Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Logan Gillaspie, right, starts to deliver a pitch to Boston Red Sox's Connor Wong, as the pitch clock ticks to five seconds, during the eighth inning of an opening day baseball game at Fenway Park, Thursday, March 30, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Jeff “Cowboy” Brantley, the former Mississippi State and Major League pitching great, considers himself a baseball traditionalist. “Old school,” he describes himself.

Nevertheless, one game into the first season of MLB’s new pitch clock, which will forever change the sport, Brantley gushes. “I love it. I mean, I really love it.”

Rick Cleveland

I do, too.

“The thing is, I didn’t think I’d like it,” Brantley said in a phone conversation from Cincinnati, where he still broadcasts Reds games. “I thought it might rush the game too much. I thought it would change the rhythm of the sport. But after a full spring training and one regular season game I can tell you, I absolutely love it.”

Again, I do, too. In my mind, it’s the best thing to happen to baseball since Jackie Robinson.

For those who haven’t paid attention, a quick pitch clock synopsis: With no runners on base, a pitcher must throw to the plate in 15 seconds. With runners on, the pitcher has 20 seconds. Batters must be in the batter’s box, ready to hit, when the pitch clock ticks down to eight seconds. Batters can call timeout once per at bat. Pitchers can throw to a base in a pickoff attempt — or step off the rubber — only twice during at at-bat. A pitcher can make a third pickoff attempt, but if it is unsuccessful, the runner advances a base. If a pitcher doesn’t throw to the plate before the pitch clock runs out, the umpire calls a ball. If the batter is not ready to hit, the umpire calls a strike.

No longer can a pitcher stroll around the mound for a while between pitches, adjust his cap a few times, rub up the baseball for a few seconds, shake off the catcher’s signal a few times before finally throwing a pitch. No longer can a pitcher throw to first base six or seven times between pitches. No longer can a batter step out of the box between every pitch, adjust his batting gloves, arm padding and necklaces, scratch his privates, spit, etc., before getting ready to hit.

All that dead time is gone. If you equate that with changing the rhythm of the game to the sport’s detriment, so sorry for your loss. In my mind, it makes the sport infinitely more watchable.

Or, as Brantley puts it, “People come to watch players play. They don’t come for all that stuff that was happening in between pitches.”

I watched the Braves and Nationals play Thursday. The change was noticeable and appreciated. A word of warning: No longer can you make a trip to the refrigerator between pitches. If you don’t want to miss something, you’ll wait until between innings for refreshment.

“We didn’t have a single game in spring training that went beyond two hours, 30 minutes,” Brantley said. “That’s unheard of. Those games usually take forever with all the lineup changes that take place.”

The Reds’ opener – a 5-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates – lasted three hours, two minutes, but, says Brantley, “there were nine pitching changes and 15 walks. Last year, that game would have lasted more than four hours.”

Only five of 15 games on baseball’s opening day exceeded three hours. The average length of a game was down 26 minutes from last year.

Brantley believes the shorter games – or more appropriately, the less dead time – will appeal especially to younger fans.

“In our culture today, especially among our younger people, they are used to having action at their fingertips,” Brantley said. “They want constant action. Without that constant action, you lose their attention. I just think this is going to make the game that much more appealing to young people.”

Again, I couldn’t agree more. And yet, there are still naysayers who insist we need to quit messing with the grand old game. That argument makes no sense at all. If anything we are returning it to the grand old game it once was. The average length of a nine-inning MLB game in 1975 was two hours, 25 minutes. In 2021, the average game was three hours, 10 minutes. That’s a 45-minute difference. And, as someone who was watching back then and now, I can tell you that’s 45 added minutes of dead time. That’s 45 minutes when nothing happened.

Long live the pitch clock.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.