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Josh Beckett: slow as molasses and no one seems to care

Sep 1, 2011, 8:48 AM EDT

Josh Beckett AP

In addition to the maddening Curt Schilling-Nomar Garciaparra back-and-forth, another thing that made the Yankees-Red Sox game so damn hard to watch last night was its pace. Yes, I realize that’s an old complaint, but it’s still a valid one. These games are interminable and it really drives me nuts.

It’s especially bad when Josh Beckett is pitching. He takes FOREVER to come set and deliver a pitch, and it’s the same whether there is a runner on base or not.  Sure, he’s usually effective, undermining that whole “don’t think, it can only hurt the ballclub” rule, but it’s an aesthetic nightmare.

Terry Francona talked about with with WEEI’s Mike Petraglia yesterday, and he said that he had no intention of speeding Beckett up. He doesn’t want to throw him off his game.  His quote: “if I have my choice of him pitching slow and winning and getting a letter from the [MLB], that’s what I’d go with rather than him hurry and get knocked around.”

And you know what? Francona is right about that. It should not be his job to speed his pitcher up. All he should care about is winning baseball games.

But it is someone else’s job: Major League Baseball’s. And that job should not, as Francona implies, be carried out in the form of letters suggesting to managers that they do something about slow play. Letters which, as Francona demonstrates, he can ignore with impunity. There is a rule on the books that covers it and it covers it quite thoroughly. It’s Rule 8.04:

When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call “Ball.” The 12-second timing starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher. The timing stops when the pitcher releases the ball.

The intent of this rule is to avoid unnecessary delays. The umpire shall insist that the catcher return the ball promptly to the pitcher, and that the pitcher take his position on the rubber promptly. Obvious delay by the pitcher should instantly be penalized by the umpire.

Baseball should not single out Josh Beckett for enforcement of this rule. It should enforce it across the board.  With umpires empowered to call balls when pitchers dilly-dally. And, I will add, to penalize hitters if they similarly dilly-dally. If this requires some rules tweaks — say, because we now think 12 seconds is a bit too harsh or because we need a different way to deal with hitters — fine.

But baseball needs to take responsibility for this because its failure to do so until now has resulted in a poor product.

  1. proudlycanadian - Sep 1, 2011 at 8:54 AM

    I used to love watching games that featured Doc vs Buehrle. They often lasted less than 2 hours.

  2. Chris Fiorentino - Sep 1, 2011 at 8:55 AM

    12 seconds is a looooong time. I would love to know what the average time is from when Beckett is on the mound and the batter is in the box “alert to the pitcher” to the time Beckett throws the ball. I know it may seem like forever, but is it really 12 seconds that Beckett is standing there before he pitches?

    • Alex K - Sep 1, 2011 at 9:20 AM

      I heard last night Beckett’s average time between pitches was 23 seconds. They said Hughes was at 17.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 1, 2011 at 9:36 AM

        But the rule is clear that the clock does not start until the batter is ready and alert to the pitcher. And usually that doesn’t happen until the pitcher is up on the rubber. There’s very few guys in baseball who dig in and get ready to hit before the pitcher toes the rubber. So again, my question goes to the amount of time that Beckett is actually on the rubber ready to pitch when the batter is alert to him. Is that really 12 seconds? I doubt it.

      • Alex K - Sep 1, 2011 at 10:25 AM

        He probably doesn’t stand and look at the hitter in the box for 12 seconds. But 23 seconds between pitches is a long time no matter what the reason.

    • yankeesgameday - Sep 1, 2011 at 9:49 AM

      Trust me , batter’s would get in the box if this rule were enforced

  3. drmonkeyarmy - Sep 1, 2011 at 8:57 AM

    Those no good punks need to Get Off My Lawn!!! Seriously Craig, you are grumpy today. Take it easy, relax….you blog about baseball as a job. You are living the dream my friend.

    • vince9663 - Sep 1, 2011 at 9:07 AM

      Even a dream job has its drudgery. In this case, it’s watching Beckett take 2 hours to get through the batting order once.

  4. 18thstreet - Sep 1, 2011 at 9:03 AM

    Pitch clock. Pitch clock, pitch clock, pitch clock, Pitch clock. The time between pitches is easily solvable. Easily. Easily.

    • Panda Claus - Sep 1, 2011 at 9:22 AM

      Seems simple on the surface. But when we look how slowly MLB has embraced new technology this seems years away from happening.

      Oh, and if the umpires’ union gets involved, which you know they would, it will never happen.

      • FC - Sep 1, 2011 at 9:49 AM

        You would think Joe West would be gung-ho for getting another excuse to toss out players. If anything the Union would be supportive.

      • ThisIsBaseball - Sep 1, 2011 at 9:49 AM

        They did it in the CWS (I think it was the CWS). They put a pitch clock on the scoreboard for the umpires to use. Reports after the game said it worked pretty well.

