If the 24-second clock expired before Stephen Curry got off a shot in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, who would be blamed?
Answer: Curry, for not releasing the ball in time, or coach Steve Kerr, for not drawing up a good play, or the execution of those on the court.
If the play clock ran out before the ball were snapped to Patrick Mahomes on a key, last-second play that cost the Chiefs the Super Bowl, who would be blamed?
Answer: Mahomes would be, or coach Andy Reid for failing to get the play in quickly enough, or the players for not getting lined up properly.
If the pitch clock expires before Braves closer Rasiel Iglesias delivers a full-count pitch with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, forcing in the World Series-winning run in Game 7, who would be blamed?
Answer: Well, the rule, of course. And the league, for implementing the rule.
You see how silly that is, right?
In other sports, we expect players to work within the rules when it comes to time. In baseball, we decide that a rule that is working just fine would be the problem if there were a violation at a critical moment.
Life was breathed into this issue once again during the All-Star break when union executive director Tony Clark, in an annual question-and-answer with reporters, said that for the late season and definitely the postseason, the Players Association would like MLB to “make adjustments” of adding a few seconds to the timer, particularly the playoffs.
Clark said more fully, “The adjustments that the players are looking [for] are simply ones that affords them and those watching a chance to take a few extra seconds here and there, a deep breath.”
I will be the advocate for “those watching” and say we do not need to take a deeper breath between pitches. We all but overdosed on deep breaths in previous years. The whole concept of putting in a pitch clock was because viewers weren’t taking a “deep breath,” they were abandoning a product that was abiding relentless walks around the mound and fiddling with batting gloves. The rule was designed so that a sport that had become overrun by too much on-field thinking would have less of that, and more action.
The only reason to step back would be if a valid study showed that delivering pitches more frequently within a quickened time span — 15 seconds with no one on base and 20 with runners on — was elevating injuries. If not, then just give the rule, of all things, time. Rather than imagine the worst scenario — a huge game being determined by a violation against pitcher or hitter — let’s appreciate that half a season has been played under these new rules and what was expected to occur has.
Namely, the best athletes in the world have quickly adjusted to new rules. MLB said more than 60 percent of games have been played without a violation, and violations were down, on average, to fewer than one per game. And a nine-inning game, on average, was being played in 2:38 — 25 minutes faster than last season. And, for the most part, the clock has melted in the background, much like the 24-second clock in the NBA.
And let’s not forget we already are guaranteed to play longer postseason games because that is the money-making time for the industry. Break times between innings for ads will go from 2:15 for regular-season games that are not nationally televised to 2:40 for the wild-card games and 3:10 for the rest of the playoffs.
“Nobody’s looking to play 3 ¹/₂-, 4-hour games,” Clark said, “and I don’t think that an extra few seconds here is going to create a 3 ¹/₂-, 4-hour game.”
Maybe not. But it is going to add up, between extra commercial time, plus a few seconds here and there. And we don’t need that kind of creep upward in the most important games.
Instead, as in other sports, let’s just hold accountable those involved within the game — players, coaches, managers — for getting plays off in time. Let’s not go after the rule. The rule is fine.
MLB actually said pitchers are delivering pitches on average 6 seconds before the clock would expire. So there actually is wiggle room if the players want to use it.
In an email exchange, Clark noted that players in the initial discussions asked, especially when it came to the 15-second clock, that it be shut off late in games and eliminated altogether for the playoffs. The players only represented four of the 11 members of the Competition Committee and were outvoted 7-4 on the implementation of the current system.
Clark said he still hoped to have alterations for at least the postseason. Commissioner Rob Manfred said he was “open-minded” on the issue and that dialogue would continue. But he also indicated he was not in favor of changing it for the postseason.
And he shouldn’t be. Let’s at least play the postseason with the current rules and see how it goes. In all likelihood, the “worst” will not occur, with a big game impacted by the clock. But if it does, like Curry not getting off a shot or Mahomes a snap, the blame for failing to execute a pitch or being ready to hit will be about the players, not the rule.