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Mudville: June 19, 2024 4:45 am PDT
Meet the Jetsons

BY KEVIN KERNAN

The Nerds running baseball can’t get enough technology in the game. Just witness PItchCom Remote. There’s always room for more. Give them an inch and they will take a foot. And more is on display now in spring training workouts.

Starting Friday, it will be in spring training games.

And soon after that, it will be in regular season games – if MLB approves. Aren’t we lucky?

Last season there was PitchCom; this season there is PitchCom2.

That’s what I’m calling it here at Baseball or Bust. The official name is PitchCom Remote. Pitchers could always call their own pitches, of course; but now there’s an app for that, just another example of baseball’s continued unholy trek into Technoball.

A recent column here at BallNine mentioned many of these 2023 changes, but now it’s time to dive deep into PitchCom2.

A remote 9-button keypad is strapped to the pitcher’s belt, similar to the gadget that catchers wear where the catcher can call a pitch. Pitchers are trying it out now. They call the pitch. The catcher does a little less.

Another shiny object brought to you by Rob Manfred. This is not Better Baseball.

As one baseball man told BallNine of those running the game today and the technology for everything: “I guess everybody watched the Jetsons growing up.’’

I went to a baseball game and a technology convention broke out.

Indeed. The Jetsons began in 1962 and ran on television forever; everyone knows about life with the Jetsons, the cartoon look into the future with George Jetson and his family. Baseball has gone over the top this year with pitch clocks everywhere, PitchCom, and now PitchCom2 –  pushing buttons and so much more including the promise of the automated ball and strike calls in the near future.

I went to a baseball game and a technology convention broke out.

So much for the pastoral game.

Poet Walt Whitman once wrote of baseball: “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game. It will take our people out of doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.’’

Sorry W.W., so much for the blessings of baseball that we once knew and loved.

Fans, keep your eyes on the pitch clock, two versions, 15 seconds with no one on base, 20 seconds if there is a baserunner, plus PitchCom and PitchCom Remote. Keep your eye on the ball, too, and the pitcher and the hitter and I’m sure all the baseball networks will have the pitch clock prominently displayed on the screen, something else to take our attention away from what once was a game of human intelligence and skill. And all the while the analyst will be telling you that this pitcher will throw his slider 21 percent of the time in this count while letting you know the hitter’s K rate and that in his last at-bat the ball left his bat at 101 mph.

Got all that, but what about baseball?

Shohei Ohtani had an issue with pitchcom

Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels listens to the PitchCom System against the Minnesota Twins in the sixth inning of the game at Target Field on September 23, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Angels defeated the Twins 4-2. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

The day is coming when we can’t have those pesky humans making such important decisions as calling balls and strikes, let The Umpire Machine do the work. The game is too big, too important for flesh and blood umpires to have an important role, a role they have always had in the game until these Nerds got in charge. The umpires can only make the “out” or “safe” calls on the bases – and then we can check the replay from every angle.

The pace of the game is all important, not the plays of the game.

Nothing like it once was, a relaxing day at the ballpark.

Every day there is less of a human element in the game; and with that in mind I have changed the lyrics of the Jetsons catchy theme to this:

Meet Rob Manfred 

Theo Epstein

Morgan Sword

All game changers

Sword said fans want a “crisper pace’’ to the game, so to do just that umpires are going to call more balks this season with mound disengagement infractions – and you can expect catchers to call more pitch outs.

Great. Nothing like a few balks to get the baseball blood flowing.

What’s next, corner kicks?

The crazy part of all this is that pitchers always had the right to call their own pitches and shake off the catcher; many were masterful at it using certain hand signals to call the pitch.

But nothing is new until the Nerds say it’s new so now you have PitchCom2 and you will see some pitchers overthinking, pushing buttons, and throwing hanging sliders. Boom!

Relief pitcher Chris Martin #58 of the Los Angeles Dodgers has problems with his pitch com device in the eighth inning of a MLB baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Tuesday, August 23, 2022. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

Everything PitchCom and PitchCom2-related came out of the 2017 season when the Astros could not control themselves and went over the edge with their electronic sign stealing, trash can banging ways.

The shame of this is that sign stealing used to be taken care of on the field; but nothing like that is allowed in today’s baseball. You can’t dare hold those cheating players accountable in the box as the likes of Goose Gossage held those caught cheating in the box generations ago.

“The Astros got caught stealing pitches, it happens,’’ one longtime baseball evaluator told me. “In the old days, a lot of those Astros guys would have gotten some pitches in their ear, their ribs, and a lot of other places.’’

That would have cleaned up the problem.

Not today.

Technology is the solution to everything.

No mention of the fact that it was technology, multiple cameras used to steal signs, and weak MLB leadership that created the entire cheating mess; and the Astros were not alone in all this technology cheating. This is the baseball world we live in today; the almighty quest of shortening games because pitchers and batters took it too far and lengthened pitcher-batter showdowns in so many ways.

