It’s the World Series. Game 7. Tie game. Bases loaded. Bottom of the ninth. Full count. Two outs. The pitcher reads over the signs from his catcher. He takes a deep breath. He glances at the baserunners in his periphery. He exhales. He sets.
The bright red digital numbers behind home plate read “:00.” The umpire awards the batter first base and signals for each baserunner to advance 90 feet. The runner from third base trots down the line and crosses home plate. The game is over. The World Series is over, all because of a clock. Clocks have no place in baseball.
Major League Baseball has no idea how to get what it wants. In 2014, for the first time, the average nine-inning game took more than three hours. Four of the past five seasons have yielded the same or greater averages. Major League Baseball acknowledged the faction of fans who say games take too long and are too slow-paced. In response, it installed timers between innings and while pitchers warm up, attempting to eliminate down time and speed up pace of play. Pitch clocks could follow. If they do, a pitcher unable to deliver his next pitch before the clock on the backstop reads zero ends up with a ball added to the count. If it happens in a three-ball count, the pitcher will have walked a batter without throwing a pitch. If it happens with a three-ball count and the bases loaded, he will have allowed a run to score without even throwing a pitch. That’s a lot of anti-climactic inaction for a sport that wants to pack more action into less time.
Nothing replaces the drama of a close game during the late innings on a crisp October night. A clock would dampen the suspense, strategy, and timelessness of the moment. The crowd holds its breath at every move, as the pitcher stands alone in the center of the diamond, elevated on the dirt mound. In that moment, absolutely no one in the world is thinking of counting down the seconds until the pitcher delivers the pitch. All eyes are on the ball, delivered from the mound to home, and all ears are fixed upon the sound of bat meeting baseball, the umpire’s call, or the crowd’s roar. The great moments in baseball history transcend time — they are passed down from generation to generation by baseball lovers through the decades. Time has nothing on baseball.
In addition to Major League Baseball’s initiative to speed up the pace of play, it has suggested the need to boost offensive production by expanding the strike zone and introducing the designated hitter to the National League. More offense would only slow down the pace of play. Innings would take longer, and teams would make more pitching changes. It’s like driving with one foot on the gas and the other on the brake. Baseball should just let baseball be baseball. It doesn’t need a clock. Time doesn’t belong. Even if a team is up by 10 runs in the ninth inning, there’s no “running out the clock.” The batter still has to stand in the batters’ box, and the pitcher has to throw the ball over the plate and give the hitter a fair shot. “In baseball, you can’t kill the clock,” Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver said. “You’ve got to give the other man his chance. That’s why this is the greatest game.”
Time doesn’t pick winners and losers in baseball. It never has, and it never should. Baseball is a game of managing adversity. You can’t wait for time to run out and face the big moment down the road. You must take it on now. You can’t call a timeout. If the game is tied after nine innings, you don’t go “over” time, instead, you get to play “extra.”
If Major League Baseball adds clocks, it will still have a loyal fan base. But, it will gradually become a different game. Older generations lament the decaying virtue of patience. Baseball steels itself against the erosion of patience. In baseball, you may have to wait. You may have to wait for the big inning. You may have to wait for the winning season. You may have to wait for a lifetime. But the clock never runs out. There will always be more time.
Nathaniel Grime is a junior studying rhetoric and public address and journalism.