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Nightengale: Pitch Time Limit or Not, MLB-Union Hostilities Already on the Clock

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The Major League Baseball logo in an on-deck circle. Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Change makes us uncomfortable.

Change makes us uneasy.

Change puts us on edge about the future.

Major League Baseball has been around since 1869, and for the first time in the sport’s glorious history, we’re about to have a pitch clock.

And we don’t like it.

Clocks are for basketball, football, boxing and all the other sports, not baseball.

The beauty of baseball has always been that there’s no clock, a timeless sport that allows the improbable to turn into the impossible, and the impossible to turn into the unforgettable because you can never run out of time.

Now, with Commissioner Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball scared the sport is losing its appeal with the young audience, executives on Park Avenue want a pitch clock.

They started it in 2015 in the minors with the idea of implementing it in the major leagues. Pitchers will have 20 seconds to throw a pitch or be penalized with a charged ball to the count. It should be no biggie. It took an average of just 22 seconds between pitches last year.

MLB officials also want to limit mound visits. If a catcher or position player comes to the mound, it’s no different than the pitching coach or manager. It will count the same. If there are two mound visits to the same pitcher in the same inning, he’s out of the game, no matter who makes the visits.

Really, it shouldn’t be that big of a deal, and the young pitchers who grew up on the pitch clocks in the minors, swear it’s an easy transition.

Still, it’s change, and we don’t like it.

Baseball players never wanted to wear flaps on their helmets, either, but Major League Baseball implemented the rule for safety. Fans who sit behind the dugouts don’t want a safety net. Sorry, virtually every ballpark will have them in 2018. Base coaches didn’t want to wear helmets while on the field. Mike Coolbaugh’s death changed that. Players didn’t want rules eliminating collisions at home plate or second base. Buster Posey’s injury and Chase Utley’s slide changed all of that.

Even as a society, we despised going through metal detectors and taking off our belts and shoes at airports after 9/11, but we’ve gotten used to it.

Now, we’re faced with change again, and the result is an old-fashioned squabble between the Major League Baseball Players Association and the Commissioner’s office.

Manfred, after seeing games last a record 3 hours, 8 minutes last year, badly wants a pitch clock. He warned the union a year ago that if the union didn’t agree by 2018, he would unilaterally implement his own changes.

The union, after meetings with the Commissioner’s office several times this past year, still has not changed its stance. Manfred even offered to alter his proposed agreement, according to a memo received by Yahoo Sports, reducing the pitch clock to 18 seconds with no one on base and no pitch clock with runners on base. Pitchers would even be given until May 1 before the rules were implemented instead of immediately being penalized on opening day.

Nothing doing.

The union had had a conference call Tuesday with their executive council and player representatives, and they voted resoundingly against it.

Now, with the Major League Baseball’s quarterly owners meetings in two weeks in Los Angeles, Manfred has to decide whether to continue this fight and implement his original plan, or wait one more year and perhaps make the changes even more radical.

Manfred is scheduled to have another meeting next week with Tony Clark and union officials, according to The Athletic. It likely will be their final negotiating session before Manfred must decide whether to go ahead with his plan or delay it.

Manfred is mad as hell that the union doesn’t agree that the pitch clock and mound visits will be best for the future of baseball, shortening games by an estimated 10 minutes, while the union says that curtailing commercial breaks and accelerating instant replay would provide the same effect.

And the union is mad as hell that there still are more than 130 unsigned free agents with less than a month remaining before spring training, while MLB suggests that perhaps the players are being unrealistic in their demands.

It’s a doozy of a stalemate that Manfred badly wants to resolve in a negotiated settlement.

If there’s no agreement, and he unilaterally implements the changes, he’s going to have a whole lot of hostility on his hands with veterans complaining loud enough to hurt the game’s image.

Yet, no matter what happens, change is definitely coming. It’s just a question of whether it’s on Opening Day, March 27 or in 2019.

If you listen to the umpires’ union, they believe nothing will happen until 2019.

We’ll see.

Baseball’s strangest winter is getting even more mystifying.

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook

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