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Tal Smith talks Atlantic League and Pace of Play Committee

Pace of Play's Tal Smith talks Altantic League's new committee
Pace of Play's Tal Smith talks Altantic League's new committee
Devon Teeple

The Atlantic League has been working on a variety of ways to speed up the length of games. Over the course of the last year, they’ve been collecting data relevant to the cause and have now created the Pace of Play Committee. The panel consists of some of the greatest baseball minds the game has ever seen: Tal Smith, Roland Hemond, Pat Gillick, Joe Klein, Cecil Cooper, Bud Harrelson and Sparky Lyle. They will be taking suggestions from fans, media, baseball people from a variety of sources, and proposals from the committee who will look for ways to enhance the "watchability" of the game while keeping the fundamental rules and integrity intact. It’s not just about speeding up independent league games, but enhancing the pace and increasing excitement for fans at every level.

The GM’s Perspective: I do a lot writing on the Independent Leagues, and I read about the Pace of Play Committee on the Atlantic League website. I did a brief summary recently on my weekly recap, “Indy Ball Weekly Perspective”.

I thought it would be a great time to catch up with the Atlantic League and learn more about this new initiative. It would also be a great follow-up to the interview I conducted with former ATL president, Peter Kirk last year.

Tal Smith: I’ve known Peter Kirk for a long time, from when he first got involved in baseball back in 1990 when he was operating affiliated clubs in Frederick and other areas (Baltimore affiliates). As you know, Peter is chairman of Opening Day Partners, Sugar Land Skeeters, and other teams in the Atlantic League. I do some consulting and advisory work for Opening Day Partners and Peter. Over the course of time, our baseball interests, like so many people in the game, have noticed and have become concerned with the games running exceedingly long. It’s fine if it’s a long game and it’s interesting, but there’s an awful lot of dead time that’s crept into our game. It’s something that we thought we could examine and initiate some ideas that would speed up the pace of the game and make it even more interesting and more attractive to the fans.

After a lot of discussion and exchange of ideas, the Atlantic League did create the committee you are aware of. The announcement was on the 26th of June.

GMs: If the readers aren’t aware, who makes up the committee?

TS: The committee is comprised of a couple long time managers and coaches; Sparky Lyle, and Bud Harrelson, both who have great Major League pedigrees, and obviously long service and familiarity with the Atlantic League. Joe Klein, of course, general manager for three Major League clubs and a long time executive director of the Atlantic League. We went out and got two of the legendary baseball figures in Pat Gillick and Roland Hemon. And we also have Cecil Cooper, a fine player in his own right, and a Major League manager to get another independent view. We’ve got a seven member committee, whether we expand on this or not, we’ll have to wait and see. You have to understand, we’re only in our few first weeks.

GMs: I know that you will proposing some items to the Executive Committee, but what sort of things have been tossed back and forth for review?

TS: Many things come to mind. Two areas, which are of a big concern, are controlled by the umpires. They really control the pace of the game. From the standpoint of a strike zone, hitters take too much stepping out and the time it take pitchers to deliver the ball. As you undoubtedly know there are, among official playing rules, specifically rule 6.02 that deal with hitters stepping out, rule 8.04 deals with the pitcher delivering the ball on a timely matter when the bases are unoccupied. We’ve talked about those sorts of things, but much of those are judgments calls and we hope to be able to get umpires to become more diligent in their focus and application of the existing rules. Beyond that, there are a lot of other things that have been discussed.

The deployment of pitchers today is different from what it used to be. Complete games are rare, and specialists are relied upon in certain situations i.e. left vs. right with the result being many more pitching changes. Every time there’s a pitching change it consumes five minutes and creates a stoppage or a delay in the action. Rules presently require that a relief pitcher coming into to face one batter. That lends itself to a lot of pitching changes. And today with the emphasis on analytics and the left/right match-ups to which I referred.

One of the other things we’ve kicked around for further evaluation and discussion is whether it would make sense to require a relief pitcher, who is coming in during the course of an inning, to face more than one hitter to get away from the constant left/right match-up where a relief pitcher comes in and faces one guy. The result is a delay in action and another guy comes in and so on.

There are a number of things such as the intentional walk. That’s a minor consideration, and doesn’t consume much time, but is it really necessary to deliver the four pitches outside before the batter is awarded first base?

We’ve talked at length about the delay in games if the catcher was on base or the final out. You have to wait on him to get his gear back on and come back to the field of play. Is there a way to remedy that, perhaps with a designated runner for the catcher? .

One of the principle areas we’re focusing on is the number of mound conferences during a game where the manager or the pitching coach or infielders or catcher come out to confer on the mound. Should there be a limit imposed there or time out? Baseball is the only team sport to my knowledge that doesn’t have some kind of a policy as to how many times you can stop or interrupt or delay play. Obviously if a manager makes a second trip to the mound with the same pitcher in the same inning he has to make a pitching change, but that doesn’t remedy all the other mound conferences. We’ve discussed and will probably recommend some limitation on the number of those mound visits that might be permitted.

We’ve met twice, that’s just the beginning stage of our work, and it’ll be an ongoing exercise.

GMs: Do you think Major League Baseball would adapt any of these proposed new rules?

TS: I think they might take a look at what we’re doing. I think the benefit the independent leagues, particularly the Atlantic League, has is the fact that they are independent and we can implement these things. They are up to the executive committee, which is principally the owners of the clubs and the league, it’s up to them, their prerogative.

I think that’s the benefits. It’s a lot easier for us (Atlantic League) to implement certain initiatives like the ones I’ve outlined, I think Major League Baseball would hopefully take a look at what we’re doing and evaluate it. I would hope these things prove beneficial. These proposed rules will be viewed on a trial basis. We may very well recommend, and once it’s adopted, and after it’s put to use for a year, we may find that it’s not beneficial.

Our intent is to not just benefit the Atlantic League, but benefit baseball. I think all of baseball is confronted as they face the same issues; the elapsed time and the pace of the game. The focus really has to be on the pace. There can be a lengthy game that is exciting because of the action. There can shorter games that are dull because the pace is still too slow.