In an effort to improve pace of play, Major League Baseball has eradicated the four-pitch intentional walk. Reaction to the rule change has been mixed, but C.J. Nitkowski isn’t a fan.
“I’m down on it,” the Fox Sports MLB analyst said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “Listen, I know (rule changes) don’t happen too often, and I can appreciate Rob Manfred, how proactive he is, the idea of picking up pace of play. I’m on board with all of that and the idea. I just don’t know how this really saves much of anything. We get an intentional walk once every 2.6 games – and a lot of times that’s the eighth hitter because the pitcher’s on deck. If you want to get rid of some intentional walks, you could also go ahead and add the universal DH, which I’m in favor of. I know not everybody is.”
Games have been won and lost due to errant intentional-walk pitches. Hitters have swung at intentional-walk watermelons that inadvertently caught too much of the plate. It’s a quirky part of the game.
And now it’s gone.
“It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen,” Nitkowski said. “But give us that. We like fun, quirky stuff like that in the game. We don’t get enough of it. And the 30 seconds it takes to intentionally walk a guy, for me, I didn’t love it. I heard Tony Clark, the head of the Major League Baseball Players Association and a former teammate of mine, say they had so many initiatives and things they were trying to throw out at them that they decided to go ahead and let them have the intentional walk. We’ll all get over it, but I don’t love it.”
While Nitkowski doesn’t like the rule change, he does admire commissioner Rob Manfred’s proactive approach to improving the game.
“You can appreciate that. I absolutely do,” Nitkowski said. “He came out a little bit strong. He was frustrated as far as not being able to get some of his rule changes across, and you could hear the frustration in his voice. It almost felt a little (similar to) what’s going on (in the political world) where he’s just going to start dropping executive orders and changing things and not worrying about whose approval he was going to get. Now he has since backed off a bit. The tone was a lot better. But I think he was frustrated.”
While the narrative surrounding Manfred is that he wants to modernize the game in every way possible, Nitkowski doesn’t believe that’s true – or necessary.
“I don’t know if that’s necessarily what we need to do,” he said. “I understand we want to keep up with technology. We want to stay modern and everything else that goes along. But every change does not necessarily represent progress. Just because we’re making changes doesn’t always necessarily mean we’re moving in the right direction. His biggest concern, which is a fair one, is how do we capture this next generation of fans? These are kids, and some of us adults are as guilty of this as the next – we can’t go five seconds without looking at our phones or we can’t sit still. So we’re losing some fans in baseball because the game goes a little bit slower.
“But I think we have to proceed with caution,” Nitkowski continued. “I don’t want to see him necessarily ruling with an iron fist. You certainly never want to alienate your sold fan base, the ones that are always going to be there, the ones that are always going to watch the game. You don’t want to make the game unrecognizable, so you proceed with caution when you’re making these kind of rule changes.”