MLB players find less time for small talk with pitch clock

The pitch clock counts down as Pittsburgh Pirates' Carlos Santana (41) waits for a pitch from Houston Astros starting pitcher Jose Urquidy during the first inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, April 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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AP Sports Writer

DENVER (AP) — Home plate used to be a place where the sociable Brandon Crawford would touch base with catchers and umpires.

Just a casual conversation to catch up: How’s the family? What’s up? That sort of thing.

These days, the San Francisco Giants infielder keeps the chatter to a minimum. There’s simply no spare time for small talk while on a pitch clock.

Because that 15 seconds between pitches — 20 when someone’s on base — goes by fast at the plate. The penalty for idle chatter could be stiff — a called strike on the hitter.

Social hour just has to wait.

“You have to figure out a different time to get your conversations in, whether it’s pregame or going to dinner or breakfast,” Crawford said.

The pitch clock hasn’t just made baseball quicker. It’s quieter now, too. There’s no real chance to talk shop on the bases with former teammates, good friends or umpires. Batters only get 30 seconds between at-bats to get set.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts can’t even imagine the strikes he might’ve had called on him if he was playing under these rules. He’s well known for his affable personality and would always greet the home-plate umpire when he batted, along with the catcher. He’d carry it right over to the bases, too, when he got aboard.

“Some guys are having a little harder time with it,” Roberts said of cutting back on conversations. “I think the salutations and stuff like that have to be more minimized.”

Roberts joked that he could strategize around his gift for gab — maybe engage players he knows before they dig into the box.

“Try to get his attention and get that clock going,” Roberts cracked.

The players, though, are starting to realize that silence is golden. This is no social call when they step up. They can’t afford to fall behind 0-1 in the count.

Last week, Padres slugger Manny Machado became the first player ejected in an argument that followed a pitch clock violation, which carries a penalty of an automatic strike for hitters and an automatic ball for pitchers. It wasn’t for talking, but rather he thought he had called timeout as the pitch clock wound down to eight seconds — the deadline for batters to be alert to the guy on the mound.

A cautionary tale, though, that every second matters.

“It’s all business,” Giants outfielder Joc Pederson said.

Rangers first baseman Nathaniel Lowe once received friendly advice from longtime umpire Joe West: Greet each ump by their first name and make a little small talk.

It’s guidance Lowe took to heart. It’s guidance that’s now hard to follow.

“It feels like I’m more worried about, ‘Am I facing the pitcher with 14, 12 seconds? Should I have my foot on the gas?'” Lowe explained. “I think the pitch clock definitely takes away from the social aspect of it.”

Know this about Dominic Smith: He’s not going to be as inviting at first base this season. The slick-fielding Washington Nationals player means no offense by the silent treatment, either.

“I’m trying to just kick people’s butt, I guess, so I don’t talk as much as I used to,” Smith said with a smile. “I don’t mind not talking to guys over there. I like being in my own space, thinking about the game, trying to figure out ways to help us win.”

Dodgers pitcher Dustin May never quite understood being on speaking terms with the opposition during a game.

“Once I cross the lines, I didn’t really talk to anybody” on the other team, May said.

Consider May a fan of the new rules. Batters can’t step out as much to re-fasten their batting gloves over and over.

“We’d stand on the mound forever waiting on them,” May said. “Now they’re kind of forced to get in. They’re on our pace now.”

Rockies first baseman C.J. Cron prefers the quicker pace, too. He can afford to be a little more antisocial due to the time crunch.

“I’m not much of a converser over there,” Cron said. “Just say, ‘What’s up?’ and then move on with my life.”

The lack of talk on the bases may actually fuel more rivalries — or at least that’s the thinking of Dodgers infielder Max Muncy.

“Because you’re not having a chance to converse with people and you don’t get to know people as much,” Muncy said. “Maybe there’s a chance of that?”

But it takes some getting used to. Crawford would greet the umpire behind the plate before the game and the catcher as he stepped into the box. It was almost part of his routine.

The times have changed.

“It’s such a rush from the on-deck circle to the plate that you don’t have time to do that,” Crawford said. “I’ll say that real quick as I’m walking by. But there’s no more conversations after that.”

That’s good, said Giants manager Gabe Kapler.

“I don’t love seeing players talking to the first baseman and umpires,” Kapler said. “I hope that is erased by the time.”

Some players, though, simply enjoy holding conversations while holding on runners.

“If I know the guy or if I’ve got a pretty good rapport with him, for sure, absolutely,” Mets first baseman Pete Alonso said. “If it’s just like an awkward silence, that’s no fun.”