Saturday, July 23, 2011

The slow death of the two-hour ballgame

I was in a bar the other night (yeah, I know. Imagine me being in a bar) and started chatting with a guy at the next table. The ball game was on and I was watching while he was trying to ignore it.

“I hate baseball. It’s so damn boring and the games take forever to play.”

Now this was a pretty damn good game (the first in the series in which the Jays just swept the Mariners and it was a wild affair). How could he not think this one was interesting to watch? So I asked him.

“Watch how long it takes the pitcher to throw the ball. When he’s finally ready, the batter steps out on him. Then they start the whole bloody thing all over again. It’s dumb.”

“What about all the commercials?” I asked.

“What about them? They’re the same as the ones on all the sporting events.”

“No, I meant about the number of them? We just saw three at the end of the last inning.”


“There are at least 17 changes of at-bats in a 9-inning ballgame. Let’s say the break between each of these lasts three minutes. That means the dead space in between at-bats adds 51 minutes to every game. If you add in pitching changes and extra innings, a huge amount of time is taken up by pretty useless things – and they could do away with most of it.”

His eyes had glazed over and he nodded and turned away.

Okay, so this baseball hater didn’t mind that the game was stretched beyond sensibility by what have become, basically, opportunities for the broadcasters of the games to sell advertising space.

Ever notice how teams don’t charge out onto the field between innings? Does a pitcher really need all those pitches to warm up – especially if he’s just finished warming up in the bullpen? Those are just two of the things that have evolved in baseball during the modern era that have slowed the game down.

Let’s take a look at two specific areas comparing old-time and modern baseball.

Back in the day, pitchers were expected to finish what they started. Teams’ rosters didn’t include all the specialty pitchers they carry today. It is not unusual for each team to use 4 pitchers during a regular game. The starter goes 6 innings, begins to tire and a reliever is brought in. Maybe he gets the team through the 7th inning. Then the set-up guy is brought in. He pitches the 8th, possibly with the help of the other set-up guy who pitches to batters hitting from the opposite side. Finally, the closer is brought in.

All those pitching changes take a hell of a lot of time. The other ball players are standing around, the fans are sitting around, and the only people happy about the dead air are the people selling the ad time. I’ll bet a minimum of 30 minutes gets eaten up during every game by these shenanigans. Will MLB do anything about this? No. They all love the extra money they’re making.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find anything interesting about a pitcher leaning forward, ball behind his back while he squints at the catcher who’s supposed to be flashing signs. Finally, the pitcher figures it all out, gets into his set position, looks left, looks right, looks up, looks down, maybe looks left again, sighs and starts his wind-up. By this time the batter has decided that his batting gloves need some adjusting so he backs out. Then the whole silly thing starts all over again.

In years past, these sorts of shenanigans would get someone drilled in the arm or backside by the opposing pitcher. Ballplayers didn’t want to spend their entire day in the ballpark.

Will MLB do anything about this? No. They tried once, but then just seemed to give up. Games continue to lengthen needlessly.

Bottom line: a game under two hours is a rare fluke, Hell, a game under three hours is becoming an endangered species.

And all of these things are slowly killing the game.


John the Tomahawk Trembath said...

The uncertainty and undefined time in baseball are part of the charm and legend of baseball. I have sat thru 14 inning games that were exciting. The clock is stopped for the game. But... Rick,the points you make are spot on. Needless fiddling with gloves, stance, rosin bag and various other adjustments are just annoying to everyone. The ump's should step in more to have them move it along. Remember Juan Guzman? He took forever on each pitch. When he did this we knew he did not have his good stuff. With the good stuff he moved it right along to great effect. Of course, once the action starts it is lightening fast.

Commercials time outs happen in every sport.It's especially bad in the NBA, a team is on a run and the officials take a "commercial" time out. So much for the run and the tide turns.

As for the pitching, I am not sure if it's better or worst now. I know what you mean but even baseball has specialized. We'll discuss this later.

Will Braund said...

You make several excellent points.
The NHL has been very successful reducing their breaks in the action (faceoffs).
MLB MUST put a clock on pitchers and start calling balls after 15 seconds. Fielders used to talk about how quick pitchers kept them on their toes and 'in the game'. I am astonished that fielders don't take books on the field to read between pitches. And as for speeding things up - if a batter steps out of the box- well I guess he'll have a hard time hittin' the ball.

Another thing that has slowed the game down, besides numerous pitching changes, is the desire for teams like the Yankees to acquire hitters who foul off a lot of pitches and work the counts for walks.
I don't think it will improve soon, especially with Selig in charge and baseball will lose a lot of young fans used to more sustained action.