Minors Look To Speed Things Up

For years now, Major League Baseball has looked for ways to speed up the game. So called experts agonize over every minute of games, looking for ways to keep things moving. Now, there's a new Minor League rule that could make its way to the majors if it works.

Many baseball fans sit back and watch every nuance of the game. We evaluate players between plays. Is someone stretching out a hamstring? Is our pitcher panting for breath and looking toward the bullpen for help? Others sit back and look at their watches. Those people are the ones that baseball is appealing to in their latest experiment to change America's Pasttime.

The New Rule

6.02 (d) (1) The batter shall keep at least one foot in the batter's box throughout the batter's time at bat, unless one of the following exceptions applies, in which case the batter may leave the batter's box but not the dirt area surrounding home plate:

(i) The batter swings at a pitch;
(ii) The batter is forced out of the batter's box by a pitch;
(iii) A member of either team requests and is granted "Time";
(iv) A defensive player attempts a play on a runner at any base;
(v) The batter feints a bunt;
(vi) A wild pitch or passed ball occurs;
(vii) The pitcher leaves the dirt area of the pitching mound after receiving the ball; or
(viii) The catcher leaves the catcher's box to give defensive signals.
Notwithstanding Rule 6.02(c), if the batter intentionally leaves the batter's box and delays play, and none of the exceptions listed in Rule 6.02(d)(1)(i) through (viii) applies, the umpire shall award a strike without the pitcher having to deliver the pitch. The ball shall remain live. The umpire shall award additional strikes, without the pitcher having to deliver the pitch, if the batter remains outside the batter's box and further delays play. (2) The batter may leave the batter's box and the dirt area surrounding home plate when "Time" is called for the purpose of (i) making a substitution; or (ii) a conference by either team. 6.02(d) comment:

Umpires shall encourage the on-deck batter to take a position in the batter's box quickly after the previous batter reaches base or is put out.

Since Major League Baseball is officially on the record as wanting to shorten the length of games, but not wanting to upset any delicate balance of the game, they're trying something. No, not with the big boys, but with the potential stars of tomorrow. Starting this season, minor league hitters aren't allowed to leave the batter's box. For some, it won't be the first time that they've encountered this rule, since the NCAA already has the rule in place and the Arizona Fall League used the rule this past season.

Simply stated, the hitter must keep one foot in the batter's box at all times. As with many rules, some exceptions apply. If the pitcher and catcher are holding an on-the-mound meeting or if the hitter asks for and is granted permission to step out of the box. Even then, the hitter must stay in the dirt area surrounding homeplate. Many believe the rule will go a long way toward helping to speed up games.

This past season, AFL games, generally known for their abundance of offense, lasted an average of 2 hours, 39 minutes. Major League Baseball would love to see those sort of numbers. Last season, MLB games carried on for 2 hours, 47 minutes. Of course, that's not bad, considering that they were just a couple minutes under three hours just a few short years ago.

Many who have played and managed under the rule like the idea. The consensus is that it will benefit pitchers. Especially if they like to work quickly. The penalty for stepping out of the designated area is for the umpire to call a strike on the hitter.

It's going to be interesting to see how the rule is enforced and how many times, penalty strikes are imposed. Since the NCAA has already had the rule, many young players are used to it. Veteran players may have a little trouble keeping it in mind. For that reason, enforcement will likely start out slowly with umpires reminding players to step back in before they call a penalty.

Now, while many fans are watching games for the sake of watching games, MLB will be among those looking at their watches. If the length of minor league games is noticeably shorter this season, then the rule may not be far from being written into the Major League Rule Book.

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