(Reuters) - Major League Baseball instituted several rule changes on Friday designed to step up the pace of play amid growing concerns that its games are growing too long.
Among the changes is that batters must keep at least one foot in the batter's box unless one of several exceptions occurs, like time is called or the pitcher throws a wild pitch. Timers will also be added to better track time and guide players, the league said.
MLB began to look for ways to address the issue in September amid fears that fans of the national pastime will become bored with the escalating length of games and flee to other quicker-paced sports.
The average MLB game took 3 hours 2 minutes last season, nearly 30 minutes more than it did in 1981.
"These changes represent a step forward in our efforts to streamline the pace of play," Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "The most fundamental starting point for improving the pace of the average game involves getting into and out of breaks seamlessly."
The new timers will measure non-game action and the time between innings and pitching changes, counting down from 2:25 for locally televised games and from 2:45 for nationally televised games. Batters will be "encouraged" to get into the batter’s box with 20 seconds left on the timer, MLB said.
Pitchers can throw as many warm-up pitches as they want prior to 30 seconds remaining on the clock but will forfeit any of their traditional eight warm-up pitches that they cannot complete by that deadline.
Atlanta Braves President John Schuerholz, the chairman of MLB's Pace of Game and Instant Replay committees, said he wants to take "measured steps" to quicken baseball's pace.
"It is not an objective of ours to achieve a dramatic time reduction right away," he said. "It is more important to develop a culture of better habits and a structure with more exact timings for non-game action."
All of the new rules will be enforced through a warning and fine system, MLB said, with discipline resulting for flagrant violators.
MLB also announced several changes to its use of the instant replay system, including allowing managers to challenge a call from the dugout rather than by approaching an umpire.
"We're confident that today's announcements will have a positive impact on the pace of the game without jeopardizing the integrity of the competition," said MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark.
The rule changes will be effective in spring training, the regular season and the postseason.
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Susan Heavey