      • Panda Claus - Sep 1, 2011 at 11:05 AM

        CWS as in College World Series?

        OK, I didn’t know they used it there. And as JBerardi points out below, logic and good reasons for making the change don’t often let good ideas like this get promoted to MLB.

    • JBerardi - Sep 1, 2011 at 9:51 AM

      Bud Selig will never address this issue. The problem is too obvious and the solution is too simple. What Bud needs is something that’s only kinda sorta a problem (tied ASG? Does anyone care?), and then a solution that doesn’t even solve the original non-problem but does cause all sorts of other ridiculous and stupid consequences (this time it counts!).

  5. Lukehart80 - Sep 1, 2011 at 9:16 AM

    Baseball is big on the “unwritten” rules. Those they have put to paper are less stringently enforced.

    • kmgannon - Sep 1, 2011 at 9:18 AM

      Well said; I hadn’t picked up on that irony, but it is very true.

  6. Jonny 5 - Sep 1, 2011 at 9:25 AM

    I agree, And I really like the idea of a pitch clock. But what to do with “the meeting on the mound” ? You can’t just not allow that 1 time out allowed per inning? what?

    • Jonny 5 - Sep 1, 2011 at 9:28 AM

      Man, I could have used an edit function……

      *You can’t just not allow that. 1 time out allowed per inning? what?*

      • professorperry - Sep 1, 2011 at 9:53 AM

        Yeah. I love the pitch clock idea. Think about how the shot clock transformed basketball.

      • FC - Sep 1, 2011 at 9:54 AM

        Here let me help you:

        Edit Function
        Edit Function
        Edit Function
        Edit Function
        Edit Function

    • 18thstreet - Sep 1, 2011 at 9:53 AM

      This is one of my more radical proposals, but I’d ban all mound visits, except to check on an injury. Catchers and pitchers have been communicating with hand signals for 100 years. There’s nothing that needs to be said that can’t be said with fingers. (“Let’s pitch away from this guy, his power is on the inner half of the plate.”) If the pitcher and catcher can’t communicate, that’s their problem — not the other team’s or the fans’.

      I remember reading a Bill James idea that a pitcher should have to finish the inning unless he’s surrendered a run. I also love that idea.

      Here on earth, I think Jonny’s solution is just fine. One mound visit per inning.

      • FC - Sep 1, 2011 at 10:07 AM

        This is one of my more radical proposals

        An Edit Function?

  7. kellyb9 - Sep 1, 2011 at 9:31 AM

    “the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball”
    I would love to hear what everyone would say about the one umpire that enforces this rule especially in a Boston-NY series. I, for one, would make him commissioner of baseball… but that’s just me.

    • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 1, 2011 at 9:38 AM

      kelly, you skipped the more important part of the rule…when the 12 second clock starts. If the batter would get into the box and be ready faster, then maybe the clock would start sooner. However, the batter almost always waits for the pitcher to toe the rubber, then they get ready to hit. I’m all for making the batters stay in the batters box except in the case where something gets in their eyes or whatever. I’m sick of them stepping out, spitting on the gloves, readjusting the gloves, then they have to dig back in all the while the pitcher is waiting.

      • Jonny 5 - Sep 1, 2011 at 10:56 AM

        “I’m sick of them stepping out, spitting on the gloves, readjusting the gloves, then they have to dig back in all the while the pitcher is waiting.”

        Even when they don’t even swing……………………………… It drags the game out, plain and simple.

  8. joshftw - Sep 1, 2011 at 9:48 AM

    Much as I love Andy Pettite, he was always a terribly slow pitcher. And when he faced off against someone like Beckett, you knew you weren’t going anywhere for a while.

  9. yankeesgameday - Sep 1, 2011 at 9:52 AM

    I haven’t listened to the announces of a televised game in seven or eight years. I have eyes, I can see what happens and when i do hear them i am more and more thankful for the mute button.

  10. stoankold - Sep 1, 2011 at 9:52 AM

    “The 12-second timing starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher.”

    Let’s not forget about this part. I’d be curious to know if people are actually tracking the timing in this fashion or if numbers like “23 seconds avg time to pitch” are because timers are starting at some point other than what’s defined in the rule.

  11. thinman61 - Sep 1, 2011 at 11:14 AM

    3:16 for last night’s game. Down from practically 4:00 on Tuesday. I’d say Beckett was more effective than John Lackey at speeding up the game.

  12. steveohho - Sep 1, 2011 at 11:24 AM

    “I remember reading a Bill James idea that a pitcher should have to finish the inning unless he’s surrendered a run”

    This can’t be true in all cases? Tied or close, late inning playoff games?

  13. offseasonblues - Sep 1, 2011 at 11:30 AM

    One of the great things about baseball is no clock.

