What MLB fans and players think of baseball's new rulesPlay
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Major League Baseball has new rules.
"This is the most fundamental change to the in-field game in baseball since integration," Jeff Passan says.
They’re designed to speed up the game and attract more fans. Are they working?
Today, On Point: What fans and players think of the sport’s big changes in the first few weeks of the new season.
Jeff Passan, senior MLB Insider at ESPN.
C.J. Stewart, former professional baseball player in the Chicago Cubs organization.
Founder of the LEAD Center for Youth, an Atlanta organization that aims to use the sport of baseball to help Black boys overcome poverty, crime and racism.
On baseball's big rule changes
Jeff Passan: "No question, it's the biggest on-field change. I mean there have been certainly other things that have happened in baseball over the last 75 or so years that are notable and significant. But when integration happened, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, all of a sudden you just had this new world of talent that was coming in and making the game better. This isn't that.
"I think the goal for Major League Baseball here is to recognize a few things. Number one, that fans these days have expectation for their entertainment products. And that expectation is that it's going to engage you regularly, that it's not going to take up too much of your time, and that if there's a slog at all, there are plenty of other options out there for people to have. But as much as that, the players who are playing in 2023, Anthony, are more talented than they have ever been before. They have better training modalities. They have more knowledge. They're better athletes.
"So why would you take these superior players and have them do what they do best, less? That's what the game had evolved into. And the hope in introducing the pitch clock, and the larger bases and banning defensive shifts, was that all of these great qualities and elements that players have these days would be highlighted. As opposed to being shut down the way that they were under the old rules."
On the new field arrangements
Jeff Passan: "It's been great for left-handed hitters who, you know, there would be a third baseman shifted over into short right field and would be making plays there. That's not allowed anymore. It's great for singles. If you like singles, then you like baseball in 2023. But you look at a number, batting average on balls in play, which historically has been around 300. You know, if you put the ball in play, it's going to land for a hit about 30% of the time. Over the last three years, that number had dipped to around 290, and it's back up to 298 this year.
"So it illustrates that there's just a specific way that the game goes that it had gotten away from. And if you talk with people at Major League Baseball, their perspective is that we're not trying to reinvent the game necessarily. We're just trying to bring it back to its natural order. And, you know, one could argue that a game's natural order is how it evolves. But I think Major League Baseball believes that it had evolved in the wrong way and had gotten away from some of the fundamental things that make baseball great."
On why games got longer through the 20th century, into the 21st century
Jeff Passan: "There's certainly a few elements to it, and I think one of them that is not going anywhere is the length of time between innings, i.e. how much money teams are getting from commercial breaks with television. And you know, the time between innings is 2 minutes and 30 or so seconds and that's not going away. So, you know, you're going to have at least 17 built in 2.5-minute breaks during a game. What else then contributed to average game time being well over 3 hours? It was the way that the players were conducting themselves on the field.
"And what I mean by that is, you know, psychology has become such an enormous part of the modern sports world. How do we prepare ourselves, athletes ask, in order to be at our best, in order to optimize what we have? And part of that optimization process in baseball was the idea that the more time you take between pitches, the more your body can recover from this maximum effort exertion that you're putting out there, whether it's on every pitch, every swing, everything you're trying to do on the field. And so batters would step out of the batter's box and adjust their gloves and take a breath and go through a routine.
"And pitchers had a process where they would step off the mound and fiddle with the ball and figure out what pitch they're going to throw and what wound up being a 10 to 15 second process. If you go and look back in the 1950s and '60s and '70s and even as recent as the 1980s turned into a slog of 2025, sometimes 30 plus seconds between pitches and when you have hundreds of pitches a game, that adds up. And so what Major League Baseball believed was going to happen with the pitch clock, and they believed this because they did testing in the minor leagues, over thousands of games that proved unequivocally this was going to be the case.
"If athletes are forced to do something by rule and there is a penalty in place that has a negative consequence, they will change, they will adjust. And you know what? Turns out you didn't need to take your batting gloves and un-Velcro them. And it turns out you didn't need to take multiple cleansing breaths and staring at the catcher for an unknown amount of time. You can still be effective going about your job, but doing it at a hastened pace."
On the history and tradition of baseball
Jeff Passan: "I like to consider myself a real baseball fan. And let me tell you, I love those extra 27 minutes a game I'm getting back every night where I'm not watching guys walk in circles on the mound with their batting gloves. And I think the best argument in favor of why the pitch clock is bad is that in this world where everything is fast paced, where leisure time is so minimal, having something that we can sit back and not need to be fully engaged with at every moment is actually a positive actually.
"Plus actually something that we should look at and say, that's good for us. We need a little bit of that. But I think the vast majority of people would rather just look at it like, hey, I'm going to be extremely entertained for the entirety of this time. And if the consequence of that is that I miss a few more pitches when I go and grab a drink from the fridge, then so be it. I as a fan, have to adjust just as players in their roles need to do the same."
On making baseball more diverse
C.J. Stewart: "I was born and raised in financial and relational poverty and experience disenfranchisement and was also dysregulated. And so, we start talking about disenfranchisement, which, you know, we're simply just talking about. There are things that are not afforded to people within a community because of their race. And then as far as being dysregulated, we're talking about youth that because of that poverty or experience at high levels of frequent trauma, and when you start experiencing high levels of frequent trauma, it starts to affect your brain and how you process things.
"So that was even the case for me. And fortunately it has been proven that sports in general is a tool that allows you to be regulated when you're dysregulated. But baseball has become the sport to where it has priced a lot of kids out, specifically Black youth that are poor. But one of the other things that I really bring at the places where we talk about the financial calls, but we talk about the emotional and mental calls of having to be Black playing in a white sport. I know for me, I caught a lot of flak in the Black community when I started to play with white teams in travel ball at East Cobb.
"And immediately when I would come back home, it was, You're starting to act white, you're starting to talk white, you're starting to play white. And so, you know, you have a lot of Black boys that are that are disenfranchised and dysregulated, that are choosing not to play it because the long length of game this is a white style of play. Just like even when I was here, the caller talked about, you know, being a real baseball fan and wanting to be in the game for the long haul. Well, what does that mean if you have the distinction of being a low-income Black player who is not afforded the opportunity to play the game, who wants a faster pace. So now we're drawing those distinctions."
This program aired on April 19, 2023.