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Baseball Doesn't Have a Clock and the Umpires Won't Either

September 18, 1997| From Associated Press

NEW YORK — Major league umpires have one word for a plan that would force them to carry stopwatches: Out!

Baseball, under pressure from Fox and other television networks that claimed there wasn't enough time between innings to show their commercials, wanted the umps to track the breaks with watches.

The umpires refused, saying they were not required to hold up games for the benefit of TV. Baseball filed a grievance that went to a hearing in early August at West Chester, Pa., and arbitrator James Jordan is expected to issue a final decision shortly after the World Series.

"We argued that it was not part of our job and that it wasn't covered in the collective bargaining agreement," Pat Campbell, one of the umpires' lawyers, said Wednesday. "We are not going to serve as lackeys for the TV networks."

As it stands, there is to be a break of 2 minutes, 25 seconds between innings for games televised by a national network and a break of 2:05 during local broadcasts. Fox, ESPN and NBC are televising games this year.

At the hearing, baseball asked that the umpires immediately begin carrying stopwatches. Jordan denied the request in making an interim decision.

"The arbitrator decided they don't have to carry a watch, but they be directed to comply with the instructions of a league official or their designee as to when they can start an inning," said NL lawyer Robert Kheel, who handles baseball's negotiations with umpires.

According to Rule 8.03 of the Official Baseball Rules, a pitcher is allowed eight warmups between innings.

The rule adds, "Such preparatory pitches shall not consume more than one minute of time."

"Baseball has a natural rhythm and flow," Campbell said. "If baseball wants to disrupt that, then change the rule. . . . But we're not going to do the job for the TV networks, especially when some of them treat the umpires the way they do."

Umpires have often been at odds with television in recent years. Umpires believe that cameras above home plate distort angles and lead to unfair criticism. They also think announcers pick on them for not calling enough strikes, leading to longer games.

"The umpires are not out there trying to lengthen the game," Campbell said. "We want to keep it moving, just like everyone else. And we don't need to carry stopwatches so that we can slow it down between innings."

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