    And here’s my question – who watches the clock and who watches the play on the field?

    What happens, for example, when the pitcher balks and the umpire doesn’t see it because he’s looking at the clock?
    Or what if the umpire counts to himself (one one thousand, two one thousand …) and calls a ball on twelve one thousand, but someone in the dugout is watching a clock and has hard evidence that it was only eleven one thousand? All because bloggers and Phillies fans don’t like 4 hour Red Sox – Yankees games? You don’t have to watch if you don’t enjoy them you know.

    The real solution for Beckett is to have Pedroia tell him to hurry the bleep up before he falls asleep. But if his guys on the field don’t care, then neither do I.

  14. sloozeronymous - Sep 1, 2011 at 11:36 AM

    This is a bit of a non sequitur, but (as a Cleveland fan living in Boston) I found this to be an entertaining read on PolitiFact Ohio and wanted to share:

  15. goawaydog - Sep 1, 2011 at 11:49 AM

    There are no clocks in baseball. There should be no clocks in baseball. If an extra 10 seconds in between pitches is your biggest complaint today … Well you lead a pretty good life then.

    • davidpom50 - Sep 1, 2011 at 1:34 PM

      There are an average of 292 pitches per game. An extra 10 seconds per pitch adds up to about 49 minutes. There’s nothing happening during that time. Sit and watch a wall for 49 minutes and see if you enjoy it. This is a valid complaint.

      • goawaydog - Sep 1, 2011 at 3:55 PM

        I look at it this way, baseball is a living game, so thats 49 more minutes to talk to the old geezer in front of me, hear his stories of players I could only read about in histories, or to strategize, play couch manager, listen to my favorite announcers on the radio or if it’s not past the seventh yet, get a beer. Maybe I am just not in a hurry, might be why I switched to decaf. Anyway sure it’s a valid point if you have somewhere else to be. Me I will watch or listen to as much baseball as there is to be had and enjoy every minute of it.

    • samiratou - Sep 1, 2011 at 4:11 PM

      I agree with this in principle, but interest in major league baseball is declining, especially in-park attendance. When games are drawn out like this it doesn’t do much for the sport to bring in new fans. I’d have a much harder time bringing my kid(s) to a game where 3+ hours is the expected time frame, but would have a much easier time taking him to see a game if I knew Buehrle was pitching, for example.

      I don’t mind the slow pace of games, and I would hope my kid won’t either once he gets big enough, but he has to get interested in baseball in the first place. That’s a lot easier to do if the game keeps moving. It’s hard to keep a kid interested if the time between pitches is measured in minutes. Especially today’s kids, who aren’t exactly long on attention span as it is. Rail against kids these days all you want (and I do. Get offa my lawn!) but baseball as a business has to face the reality that they need fans, especially young fans, to keep this game going through successive generations.

      • 18thstreet - Sep 1, 2011 at 5:04 PM

        In-park attendance isn’t declining.

  16. drunkenhooliganism - Sep 1, 2011 at 12:51 PM

    I think a hard clock is too much. I would simply punish the teams who play the extra long games.

    For example, if The red sox and yankees play a 5-2 game that takes over four hours, all coaches and managers have to donate 10% of their salary for that day to charity. If they do it a second time, they get Joe West’s crew for the next series.

    • 18thstreet - Sep 1, 2011 at 5:05 PM

      The owners?

      • drunkenhooliganism - Sep 1, 2011 at 5:43 PM

        Sure. Owners too.

  17. dohpey28 - Sep 1, 2011 at 4:58 PM

    I wish they would make the more logical rule that batters are not allowed to step out of the batter’s box after every pitch. It’s mind numbing how much time is wasted. Do they really need to re-strap their batting gloves, adjust their nuts, molest their bats after every single pitch?

  18. anotheryx - Sep 1, 2011 at 5:51 PM

    Anyone who calls molasses slow never had to run away from it for dear life.

  19. serbingood - Sep 1, 2011 at 8:46 PM

    I agree. Listening the ESPN ‘commentary’ was maddening. I had to switch to the loveable team of Sterling/Waldman on the MLB.TV app on my iPhone. Better banter, a bit of lovable insanity too.

    MLB should enforce the 12 second rule (OK to stretch it out to 17) for every pitcher. Beckett is the worse offender. He needs to play by the rules and not have the rules play for him.

    Curt Schilling for an entire game, ESPN. Really? It almost, and I do mean ALMOST makes me miss Bobby Valentine. On second thought, no it doesn’t. I meant to say Jon Miller.

  20. oilcanjim - Sep 2, 2011 at 8:55 AM

    At least Beckett throws the ball over the plate. Dice-K takes even longer between pitches than Beckett, and he’s guaranteed to go to three balls on every hitter. I swear after watching Dice a few times, every other pitcher in the league seems speedy.

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