During the initial weeks of the 2023 MLB regular season, the pitch clock has proven to be a resounding success. Game times have decreased, and the action on the field has become more frequent, aligning with MLB’s intended goals when implementing the new policy.
However, a significant flaw in the system came to light during Friday’s matchup between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The game held special significance as it marked Cody Bellinger’s return to Los Angeles after spending six seasons with the Dodgers before signing with the Cubs in the offseason.
Bellinger had previously won the Rookie of the Year award and an MVP with the Dodgers, and was instrumental in their 2020 World Series victory.
In light of Bellinger’s return, the Dodgers and their fans were eager to express their appreciation. Bellinger was warmly received by the fans even before the game commenced, and he graciously tipped his cap to acknowledge their support.
When Bellinger stepped up to the plate in the second inning, the fans once again rose to their feet and applauded, showing their admiration. Bellinger briefly acknowledged the fans once more before preparing to take his swing. However, the momentum was halted abruptly as the umpire intervened and charged Bellinger with a violation of the pitch-clock rule.
Despite the unexpected interruption, Bellinger appeared unperturbed by the turn of events. He resumed his at-bat with a one-strike disadvantage, but after six pitches, he grounded out to first base. Overall, Bellinger’s performance in the game resulted in a 1-for-4 record with a walk and a run scored, contributing to the Cubs’ convincing 8-2 victory.
Is Adjusting the Pitch Clock Necessary?
Bellinger’s recent violation of the pitch-clock rule raises an important question about its enforcement. Should there be exceptions to the rule, particularly in situations where a player is being acknowledged by their former team?
Strictly interpreting the rule, umpire Jim Wolf made the correct call in penalizing Bellinger. However, it seemed almost absurd to punish Bellinger for that particular moment. While fans generally support the implementation of the pitch clock, it begs the question whether they truly desire the rule to be enforced in such circumstances.
What adds to the frustration is that it appears umpires have some discretion in these situations. For instance, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen was allowed to receive a lengthy ovation from Pirates fans during his first plate appearance at home in the 2023 season.
McCutchen had spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Pirates, and rejoined the team in the offseason after a six-season absence.
McCutchen’s heartfelt reception from fans provided one of the most memorable moments of the 2023 MLB season.
McCutchen was granted a special moment by home plate umpire Ryan Wills, who allowed him to acknowledge the fans, wipe away tears, and compose himself before stepping into the batter’s box.
Wills did not charge McCutchen with a pitch-clock violation, recognizing the significance of the moment to both the fans and McCutchen. MLB also showed support for the gesture, sharing a video of the moment and retweeting the Pirates’ video of McCutchen’s heartfelt ovation.
In contrast, it was veteran MLB umpire Jim Wolf who called the violation on Bellinger during his ovation on Friday night, dampening what was otherwise intended as a touching tribute.
While Wolf was simply doing his job, it may be beneficial for the league to allow umpires to exercise some discretion in situations where fans express appreciation for players or milestone achievements. While speeding up the games is important, there are moments that deserve to be given breathing room.