Royals starter Danny Duffy still remembers spending long nights at Dodger Stadium as a boy. He was captivated by the play of Mike Piazza and Eric Karros. He was delighted when a game dragged into extra innings, presenting the chance to watch more baseball.
The experiences were formative, he says, spurring his love for the sport. They also underscore his strong criticism for Major League Baseball’s plans to speed up the game through artificial measures and rules changes.
On Thursday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said the league would institute new pace-of-play rules this season, whether the players association signed off on the changes or not. The same morning, Duffy derided the idea, calling it “nonsensical” and “reckless.”
“I just don’t get it, man,” Duffy said, sitting at his locker as the Royals continued their first week of camp. “I don’t know what (Manfred’s) obsession with shortening games is, and I just don’t understand it. It doesn’t seem to be as much of an obsession when it’s a national broadcast, and the commercials go for two minutes, and we’re ready on the mound. And we’ve got to wait around, but it’s all about money. Bunch of crap. It angers me.”
Duffy is just the latest player to join the chorus of criticism for baseball’s pace-of-play initiatives. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen, an All-Star closer and outspoken personality, called the plans “ridiculous.”
“Football is four hours, four and a half hours,” Jansen told reporters this week at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., according to the Los Angeles Times. “The Super Bowl was five hours. Listen man, baseball fans are not going to stop watching the game because the game is too long. Let’s stop that. I think that’s ridiculous.”
Manfred, who succeeded Bud Selig as commissioner in 2015, has spent much of his tenure focusing on pace of play and the length of games. He has cited research that suggests fans want shorter games — the average game time was three hours, 5 minutes in 2017 — and less dead time, such as mound visits and long pauses between pitches. According to a clause in the collective bargaining agreement, Major League Baseball has the power to unilaterally implement changes. Manfred, however, has aimed for consensus.
In January, the players association reportedly rejected a proposal that would have included a pitch clock and limited actions such as mound visits. Players have appeared especially aggrieved by the idea of a pitch clock in a game where time is not kept. But this week, Manfred said that changes were coming — whether players agreed or not. He did not offer specifics and it is unclear if a pitch clock will be part of the changes in 2018. It’s possible that idea could be instituted later. More details could come on Tuesday when Manfred appears in Glendale at Cactus League media day.
“There are going to be rule changes, with respect to pace of play for the 2018 season,” Manfred said. “We’ll know about those rule changes before we start playing spring training games. One way or the other, those changes are going to be as a result with the MLBPA.
“It’s either going to be a specific agreement on specific rule changes or there will be rule changes we put in place as result of the provision in the basic agreement that allows us to make that change.”
The debate over pace of play has coming during an offseason in which relations between the union and the league have soured over a sluggish free-agent market. Duffy said he was most concerned over possible changes to the strike zone or the implementation of a pitch clock.
“What is an extra 10 seconds in-between pitches or in-between innings? Duffy asked. “I don’t know. I just think that the powers that be are coming in, guns-a-blazing right now, and they just want to change everything. (Manfred) just wants to change everything, and it doesn’t seem like a lot of the decisions that are being made are very calculated. We’ll see what happens. I know it’s all proposed.”
Duffy is one of the Royals’ most deliberate starting pitchers. He averaged 24.8 seconds per pitch last season, according to FanGraphs.com. His teammate, right-hander Jason Hammel, was even slower, averaging 26.9 seconds per pitch, the fifth slowest in baseball among starters.
Duffy said he recognized that some games run longer than others and that younger fans are now perceived to have shorter attention spans that do not mesh well with a sport where games can last for more than four hours. He’s still worried about changing the game he grew up on. He cited baseball’s love of offense and its prediclection towards conditions that increase runs as prime reasons for longer games.
“I loved watching baseball,” Duffy said. “I actually rooted for extra innings because it was more exciting. It was even more exciting than it was during the first nine. I know kids have changed, and technology has changed kids, and attention spans have gotten shorter. I just feel like it’s a beautiful game where it’s at, and if you’re searching for a perfect competition, you’re not going to find it, because there is no such thing. It’s just the way it is.”
Duffy has not been hesitant to voice his opinion across the last month. He has discussed the idea of a pitch clock on his Twitter account and engaged fans. He also hopes the league will continue to listen to players on pace-of-play issues.
“I just know from the jump, whenever (Manfred) moved into office, he’s been really trying to drastically change the game,” Duffy said, “and it doesn’t need to happen like that. It doesn’t.
“We don’t need as many changes as he’s proposing, and we don’t need certain changes that maybe could be adjustments. It could be maybe implemented a little bit quicker and a little bit more calculated, as opposed as just going in recklessly the way we have. That’s just my take.”