MLB set to announce pitch clocks, shift limits for 2023
RONALD BLUM AP Baseball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is set to announce a pitch clock and limits on defensive shifts next season in an effort to shorten games and increase offense.
The sport’s 11-man competition committee is set to adopt the rules changes Friday, mandating a clock that will count down 15 seconds with no runners on base and 20 seconds with runners. The MLB clock will be slightly longer than the version experimented with in the minor leagues this season: 14 seconds with the bases empty and 19 seconds with runners on at Triple-A, and 14/18 at lower levels.
“It’s something that takes a while to get used to, but I think overall the impact it had on the pace of the game was good,” said the Yankees’ Matt Carpenter, who spent April at Triple-A with Round Rock.
The shift limit will require four players other than the pitcher and the catcher to be in front of the outfield grass when a pitch is thrown, including two of the four on either side of second base,
In addition, there will be a limit during each plate appearance of two pickoff attempts or steps off the rubber, what MLB calls disengagements. If a third attempt is made and is unsuccessful, a balk would be called. The limit would be reset to two during a plate appearance if a runner advances.
Size of bases will increase to 18-inch squares from 15, promoting safety — first basemen are less likely to get stepped on — but also boosting stolen bases and offense with a slightly decreased distance.
The plans, first reported by The Athletic, were detailed by a pair of baseball officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the changes were not scheduled to be announced until Friday.
The changes will be start during spring training.
A catcher will be required to be in the catcher’s box with nine seconds left on the clock and a hitter in the batter’s box and focused on the pitcher with eight seconds remaining. Penalties for violations will be a ball called against a pitcher and a strike called against a batter.
Time between half-innings will set at 2:15 for most regular-season games, 2:40 for nationally televised games and 3:10 for postseason games. The clock will be 30 seconds between batters.
A batter can ask an umpire for time once per plate appearance, and after that it would be granted only at umpire’s discretion if request is made while in box.
The clock has reduced the average time of a nine-inning game in the minor leagues from 3:04 in 2021 to 2:38 this season. The average time of a nine-inning game in the major leagues this year is 3:06 — it was 2:46 in 1989, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“It’s slow. It’s boring,” Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia said of a TV broadcast in 2017. “Man, it’s so hard to watch if you have no interest in it.”
Shifts have been limited all season at Double-A and Class A, where teams are required to have four players on the infield, including two on each side of second base.
Use of shifts has exploded in the past decade, from 2,357 times on balls hit in play in 2011 to 28,130 in 2016 and 59,063 last year, according to Sports Info Solutions. Shifts are on pace for 68,000 this season.
The big league batting average of .243 this year in on track to be the lowest since 1967, two years before the pitcher’s mound was lowered from 15 inches to 10.
Players had long resisted a clock at the major league level. Management gained the right in March’s lockout settlement to establish the 11-person committee, which includes six management representatives, four players and one umpire.
The ceremonial first pitch is a baseball tradition that marks the beginning of the game. The first president to throw out the ceremonial first pitch was then-Governor William McKinley in 1892. The presidential first pitch on opening day was started by President William Howard Taft in 1910 at the Washington Senators’ opening day. But the first pitch looked different back then — it was thrown from the grandstands and not from the pitcher's mound. The first president to throw from the pitcher’s mound was Ronald Reagan at the Wrigley Field in 1988.
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The tradition of the seventh inning stretch is one most baseball fans look forward to every game. The seventh inning stretch is the traditional extended break in between the top and bottom half of the seventh inning. The history of the seventh inning stretch is questionable. Some historians credit President Taft, who notably stood up to stretch his legs in the middle of the seventh inning in 1910.
The use of the letter “K” as a reference to a strikeout in baseball started with sportswriter Henry Chadwick, who published rule books and annual guides and created statistics such as batting average and ERA. Chadwick used either the first or last letter of key words in his scoring scheme, using K to represent “struck out” because it’s the last letter in “struck.” Today, fans hang “K” signs after opposing teams strike out.
An event that has evolved from the tradition of the seventh inning stretch is the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” The song was written by Jack Norworth while riding a New York City train in 1908. The song gained popularity when White Sox announcer Harry Caray started singing it during the seventh inning stretch instead of the solo organist performance.
Bleacher creatures are New York Yankee fans who occupied sections 37 and 39 in the old Yankees Stadium and section 203 of the right-right bleachers in the new Yankees Stadium. The bleacher creatures have a tradition to yell the starting lineup during the top of the first inning while the Yankee players are on the field. The tradition started in 1998 when the bleacher creatures would announce the Yankees starting outfielders. When “Megaphone John” started orchestrating the roll call, he included the infielders by using his foghorn voice.
The first known rally cap was seen during the 1945 World Series when the Detroit Tigers flipped their hats inside out hoping for a rally against the Chicago Cubs. The Tigers magically started a comeback and ended up winning the World Series. About 40 years later, during the 1985 season, the New York Mets players donned rally caps and the fans started to copy the players. That’s when the baseball trend took off.
The caramel-coated popcorn-and-peanut snack known as Cracker Jack has been served at baseball games since 1896, according to historian Tim Wiles. The snack wasn’t served at an MLB game until 1907, one year before Norworth included the snack in the lyrics of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
Sportswriter Henry Chadwick, the creator of baseball statistics and scorekeeping, designed the first scorecard grid. Chadwick’s original scorecard was nine batters deep and nine innings wide. Chadwick used codes to indicate what the batter did and which fielder handled the ball. Most of Chadwick’s scoring codes, such as the “K,” are still used today. Keeping score has become a tradition for baseball fans to follow and be a part of the game.
