The Atlantic League – Leading the Way in Pace of Play or Publicity Stunt?

The independent Atlantic League is no stranger to the Pace of Play initiative to speed up the game of baseball.  In June of 2014, the league formed a Pace of Play Committee.  The committee is “tasked with reviewing ways to reduce the average time and enliven the pace of baseball games in order to enhance overall fan experience.”

After reviewing extensive data collected throughout the 2013 season and soliciting ideas from the fans, media, and baseball personnel, the committee worked on implementing different pace of play rules during the 2014 season.

As of August 1, 2014, five pace of play rules were put in place for all Atlantic League  games.

  1. The Time-Out Rule – “The defensive team, including any manager, coach or player, shall be limited during a game to a total of three (3) “time-outs” in which mound visits or on-the-field conferences are conducted with a pitcher.” Each “time-out” is also limited to 45 seconds.
  2. Directing umpires to apply and enforce Rule 6.02 and Rule 8.04 – “The Atlantic League office shall intensify its directives to the umpires and direct them to be more diligent applying and enforcing Rule 6.02 (restricting batters ‘stepping out’ of the box) and Rule 8.04 (requiring the pitcher to deliver the ball within 12 seconds when the bases are unoccupied).”
  3. Directing umpires to control the pace of play – “ALPB umpires shall be reminded that they control the pace of play and that they need to exercise that control and move the game on in a timely manner.
    The umpires shall adhere to the strike zone as defined in Rule 2.00 and to observe that definition when calling pitches ‘balls’ or ‘strikes.”’
  4. Reducing the number of warm-up pitches – “Reduce the limit for preparatory ‘warm-up’ pitches at the beginning of an inning, or when a relief pitcher enters the game, from 8 to 6 (as provided for in Rule 8.03).”
  5. Automatic awarding of an intentional walk – “When a manager or catcher of the defensive team indicates to the home plate umpire they wish to issue an intentional base on balls, the batter is to be automatically awarded first base without the need for the pitcher to deliver four balls.”

You can read the rationale for the decisions HERE.

In addition to the rules already in place, they are also reviewing six other potential pace of play initiatives.

  1. “At the start of each half inning, require that the leadoff batter take his position in the batter’s box and the pitcher take his position on the rubber and be prepared to deliver his first pitch within 120 seconds from the time of the last out in the preceding half inning.”
  2. “Install stadium “shot clocks” to time and count down (a) the delivery of the pitch to the batter, (b) timeouts, (c) pitching changes, and (d) the interval from the last out of one half inning to the first pitch of the next half inning.”
  3. “Amend Rule 3.05 (b) so as to require a relief pitcher to pitch to more than one batter during the inning in which he enters the game.”
  4. “Develop an on-going program to educate players, managers, coaches, umpires and administrators about the need to be attentive to the pace of play.”
  5. “Initiate an electronic system that would provide for communication and relaying of signs from the dugout to the catcher and/or the pitcher.”
  6. “Modify or eliminate the DH rule.”

Even more initiatives have been tabled for future review. The rules listed for future review can be found HERE.

The Pace of Play committee has already rejected five rules that were found to be completely irrelevant or impractical to put into place during a game.

  1. “Limit the number of pitching changes a team may make.”
  2. “Raise the height of the pitching mound.”
  3. “Limit the number of foul balls allowed a batter once he has two strikes.” *Take note of this rule*
  4. “Disallow batters who have become base runners from discarding their elbow sleeves and other protective armor.”
  5. “Outlaw Velcro batting gloves.”

The Atlantic League is looking to take things one step further to speed up the game, but only for one exhibition game. The league announced that they will try two more pace of play rules when the Bridgeport Bluefish visit the Long Island Ducks on April 18th.  These two rules were proposed by a 68-year old baseball fan and author, Paul Auster.

The batter will:

  • be given a walk for three balls rather than four and
  • be called out for a two-strike foul ball. (Which is a lot like the rule completely dismissed by the committee.)

The Atlantic League president, Rick White, claimed that these rules were not being considered for the long term, but that they are going to continue as an “experimental laboratory for ways to improve the pace of games.”

But why even put these rules, which greatly change the dynamic (not just the pace) of the game, into place for one exhibition game? Why use different rules for an exhibition game where there will be players who are trying to get noticed and land a spot on the team?

If the league isn’t seriously considering these drastic changes, is it just a way to get fans in the seats and the Atlantic League in the news?

Let’s stop trying to be a publicity stunt and just play the game as it was meant to be played, balls and strikes included.

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