Saturday, May 7, 2011

The mysterious lengthening of the seventh inning stretch or what’s happened to the old ballgame?

Anyone who’s been to a ball game knows about the spot between the top and bottom of the seventh inning when everyone at the ball park is supposed to get up and stretch. It also involves singing some sort of song. During the past number of years, it’s been extended to include two songs.

Now, whether you believe the tradition was invented by Brother Jasper of Manhattan College or Harry Wright of the Cincinnati Red Stockings or even President W.L. Taft whose butt was sore, one thing is for certain: it’s been part of the game for a long time.

Regardless of who came up with the idea, it is a good one, especially if you’ve been parking your posterior on an un-cushioned bench in the outfield for a few hours. Teams have tried to make it more fun by having the crowd sing (usually “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, a song, interestingly enough, composed by someone who’d never attended a ballgame). Now we have a second song that the audience might also sing along with or add sound effects to.

But what if you’ve never been to a ball game? Yes, you might have heard mentions of the practice, but you’ve probably never seen or heard much of it. Why? Because you’ve been subjected to more commercials.

I believe the extension of the seventh inning stretch by including a second song was heavily supported by the corporate side of teams because it’s a chance to sell more advertising. I hate to be cynical but baseball seems to be more and more about maximizing advertising. At the ball park you're subjected to a veritable blinding sound and light show of advertising to the point where it gets hard to concentrate on the game being played.

There was a time where you didn’t see advertising on virtually every surface at the old ball yard. Now they have pixel boards, rotating signs and huge TV screens, all to increase the amount of advertising. Pitching changes are sponsored, opening pitches, cleaning up the infield in the 5th inning, opening lineups. You name it, there’s something being advertised. I’m surprised they don’t have sponsors for each individual base, home plate and pitcher’s mound. Maybe that's coming next season.

To my mind it’s getting a bit ridiculous. When the Late Innings crew attended a Jays game last month, Will opined that replacement pitchers coming out and going through a rather long warmup might be another case where the game is allowed to be delayed so that more advertising can be crammed down our throats. He has a good point. If a pitcher has already warmed up in the bullpen, why does he need another dozen or so pitches out on the diamond? I suppose it could be argued that he has to get the feel of the mound, but in the past, this wasn’t allowed. Why now?

Games are getting longer, no doubt and younger fans are complaining that baseball is boring. A lot of the slowdown could be laid at the feet of the advertising gods.

And I don’t think they’re a good thing. When does advertising get to the overkill level? I think we’ve passed it and it’s not slowing down.


Larry Toman said...

Hi Rick, I agree the ads thing can bring the game to mule speed. It's really annoying to see that crap behind home plate. That one really bugs me. Radio: 1 TV: 0. The outfield walls are another distraction, negating the good old days. Radio: 2 TV: 0. The seventh inning stretch is a great part of the game, but let's keep it relevant and shorter. The same goes for pitchers coming in from the bullpen, shorten it up.

On one of my recent replies, I spoke of being a TV guy, but I realize I now sound hypocritical. Just have to focus more and rid as many annoying distractions as possible. The game is getting too long, but it certainly can't fall into the "boring" category for us guys.Cheers.

Rick Blechta said...

Every year there seems to be more "sponsored by" things in ball games. I was serious about the bases being sponsored. The "Home Hardware Home Plate" springs to mind. It will reach a point where it becomes ludicrous. It's already reached the point where it's wreaking the game.

Attendance is down this year. I really suspect slowness of games partially caused by excess advertising and the sensory overload of all those ads around the ballpark shares a big part of the blame. When does that excess revenue begin to be self-defeating if it turns off the fans?

Thanks for checking in with some more good comments, buddy!

Will Braund said...

I agree that Home Hardware makes perfect sense as a sponsor for home plate. Let's approach First Choice Haircuts for 1st base, Second Cup for 2nd, and Third Eye Blind's latest CD for 3rd.
The time between innings used to be a minute, now it's 2 or 3 - for more commercials.
Rick's right. When we went to the Jays game two weeks ago we were bombarded by flashy ads. It was hard to focus on the game.
A reliever is allowed 9 pitches, 3 should suffice.
Enforce a 15 second rule between pitches ( an automatic ball) and no stepping out of the box ( an automatic strike.) Limit the number of throws to a bag. That'll make the pitcher think twice about throwing over when a runner has a 5 inch lead.
They sped up hockey a couple of years ago by shortening the breaks. And baseball needs speeding up a lot more than hockey did. Games used to average 2 hours.
They are starting to pander to youth in a lot of ways and yet they allow the games to go on and on. Enough with God Bless America too.