Technology is baseball’s best friend. Baseball wants it to be your friend, too, though – so the game is doing all it can to satisfy “new’’ fans who cannot sit through the chess match of a baseball game like generation after generation of fans did in the past, having the gall to love the game for itself.

Hopefully there will not be any blips in PitchCom2 where the pitcher has to wait precious seconds to signal his catcher what is coming, perhaps because of crowd noise, perhaps because of a glitch in the system; and all of a sudden the pitch clock expires and a ball is called.

Willson Contreras #40 of the Chicago Cubs adjusts his ear piece to communicate to the pitcher through PitchCom during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on July 23, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Cubs defeated the Phillies 6-2 in 10 innings. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Hall of Famer Greg Maddux was a genius at reading swings and reading how the batter set up and a genius at command – and that was where his focus was on the mound, all the things that really mattered. He knew what he wanted to throw and yet there were times he preferred the pitching coach or the catcher make the call so he could focus on other things. Then there was the game when Maddux called Bruce Chen’s entire arsenal from the bench and Chen gave up one run pitching into the eighth or the time Maddux called from the bench pitches that resulted in seven shutout innings for Brad Penny.

Teach your pitchers how to develop their pitching talents. Trust your players.

MLB is doing all of this instead; now there are bigger bases, limited pickoffs (here come the balks), and the like to try to create more offense but Dusty Baker, a baseball man I totally respect, said this week that all these new additions are going to have the opposite effect and will have more of an impact on the hitters.

Those in charge at MLB said that could happen, but quickly expect the hitters to catch up and move along successfully in the new clock world of MLB. We shall see about all that.

Michael King struggles with PitchCom

Getty Images

Games will be faster until there is the argument that a timing infraction should not have been called and more time is wasted. Hitters getting their minds right will be an adjustment, too. Overthinking pitchers getting their minds right while calling their own pitches will take time too.

Overthinking hitters managed a .243 average last season, the lowest average since 1968 (.237). Theo Epstein has been a driving force in these changes. You could say Theo saw this pitiful hitting coming.

The final Cubs team he led batted .220; only the Rangers and Reds were worse that season –  that team was the canary in the coal mine.

Just be careful of unintended consequences, MLB.

The hitters may not catch up because of the home run, walk, or strikeout approach that has been created by the new breed of Nerd leadership.

Pace of play needs to be better, but so does quality of play – and all these moves made to please Gen-Z could have a range of effects on the game.

The quest to make MLB into TikTok could have serious consequences.

Mitch White struggles with PitchCom

Mitch White #45 of the Toronto Blue Jays has troubles with the PitchCom System against the Minnesota Twins in the fifth inning of the game at Target Field on August 6, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Twins defeated the Blue Jays 7-3. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

“You don’t need to speed up the game,’’ one wise baseball man told me. “You just have to get rid of the bleeping bullshit. And it’s mostly players and then the coaches and the manager gets conditioned. The umpires get conditioned. It’s everybody’s fault.”

“Who started that bullshit where the pitching coach does that slow walk?’’ he said, totally frustrated. “That’s because they were old fat guys back in the day at the big league level and they couldn’t walk any faster. They’re all young guys now, get your ass out there. It’s one thing if you are trying to get a guy hot, you screwed up, you got the reliever up late, or stuff just went against your club; but you are not pulling the guy, get your ass out there. That’s why I loved Doug Brocail when he was pitching coach with the Astros. He would sprint out there every time. He knew exactly what he was going to say when he got there, he would hit the guy in the ass and he would sprint back, and I would just laugh. Brocail would shave about five minutes off every game.”

“And you know who have slowed it up more in the last 5-10 years? Hitters,’’ he continued.  “And the shittier the hitter, the slower he goes. Always pay attention when you see a guy go down 0-2. And in the minor leagues, that guy will walk around and stare at his bat and you just want to scream at him: ‘You suck! Go bleeping home!’ They’re the worst.’’

Of course these hitters have been empowered by the never-ending parade of mental skills coaches.

Our critic admits he’s impatient and is looking forward to seeing how all this plays out but added this telling comment, something I have preached. “You can’t have somebody telling you this, it has to come from the players first on the big league level because the kids all mimic what they see on the big league level.’’

“It’s not five minutes here and seven minutes here, it’s 15 seconds here, 30 seconds there, two minutes here for this replay or some bullshit that is going on. It all piles up.’’

So players, get your mind right before the at-bat, get your mind right before the game. Don’t overthink this. Don’t let the clock run your at-bat, get the mindset you will get in the box and take your hacks like it was the 1970s.

The worst thing that could happen is that clock infractions will be called and then there will be delays in discussing the delay.

Having said all that, there is nothing wrong in the biggest moments of the game with composing yourself on the mound or at the plate to take a few extra seconds. Fans like that built-in tension so there should be a little wiggle room in those spots, instead of a one size fits all pitch clock.

But that would mean the people in charge of the game recognize those precious moments. And they don’t.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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