Through the first couple weeks of the 2023 MLB regular season, the pitch clock has been a rousing success. Games times are down and action happens more frequently, which is exactly what MLB aimed for when it implemented the new policy.
But a pretty big flaw in the system was discovered during Friday’s contest between the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers. The game featured Cody Bellinger’s return to Los Angeles. Bellinger spent the first six seasons of his career with the Dodgers before signing with the Cubs in the offseason. He won a Rookie of the Year award and an MVP with the Dodgers. He also helped them win the 2020 World Series.
Because of that, the Dodgers and their fans wanted to show appreciation for Bellinger’s return. Bellinger received a strong response from fans before the game started, and tipped his cap to the crowd to show his appreciation.
When Bellinger came up to the plate in the second inning, fans once again stood up and applauded before Bellinger stepped into the box. He briefly acknowledged the fans again before getting ready to hit. That’s when the umpire stopped the game and charged Bellinger with a pitch-clock violation.
Bellinger didn’t seem too upset about the sequence, though he did begin the at-bat with one strike. Six pitches later, Bellinger grounded out to first base. He finished the contest 1-for-4 with a walk and a run scored in the Cubs’ 8-2 win.
Does the pitch clock need to be tweaked?
Bellinger’s pitch-clock violation does bring up a question about enforcement of the rule. Should there be an exception to the pitch-clock rule in instances where a player is being acknowledged by his former club?
If you read the rule exactly as written, umpire Jim Wolf made the right call. The rule was enforced properly, even though it felt incredibly silly to punish Bellinger for that moment. While fans have generally been on board with the pitch clock, do they really want the rule being enforced in a moment like this?
To make the situation more maddening, it appears the umpires do have some flexibility in this situation. Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen was allowed to receive a lengthy ovation from Pirates fans during his first plate appearance at home in 2023. McCutchen starred with the Pirates for the first nine seasons his career. He rejoined the team in the offseason after six seasons away.
McCutchen’s ovation provided fans with one of the most touching moments of the 2023 MLB season.
McCutchen was allowed to acknowledge the fans, wipe away some tears and gather himself before getting into the box. Home plate umpire Ryan Wills did not charge McCutchen with a pitch violation. Instead, Wills allowed the moment to happen, recognizing how much it meant to the fans and McCutchen. MLB seemed to be on board with the move, as it tweeted a video of the moment and retweeted the Pirates’ video of McCutchen’s ovation.
Wills was not behind the plate when Bellinger received his ovation Friday night. Long-time MLB umpire Jim Wolf was responsible for calling the violation on Bellinger.
The moment mired what was otherwise a nice tribute to Bellinger. Wolf was just doing his job, but here’s hoping the league tells umpires they are allowed to use some discretion in moments where fans want to show love for players or milestone achievements. It’s great that the games are moving faster, but there are some moments that deserve breathing room.