Cleveland Indians reliever Andrew Miller, a prominent voice in the Major League Baseball Players Association, said he hopes that MLB’s plan to introduce a pitch clock in 2018 doesn’t lead to a “big fight or some sort of ugly showdown,” even though players are overwhelmingly opposed to the idea.
Miller — who serves as one of four elected association representatives, along with Washington’s Daniel Murphy, Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt and the New York Mets‘ Matt Harvey — has been heavily involved in pace-of-game talks, which hit a wall Thursday when players rejected the owners’ latest proposal. Barring a sudden change of course, MLB will unilaterally implement a 20-second clock and a limit on mound visits this season without consent from the union.
“As players, across the board, we agree that we want games to be quicker so it doesn’t have an effect on viewership,” Miller told ESPN on Friday from Cleveland, where he is attending a team event. “We get it. We’re in the entertainment business, and if we’re not putting the best product out there, we’re at fault and we need to make an adjustment. I think we all accept that we can be better with pace of play and make the game more appealing to viewers.
“We’re all for that. We’re just not necessarily for the changes MLB wants to make to get to that end goal. A lot of guys don’t like the clock, and I don’t disagree, personally. My take is, that’s one of the things about the sport that makes us so appealing and so unique — that we don’t have a clock ticking.
“Different players had different issues, and ultimately this wasn’t something we supported. But if MLB does implement, our job is to try and go out there and make it work. This is not something we want to turn into a big fight or some sort of ugly showdown about us trying to make a point. MLB thinks they have a way to speed up games. It’s really important to them. They’ve made it abundantly clear. We just don’t necessarily love the way they’re doing it.”
In 2015, MLB placed timers at ballparks to minimize down time between innings and introduced a rule requiring hitters to keep one foot in the batter’s box, barring several exceptions. The changes had a positive impact in 2015, reducing the average game time by six minutes. But MLB games returned to three hours in length in 2016 and spiked to a record 3:05.11 in 2017.
Over the past year, MLB has made several proposals that were less Draconian than the one on the verge of being implemented. One proposal called for the use an 18-second pitch clock, but only with the bases empty. Another called for a 20-second pitch clock with runners on base to kick in for 2019, only if the average game time remained above three hours this year. The two sides appearing to be making progress, according to one source, until things drifted apart this week.
Union executive director Tony Clark and assistant general counsel Matt Nussbaum rejected MLB’s latest proposal in a phone call to deputy commissioner Dan Halem on Thursday. While Clark and commissioner Rob Manfred are scheduled to meet next week, sources said the sides remain far apart on the issue and are not optimistic they will reach an agreement through further talks.
Although players acknowledge that pace-of-play is an issue, they have argued that games can be shortened through revisions in instant replay, stricter monitoring of the down time between innings and other remedies that don’t require a clock. The two sides even discussed the possibility of bringing back bullpen carts in their negotiations, but that initiative didn’t gain much traction.
Baseball introduced a pitch clock in the minor leagues in 2015. The clock currently being proposed by the commissioner’s office would allow for 20 seconds between offerings for big leaguers — or two seconds fewer than the average of 22 seconds between pitches in 2017.
Miller said that big leaguers who have pitched with the clock in the minors expressed a range of sentiments.
“We have guys who are members of our union who have played through the minor league changes, so we absolutely weighed that,” Miller said. “There were plenty of anecdotes of it not working. Ultimately, it’s going to be a challenge for the umpires as well. You don’t want to shave eight seconds off an inning that leads to 45 seconds of arguing.
“In the minor leagues, there were stories of more veteran guys who had more confidence in maybe abusing the pitch clock by not getting on the dirt, or stepping off or picking off, when it was kind of a blatant way of working around the clock and making a point. I imagine if there’s an instance where balls or strikes are added to an at-bat, it will lead to quite a bit of dialogue between players and umpires and slow things down. We just don’t know.”
Under MLB’s proposal, an umpire would issue a warning to a pitcher or batter for a first violation each game, and subsequent violations by the same player would result in a ball being called against a pitcher and a strike against a batter.
“Hopefully, as players, we do a really good job of handling that situation,” Miller said. “One of the positives is, the numbers aren’t that tight. I think that’s something we can accomplish — to get in the batter’s box in 30 seconds and get a pitch off in 20 seconds.”
The impasse in pace-of-game talks comes amid a slow offseason that has created some tension as dozens of free agents remain unsigned. Miller said he hopes the two sides can work through their differences on pace of game once spring training begins.
“Hopefully it will be a PR battle at the beginning and it doesn’t turn into something ugly,” Miller said. “I can’t imagine a better experience for fans than what we’ve seen the last two years in the World Series. We have young superstar talents. I think our game is in a great place. I hope this isn’t something that pulls us in the wrong direction. It’s just a matter of fine-tuning things.”