in stone with regard to the court clock,” said Manfred. The Rich Eisen Show. “We’ve seen it in the minor leagues. We’ve seen it in spring training. We want to see it in regular season games, especially in high leverage situations. We’ll talk about what needs to happen in those situations. And we certainly have the ability to make adjustments as we go.” during the season.”

Manfred’s answer was in response to a question from Aizen about the exciting six-pitch Mike Trout-Shuhei Ohtani showdown that concluded the World Baseball Classic, which was played without a clock. With no one on base, Otani averaged approx 26 seconds between pitches, 11 seconds more than the new limit. But consider the whole context.

Ohtani was effectively performing in a new role, being closer for the first time since 2016, when he was still in Japan. And if the watch had been used in the tournament, he almost certainly could have stuck to the 15-second limit. Ohtani pitched 2 1/3 innings pitched in spring training and six innings pitched in his first regular season start without committing a strike.

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Trout-Utani was convincing not because of the time between pitches. What made it special was the sight of two of the game’s best players, fellow Angels no less, pitted against each other with the championship on the line. Otani took the putout out of Trout, with two outs in the ninth and his team led by one out, claiming the title for Japan.

Okay, so this at-bat probably isn’t the best example of a moment when a watch might have been hacked. In search of a better measure, I went back through history, to two of the most memorable postseason conclusions of the late ’80s.


When I asked Yankees manager Aaron Boone about his own heroics in the postseason, his home run against the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, he reminded me he came in first pitch off Tim Wakefield. Obviously, the clock wasn’t a factor there, but Boone advised me to check out the Mets’ running back in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, noting that they played at a fast pace.

So, I went to YouTube to check out the crucial at-bat between the Mets’ Mookie Wilson and the Red Sox’s Bob Stanley. Two leads, runners on first and third in the tenth, the Red Sox went 5-4. It appears Stanley never took 20 seconds on any of his pitches. For the most part, it didn’t even make it to 15. The only potential violation occurred after Stanley’s wild 2-2 pitch allowed Ray Knight to advance to second and Kevin Mitchell to score the tying series from third. The game appears to be a bit delayed, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear in the video.

Stanley was in no hurry. It was fast paced at the time, the kind of pace the league wants to revive over time. The electricity of the game’s climactic moment, as described by the late Vin Scully—”a little reel along first…behind the bag!…runs through Buckner!…here comes the jockey and the Mets win!”—was in no way diminished by The relatively accelerated rate at which the bats unfold.

Okay, but how about perhaps the greatest post-season tackle, Kirk Gibson’s epic appearance against Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series? This sucker lasted about 5 minutes, 25 seconds—not including the 1:19 it took for Gibson, dealing with a bad left hamstring and a swollen right knee, to get out of the dugout and find his way into the batter’s box.

The scene was played out like a movie, before the bat even started. Gibson applied pine tar to his bat in the on-deck circle, took a few practice runs, and then began his slow walk to the plate. Upon reaching the box, he pawed the dirt with his left foot over and over, then walked out for more drills. A 30-second limit between batters would have sucked the drama out of the moment. Heck, Gibby might not have been physically able to hit the plate at 30.

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The at-bat itself would have been problematic not only because of the clock, but also because of the two new disengagement rule. With Mike Davis first, Eckersley threw the most four times. Of course you don’t have to worry about him being called for a tackle after failing to tackle Davis on his third attempt. As it turned out, Davis eventually stole second with a score of 3-2.

Gibson would also have been tagged under the new rules. At least twice, based on video, he was unprepared to hit with eight seconds remaining on the clock. After thirty-five years, the penalty for this delay is an automatic strike. But as the attack progressed, it was evident that he had no such concerns.

Catcher Ron Hussey took Eckersley to the mound. Gibson, after everyone was set again, called the timeout, reminding himself of what the late Dodgers scout, Mel Didier, expected of Eckersley: “Pohd-ner, as I stand here, you’ll see a 3-2, backdoor slider.” Sure enough, Eckersley threw the pitch. He later called him stupidsaying he should have kept throwing Gibson’s fastballs.

“A high fly ball in right field… She’s gone!” cried Scully. And then, after remaining silent for more than a minute while Gibson circled the bases, the legendary stage man added his famous coda: “In a year that was so improbable, the impossible happened.”

There is no way that At-Bat, one of the greatest in the history of the game, would have evolved the same way under the new rules. No way was she going to create the same memories. In no way would it have resonated the way it still does today.

“That’s one of the first things I thought of,” Gibson said in a phone conversation Monday. “The drama is constructed through different means. (The-bat) could have been much shorter.

“There are a lot of moments in general where you need to give each team the opportunity to think things through and plan through rough seas. Baseball has always been like this. It has to be this way. Whether it’s the ninth inning, extra innings, I don’t know.” What is balance.But I think it’s part of the game.You don’t want to lose that ability.

“Everyone likes where the game goes, but at what cost? They’ve done a really good job of trying to make a change without really knowing how it’s going to happen. But you’re definitely going to miss out on some moments… You want those moments. You want everyone to have that moment. The big moments, they come from.” (Places) almost unpredictable, unfathomable, unimaginable.”

Reached by phone Sunday night, Eckersley expressed similar sentiments.

“I don’t have a problem with (the clock). But going back to that, thinking late in the game, it occurred to me that if they’re being lenient, it has to be in moments like that. You just don’t want to make a mistake either way.

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“I’ve always been in a hurry personally. I was a little worried at first. But if there was a time to be a little more lenient, wouldn’t you think the ninth inning?”


If MLB changes the clock in the late innings, two different sets of rules apply in the same game. If the league makes an adjustment in the playoffs, two different pools will apply in the regular season and postseason.

Well guess what?

The league, with its extra inning rule, already allows for such inconsistencies. In the regular season, an automatic runner is placed at second base starting in the tenth inning of tie games. But in the post-season, the ghost runner goes away, and that little wrinkle goes away.

If a league is inconsistent with one rule, it may be inconsistent with another. But with the stadium clock, things get complicated.

First, what is the correct point of the game to add or subtract time from the clock? Only in tie matches or save chances in the ninth? Or in all the close and late situations, which occur when the batting team leads by one run, is tied or has a potential tying lead on base or on base or in the deck? In either case, the relievers will be under different conditions than the starters, as is the extra inning rule.

A change in the postseason would raise different questions. The league says it adopted the clock in part because its surveys indicated fans wanted more action and less time between plays. The postseason, when the largest number of fans are watching, seems like a strange time to go back to the old ways, and lengthen game times to the 3 to 4 hour range. Shorter games in October will also provide another advantage, allowing more younger fans to watch games through to the end.

There is no easy answer, at least not yet. The league has shown a willingness to modify the new rules in response to concerns from players, allowing, for example, umpires to delay the start of the clock after a pitcher has covered first, third, or home. But Yankees Gerrit Cole, echoing Manfred, said he wouldn’t feel better about whether the league should turn back the clock in certain circumstances until more of the season has been played.

Cole, whose opening-day 5-0 victory over the Giants completed in 2:33, neatly summed up the pros and cons when asked if anything would be lost if October’s big batters were less drawn out than they have been in the past. His apparent preference, as I suspect the league would be, is to break away from the past and fully embrace the new era of baseball.

“I love the drama of those moments, that’s for sure,” said Cole. “But I like 2 hours and 33 minutes on opening day.”

(Top photo by Julio Urias: Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

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