MESA, Ariz. -- Add several Chicago Cubs players to the list of those who aren’t in favor of artificially speeding up the game.
“I’m not a fan of how everything goes down,” outfielder Chris Coghlan said Saturday morning. “From our standpoint, this is the way the game has been played. Even when you start to listen to radio shows, fans don’t seem to have a major issue.”
On Friday, baseball announced several initiatives to eliminate some of the down time that takes place during games. The most intrusive is forcing a batter to keep one foot in the batter’s box. It’s a rule that has been in place but is rarely enforced.
“If you think of guys like Ryan Ludwick or Jay Bruce, every at-bat, taking a pitch, they’re stepping out of the box,” Anthony Rizzo said. “I’m interested in seeing guys, you know, that have been in the league for 10-plus years.”
Rizzo is less annoyed by the changes than most players. He says he’ll adjust accordingly, but most want nothing to do with forcing the pitcher or batter to speed up. For example, teammate Jon Lester is adamantly opposed to a pitch clock -- baseball will be testing with it in the minor leagues this season.
“I feel like if you do add a clock it just takes all the beauty away from the game,” he said this offseason. “I think you're going down a path you don’t want to go down."
Baseball is a game of habits and routines. Players feel like if you take them out of their established ways -- and give them more to think about in the heat of the moment -- it changes the game. Even pitchers have sympathy for the batter box rules.
“Good luck enforcing that,” hurler Jason Hammel said. “I know they are trying to speed up the game, but I feel like everyone is trying to change the game now. It’s a great game. How many times are we going to flip these things and change the rules? Even football is going to become flag football pretty soon.”
Hammel realizes baseball will turn its attention to pitchers next.
“The pace of play for pitchers?” he asked. “We’re going to be working at a 180 heart rate pretty soon. It is what it is. Guys need to do certain things to get ready, and I think that’s the most important part.”
Coghlan knows the players were consulted on these issues and he even spoke to MLBPA Director Tony Clark before baseball came to a decision, but he feels like they had no choice. The momentum was there.
“Umpires are pumped about this,” he joked. “It’s definitely advantage pitcher. But, whatever, I don’t care. I’m not going to let all these little things bother me.”
At least not until he’s forced back in the batter’s box before he’s ready. Most believe it’s those late inning, tense moments that might see some issues as hitters get distracted from their task at the plate.
“It’s definitely a controlling tactic,” Coghlan said. “They can pretty it up however they like but it’s a controlling tactic.
Ultimately, the players will have to adjust their habits and some believe nothing will change unless the penalties are more severe. But most simply don’t think the changes are needed.
"It’s a beautiful sport,” Lester said. “There's no time limit, there's no shot clock. There's no nothing. For me, I've always been a big believer in the fans know what they're getting themselves into when they show up. If it's a three-hour game it's a three-hour game. If it’s a five-hour game it’s a five-hour game."