Most teams look the other way as long as players keep their participation in forbidden pastimes low key, but a club has the right to lean on a player who violates such a clause. "Depending on who the player is, you would probably try to suspend him without pay until he's able to play," says Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty. "The medical bills would be his responsibility."
The key phrase is "depending on who the player is." San Francisco, which was investigating Kent's accident, is unlikely to take action against Kent, the 2000 National League MVP and one of the Giants' most popular players. Outfielder Ron Gant (now with the Padres) wasn't as lucky—in 1994 the Braves voided $4.6 million of his salary and released him after he crashed his dirt bike and suffered a broken leg.
Players complain that the clauses limit their freedom, but that's the price of guaranteed, multimillion-dollar deals. "It's hard to say to a team, You should let my client ski, but I want you to guarantee us $40 million,' " says one agent. "I can't say I disagree with the clubs."
Speeding Up the Game
Some New Rules Are in Force
Memo to relievers: Add a few more wind sprints to your daily regimen as the season approaches because you'll need some foot speed when entering games this year. Last week the commissioner's office, through discipline czar Bob Watson, again decreed that games must be played in less time. In 1998 games lasted an average of 2:47; by 2000 that figure was up to a record 2:58. (Last season, when the larger strike zone was enforced and scoring dipped, the average time decreased by four minutes.) Quickening the pace of play has been a priority of Bud Selig's for years. What makes Watson think this attempt will work? "Because this time," he says, "the office has some teeth."
For the first time the commissioner will fine teams that don't adhere to the new guidelines, many of which amount to more rigorous enforcement of rules that have been on the books since 1998. When no one's on base, the pitcher must deliver the ball within 12 seconds of the batter's entering the box. A hitter must leave two bats in the on-deck circle so he can get new wood quickly if his bat breaks. The music that accompanies a hitter's stroll to the plate can blare for just 10 seconds. And the rule that could have the greatest effect: Pitching changes must take no more than 2� minutes. If a reliever uses a minute to get from bullpen to mound, he'll have just 1:30 to catch his breath and toss his eight warmup pitches.
To nab slowpokes, Watson will have Major League Baseball employees monitor games from the stands. The penalty for sluggish teams? "We're not talking about $100," says Watson. "It will be enough to get their attention, and the amount will go up for repeat offenders."
The goal is to get American League games down to an average of 2:50 and National League games to 2:40. The new measures will help, hut they don't address the primary game-lengthening culprits: hitters who take forever to get set in the box and commercial breaks between innings. Hitters are still allowed to endlessly adjust equipment as long as they do it, as the rule says, "close to home plate." Television timeouts—2:05 for local broadcasts, 2:25 for national-will remain as is. "Those times have been the same for years, and still games are getting longer," says Watson. "Besides, TV pays the freight."