Baseball is America’s favorite pastime. Baseball is a talking sport. Baseball is a thinking man’s game.
And baseball is slow. Even those of us who love the game and grew up playing it cannot argue this.
The Big 12 Conference, however, doing something to speed the game up, a couple things in fact. Starting this season, the league has implemented a 15-second rule between pitches.
When there are no runners on base, a pitcher has 15 seconds from the time he gets the ball from the catcher and steps into the pitching area to deliver the ball to the plate. If he takes longer, the umpire assesses a ball to the count.
Likewise, batters have to speed up as well. They have five seconds in which to step into the box and be prepared to hit, otherwise the umpire can assess them a strike.
TCU Horned Frogs head coach Jim Schlossnagle addressed this when he spoke Thursday at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce’s Sports Luncheon Series at Colonial Country Club.
“College softball is destroying college baseball on TV,” Schlossnagle said. “It starts at 1 and it’s over at 3.”
While it may irritate some purists, something has long been needed to speed up the game of baseball. Batters stepping out after every pitch, adjusting their batting gloves, grabbing a handful of dirt, better do it fast because five seconds go by like a proverbial blink.
This one sentence, for example, took more than five seconds to type.
While baseball will never match the fast pace of football, basketball or hockey – and it never should, the nodding off factor has to be reduced. Minor league baseball, for example, is starting extra-inning games with a runner on second base beginning this season.
Schlossnagle said each pitcher will get a warning before an actual ball penalty is assessed. Same for batters. There is no reason for pitchers and batters to not be aware as clocks are posted in right-center field and on top of the press box.
Schlossnagle said slow play hasn’t been as much a problem in the Big 12 as other places, most notably the major leagues, who could learn from this experiment. Still, someone has to take the lead.
“Most of the teams in our league and this part of the country play fast anyway,” he said. “But now that it’s out there for everyone to see, the umps will have to call it.”
The Horned Frogs (11-7) experienced the 15-second clock for the first time this weekend when they host Kansas State to open Big 12 play. There are games Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 1.
If there is difficulty with the new pitch clock, Schlossnagle said it could come during night games. Often, with the glare of the lights and/or the accompanying shadows, pitchers will have to take a closer look for a catcher’s sign.
For example, Schlossnagle said his team has regular signs and night signs. Pitchers may no longer have the luxury of shrugging off as many signs.
“When a pitcher does that, the clock’s going to run out,” Schlossnagle said.
TCU had a bye this past weekend, but several teams did begin Big 12 play and used the clock. Schlossnagle said there were no problems. However, a couple coaches did not vote for approval prior to the season.
“They were really worried going into the season, but now there are no concerns,” Schlossnagle said.
Schlossnagle said coaches are not allowed to argue if a ball or strike is assessed, saying it’s an automatic ejection. After all, what’s the good of speeding up the game if you’re going to allow it to be slowed down by more disputing?
MEETING WITH MANFRED
Schlossnagle said he and a few other college coaches had a sitdown with the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred.
“We talked about how we can grow the sport,” Schlossnagle said. “The draft, scholarships, pace of play, youth baseball. It was really great to hear his opinions.”
Schlossnagle said Manfred would like to see college baseball go from more of a feeder system into the minor leagues to more of developmental system for the major leagues, much like college basketball with the NBA and college football with the NFL.
“He wants to fund more scholarships for college baseball, and he wants them to be full scholarships,” Schlossnagle said. “We’re all on the same page, and what’s in the middle? The NCAA.”
Schlossnagle said Manfred spoke of perhaps moving the MLB Draft to Omaha, site of the College World Series, the first few rounds at least. Also, there was talk of a major league game being played in Omaha prior to the start of the CWS.
“That would be great. You could go there with your guys, be there for the draft and that excitement, and then the games,” Schlossnagle said. “You’d have interaction with the big league teams.”
While these are still hopes, it is nice to see college baseball getting this kind of attention. Despite the success of programs such as the Horned Frogs (four consecutive CWS appearances), it is not seen as a moneymaking sport. Having MLB give it more focus can only help put it more in the spotlight, and there are some things the big boys can learn from the colleges, as in the aforementioned pitch clock.
ASSESSING THE CONFERENCE
Of course, Schlossnagle couldn’t escape without assessing the Big 12 Conference this season. Last season it was the top-rated conference in the nation, and Schlossnagle said things haven’t changed much this season.
“It’s as balanced, or more, this year,” he said. “That’s scary. You can finish second or last.”
Schlossnagle said Texas Tech is the team to beat, and the national polls support that. The Red Raiders and the Horned Frogs are the only teams from the league that are ranked in the four major polls.
*DIBaseball.com – Texas Tech 10th, TCU 20th.
*National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association – Tech 10th, TCU 21st.
*Baseball America – Tech 11th, TCU 23rd.
*USA Today – Tech ninth, TCU 22nd.
But, as Schlossnagle noted, “It’s not always the best team, but the team that’s playing best.” More often than not, that’s been the Horned Frogs in recent seasons.