The sausage race at the Milwaukee Brewers game started as a virtual race on the scoreboard at County Stadium. When the Brewers moved to Miller Park, the virtual race was thrown out in favor of actual sausage costumes. The sausage race now consists of five sausages (brat, chorizo, hot dog, Italian sausage and Polish sausage) running from the left field foul pole to home plate. The Italian sausage is the all-time winner through September of 2020.
The first documented American sporting event to play “The Star-Spangled Banner” was a baseball game in 1862 during the Civil War and before the song was labeled the national anthem. The tradition of playing it before games gained popularity during World War II.
The tradition of fans throwing back home runs hit by visiting players started with Chicago Cubs fans. Any Cubs fan who caught an opposing teams’ home run knew to throw it back onto the field. The tradition dates back to 1969 when a fan in the bleachers caught a ball hit by Hank Aaron and chucked it back onto the field because of a rejection of trying to return a ball to Aaron a year earlier. It didn’t help that it was a crummy year for the Cubs.
The tradition at Fenway Park is to play Neil Diamond’s recording of “Sweet Caroline” prior to the bottom of the eighth inning during every home game. The tradition began during a 1997 game when a Fenway employee in charge of ballpark music played the Neil Diamond hit because she knew someone who recently had a baby named Caroline. The song found a permanent home in the bottom of the eighth inning when Charles Steinberg became the Red Sox executive vice president and suggested it become tradition.
Teams often switch between home and away every opening day, but not the Cincinnati Reds. MLB opening day is always in Cincinnati. It’s not an official baseball rule, though it is a tradition. The Cincinnati Reds have started every season in Cincinnati since 1876, and it’s because of the weather. According to Reds historians, Cincinnati is always the opening city because it is a southern city.
The rally monkey is a tradition started by the Los Angeles Angels in 2000. In a game against the San Francisco Giants, the video board operators played a clip of a monkey jumping up and down along with a clip from Jim Carrey’s “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” In the ninth inning, the operators played the clip again with the words “rally monkey” above it. The Angels completed a comeback and the rally monkey remained a fixture.
The section of the San Francisco Bay beyond the right field wall of Oracle Park is known as McCovey Cove after Giants first baseman Willie McCovey, who routinely hit home runs into the water. Fans started to line their boats and kayaks waiting for the next home run to splash into the water. Even though the body of water was named after McCovey, the area was made popular by Giantsâ€™ legend and home run king Barry Bonds, who hit 35 baseballs into McCovey Cove.
Similar to the Brewers’ sausage race, the Washington Nationals designed their own version of the race. Instead of sausages, the Nationals race four presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. The race became a team tradition on July 21, 2006, in the middle of the fourth inning. If the game goes into the 13th inning, the presidents get suited up and race again. Teddy Roosevelt is the all-time champion with 35 wins.
The original W flag affiliated with the Chicago Cubs didn’t mean “win” until 1938. Before that season, the W referred to Wilmington Transportation Co., a company purchased by William Wrigley Jr. The Cubs continue to fly the W flag when the Cubs win a game to let passengers on the “L” train know if the Cubs won or lost that day.
The New York Mets added the home run apple to Shea Stadium in 1980. New team owners were looking for ways to attract fans back to the stadium after a long stretch of losing seasons. The Mets encased the home run apple in an oversized top hat in center field, and the apple would appear from the hat after a Mets player hit a homerun. The apple became a staple in Mets tradition. When the team moved into Citi Field, the apple found a new home but the tradition continued.
Train tracks were installed 90 feet above the field at Minute Maid Park in 2000. A 15-foot-high and 56-foot-long replica of an 1862 steam locomotive makes a 40-second trip back and forth on its track every time an Astros player hits a home run. Every time an Astros score a run, the train sounds its bells and whistles.
The seventh-inning stretch at Rogers Centre in Toronto doesn’t play the typical “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” The Blue Jays have a signature song called “OK, Blue Jays” that plays during the seventh inning stretch. The song was first released in 1983 by Canadians Jack Lenz and Tony Kosinec.
The St. Louis Cardinals named left-field section 272 “Big Mac Land” as a tribute to former first baseman Mark McGwire. Whenever a home run is hit in that section, everyone at the game is entitled to redeem their ticket for a free Big Mac at all participating McDonald’s.
When baseball fans think of Chicago’s Wrigley Field, they often think of the ivy on the outfield wall. Cubs president William Veeck planted the ivy against the brick outfield wall in 1937. The ivy has made an appearance in Wrigley Field every season since, and even has its own rule. If a ball is stuck in the ivy, it is an automatic ground-rule double.
FILE - A pitch clock is deployed to restrict pitcher preparation times during a minor league baseball game between the Brooklyn Cyclones and Greensboro Grasshoppers, July 13, 2022, in the Coney Island neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York. Major League Baseball is set to announce a pitch clock and limits on defensive shifts next season in an effort to shorten games and increase offense. The sport’s 11-man competition committee is set to adopt the rules changes Friday, Sept. 9. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)