dinosaurus purist [dahy-nuh-sawr-uhs pyur-ist] noun 1. Certain species of fan who views baseball through the grainy lens of a hallowed black-and-white film clip, opposes any effort to bring the sport into the 21st century and believes attempts to modernize the game are downright blasphemous.
They’re grumbling and craning their necks. The new commissioner is tinkering with the time-honored tradition of timeless baseball. He’s trying to bring MLB in-line with the current times, where each second battles for attention.
But dinosaurus purists are convinced that nothing’s wrong with their sport. They don’t want to hear that the pace needs to quicken or – God forbid – a pitch clock might be in order.
All of that dead time that Rob Manfred wants to reduce? That’s part of the beauty of the game.
And by all accounts, MLB remains popular and prosperous.
There’s no need to fret about some batters’ elaborate, between-every-pitch adjustments to their gloves, helmet and uniform. No need to worry about some pitchers who can’t throw the ball without first strolling around the mound, fiddling with their hat, gazing into space and tugging on their jersey.
Manfred knows better. That pace might work for old heads, like himself, who grew up on baseball and are captivated by its laid-back rhythms and carefree nature between pitches.
But the commissioner’s job isn’t retaining true believers; it’s capturing new converts. That task is decidedly more difficult nowadays with dozens of other options vying for potential fans’ consideration.
The average age of 2014 All-Star Game viewers was 53.
“I have four children, all in their 20s, and I have some passing familiarity with that generation,” Manfred told reporters in Phoenix this week. “One thing I can say for sure is their attention span seems to be shorter than the rest of ours and it’s an issue we need to deal with to keep that fan base.”
In 2014, the average MLB game exceeded three hours for the first time (3:02). Games clocked in nearly a half-hour quicker as recently as the mid-1980s. In conjunction with the players union, Manfred has announced new rules intended to pick up the pace.
They don’t affect the way the game is played because that’s not the problem. Instead, the new measures address the unnecessary, mind-numbingly slow spots during at-bats and between innings.
Hitters will be required, for the most part, to keep one foot in the batter’s box at all times. Pitchers and hitters must be ready to go within 20 seconds of the commercial break between half-innings. Managers can now call for replay challenges from the dugout, opposed to being required to go on the field.
For the time being, the most draconian step isn’t being implemented – at least not in the big leagues.
But a pitch clock will be used for the first time at Double-A and Triple-A this season, after baseball used the Arizona Fall League as a guinea pig last year.
Dinosaurus purists aren’t the only folks who’d be apoplectic if 20-second clocks are installed in major-league parks and automatic balls are called when pitchers violate the rule. The players union is sure to balk as well.
Apprehension is understandable among pitchers, who represent 44 to 48 percent of the typical roster. The clock limits their ability to step back and gain composure in tight spots. It also makes them virtually unable to step off and keep would-be base-stealers from gaining a competitive edge.
But if a clock eventually comes to pass, everyone – fans and players alike – will adjust. It wouldn’t be the first instance of rule changes affecting the balance between offense and defense.
In MLB, the pitching mound was lowered from 15 inches to 19 inches in 1969 and every team had a higher batting average while both leagues’ ERAs increased by at least half a fun.
In the NFL, defenders were forbidden from downfield contact with receivers in 1978 and the league saw an increase of nearly 50 passing yards per game within three seasons.
The NBA eliminated hand checking in 1994 and the use of forearms to defend players away from the basket in 1997. The NHL downsized goaltenders’ equipment and restricted them from playing the puck outside a designated area in 2006.
Asking batters and pitchers not to dawdle is nothing compared to those major alterations. Besides, after ignoring former commissioner Bud Selig’s talk about the issue for years, players can’t complain that the new guy is taking action.
“The issue of attracting a younger audience and a pace of game is related,” Manfred said.
Here’s hoping we don’t reach the point where pitch clocks are necessary.
True, they might help baseball keep the kids’ attention.
But clocks would constitute cruel and unusual punishment for dinosaurus purists.