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Mike Polk Jr. has some thoughts on MLB's new pitch clock

Sports is entertainment. Entertainment requires drama. Good drama is about moments. And sometimes, in order to be most enjoyable, those moments need to breathe.

CLEVELAND — If you had told my grandfather that in 2023 baseball would have a pitch clock, a ghost runner on second, and that about 1/3rd of the crowd would not be in actual seats but instead huddled around a bar in the outfield, largely ignoring the game until an errant ball interrupts their conversation by almost striking them, he would have been outraged.

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But my grandfather, like many grandfathers, passed away about many years ago, and since his time cultural tastes have changed and adjustments have been made. I accept that and don’t fear the changes, but there is one aspect of this pitch clock that I do think is going to be an issue.

You can argue about whether you personally like or dislike the new time limits but you can’t argue its effectiveness.

Last year, the average MLB game through the first four days was 3:09 long. This season, that average length has dipped down to 2:38.

That’s about a half and hour shaved off of games and it’s made for a much more streamlined product. At this early point in the season, it’s a half hour that most of us won’t miss.

But what about when the games become more meaningful?

The pitch clock received raves through Spring Training games, but that makes sense. One thing you’ll never hear in the final inning of a spring training game, long after every recognizable player has been replaced in the lineup by a long-shot prospect, is “Boy I wish this scrimmage could last longer.”

We’ve now entered the regular season so it is indeed real baseball and therefor meaningful. But let’s face it: A game played in April just doesn’t offer the same sense of urgency as a late September matchup when your team is fighting for a playoff spot.

Will we come to regret this change in early autumn when things become more consequential and the moments become more meaningful?

Sports is entertainment. Entertainment requires drama. Good drama is about moments. And sometimes, in order to be most effective and most enjoyable, those moments need time to breathe.

The game-on-the-line, Pitcher-Batter showdown is the closest thing that we have in sports to witnessing the sort of epic duels that have been a narrative staple in cinema since the dawn of film, primarily featured in Westerns but by no means exclusive to that genre.

It’s such a popular plot device because of the inherent drama of the situation. Everything we’ve experienced up to that point has been building to this moment and now we’re finally here, and we’ve earned the opportunity to savor it. At this point, time becomes everything. Time is no longer something to endure, but to savor.

Truly great film directors like John Ford and Sergio Leone knew this. That’s why they never rushed their duels. They knew enough about storytelling to let those moments breathe, to reward their audience for their patience.

They knew enough to give the audience adequate time to survey the emotions of both the protagonist and the antagonist, the chance to scan them for weakness or fear, the opportunity to linger in a moment that truly matters.

Cut to close-up shots of steely gazes and narrowing eyes and hands twitching in anticipation.  Cut to shots of the onlooking crowd as they wait in delicious anguish for the emotional release of learning how this story will end, the time to appreciate being a small part of something consequential, before finally being rewarded with closure. 

There’s a reason rollercoasters tend to climb that first big hill slowly, it’s a recognition by the designers that in order to fully appreciate the trip down, you need to build anticipation on the way up, you need to let the moment breathe.

Some have suggested eliminating the pitch clock when we reach the post season. I don’t know if that’s the best option or even an option at all. I just know that not all moments are created equal, and that just because people are enjoying the effects of this new policy in April doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll all still be loving it come October.

But we’ll see. I suppose only time will tell.


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