Don't Expect Umpires To Hurry Josh Beckett

BOSTON, MA: Josh Beckett #19 and manager Terry Francona of the Boston Red Sox confer in the bottom of the seventh inning in the dug against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

As Bobby Valentine has pointed out -- and as Jeff Sullivan has documented -- Red Sox right-hander Josh Beckett often takes a long time between pitches. A looonnnnggggg time.

But like any good manager, Terry Francona is defending his ace:

Red Sox manager Terry Francona said he isn't about to tell Wednesday's starting pitcher Josh Beckett to do something that will make him feel uncomfortable. Beckett was criticized by former Mets manager Bobby Valentine on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball during his start on Aug. 7 for taking as much as 45 seconds between pitches to deliver the baseball.  

"That's not going to make me lose sleep," Francona said of Valentine's critique.


On  Tuesday night, the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 5-2, in a regulation nine-inning game that took three hours, 59 minutes to complete. On Aug. 7, Beckett labored through 101 pitches over six innings, in a 3-2 game won by the Red Sox in 10 innings. That game took four hours, 15 minutes, with no delays.

There are, it's worth mentioning, rules about such things. From a list of rule changes, prior to the 2007 season:

Time between pitches: The allotment for delivering the ball with no one on base has been reduced, from 20 seconds to 12. The price for each violation is a ball.

So when's the last time you saw an umpire call "ball" because a pitcher didn't deliver the ball within 12 seconds?

I'm pretty sure the answer is that you've never seen it. I know I haven't.

And of course a rule that's unenforced is unenforceable.

According to the rules, the umpire can essentially force a pitcher to deliver a pitch within a reasonable amount of time. According to the rules, the umpire has the prerogative to penalize a pitcher who seems to be delaying the action for no particularly good reason.

But umpires have to choose their battles. Sure, you can yell at your teenager every time she spends more than 15 minutes in the shower ... but is that really how you want to live? That's not how most umpires want to live. The great majority of umpires actually prefer to get along with everyone, because it makes life a lot easier.

What they should do is issue warnings, and call balls only if those warnings are repeatedly ignored. But even then, the pitchers and managers would scream bloody murder. Ejections, suspensions, appeals ... Even if the tactic "worked" in the long term, there would be a whole lotta pain in the short term. And we're programmed to avoid pain.

In everyone's defense, I'll mention that games today don't last any longer than they did 10 or 15 years ago. You might think they're too long, and the Yankees-Red Sox games probably are too long. But if Sandy Alderson and MLB hadn't been working real hard on this issue for years, the games would be even longer.

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