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Terrerobytes: Major League Baseball tries to pick up the pace

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Plus: John Hirschbeck's latest comeback, scouts deserve more help, and the White Sox are graphically contenders

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Baseball has deemed the pace of play worthy of attention, and I'm surprised when people say it isn't. The average game took longer than three hours last year, and there's no real good reason for it.

I can understand why it doesn't matter to Buck Showalter:

"The thing that gets me about all this," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, "is that there are only two groups of people I hear consistently complain about the pace of games, and that's the umpires and the media, people who are at the game 162 times a year. But that family of four in the stands, those people who come to three games a year, I don't hear them complaining about the length or the pace of games. So what's the endgame we're trying to get to? ... What are we basing this on?"

But maybe the people who only come to three games a year would come to more if they had a better sense of the time required. Imagine two leagues of equal quality. In one, every pitcher works like Mark Buehrle. In the other, every pitcher works like Clay Buchholz. Which ones would fans rather watch?

That Showalter quote is from a Jayson Stark article that assesses several points of contention that may arise between the owners and the players as they try to improve the pace of play, and the last one is the most controversial.

One foot in the batter's box: This rule is already in the books for routine takes -- 6:02 (d) (1) -- and Stark says to expect MLB to push umpires to enforce it harder, because the players "don't appear to be gearing up to fight this one." And they shouldn't, because when batters don't leave the batter's box, it gets INTENSE.

(Nothing actually happened during that battle, and yet attention must be paid.)

Tighten the time between innings: Stark says commercial breaks are only supposed to take 2 minutes and 5 seconds for a regular, non-national broadcast, but a league source says the average break actually lasts a minute longer when you stop the clock with the first pitch. There's some finger-pointing on both sides -- the league says players extend the breaks, the players say there's a gap between the last warm-up toss and the start of the inning -- so Stark says there's incentive for both sides to improve this.

Tighten up mid-inning pitching changes: Managers dawdle before signaling, and relievers dawdle before coming out the bullpen. The latter seems more enforceable than the former, especially since a manager has a right to talk to the pitcher if it's the first mound visit of the inning.

Limit mound visits: The Arizona Fall League limited teams to three visits a game, but the league would have to increase that amount for a major league game.

Pitch clocks: These are actually coming to Double-A and Triple-A parks, and Stark says the league would love to have these in every MLB park, but it's just not going to happen anytime soon.

Grant Brisbee says clocks are inevitable in MLB parks, and maybe they are. And maybe it'll be like the shot clock in basketball, where a generation from now, nobody could understand watching the sport without it. But as SI.com's Cliff Corcoran says, it wouldn't change the structure of the game in any meaningful way like the shot clock did -- it'd just be a nag.

I'd hope they'd exhaust every other option first. Tighten up the breaks. Make hitters stay in the box and see if pitchers respond in kind. Wait to see if the clocks at Double-A and Triple-A form better habits. Let umpires enforce the 12-second rule more aggressively. Review sloth-like pitchers like the NBA reviews floppers and hand out the shame after the game.

But a big clock would mean that baseball is no longer the only North American team sport to be played without one, and that seems dumb. Baseball was able to finish games in 2 hours and 45 minutes 10 years ago, and a clock wasn't needed then.

Terrerobytes

Both of John Hirschbeck's boys died from the same disease, including the sudden death of his 27-year-old son last April. Hirschbeck was faced with his own crisis with cancer, and he beat it -- twice. He and his family have dealt with more than anybody should have to, so what keeps them going?

"Believe me," Hirschbeck says, "if someone had told me when I was a young dad like you that this is what's going to happen, I'd say, 'Give me a gun! I'm out! I'm shooting myself right now!' But when you're faced with something, you just say, 'Why not me? Why should it be anybody else? What makes me different?'

"You have to realize that. Otherwise, you're going to cry for yourself forever."

I'd read the whole thing if I were you.

Dennis Gilbert, a special assistant to Jerry Reinsdorf, created a tremendous foundation that helps out scouts who have landed on hard times. Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times wonders why Bud Selig hasn't given him much help.

Brisbee created a helpful chart to diagram which teams are best in a positon to contend, and the White Sox have punched their way into the best quadrant, even if barely.