Are baseball games too long or do we yearn for slow?

Photo: David Tulis/Associated Press

The Texas Rangers beat the Minnesota Twins 1-0 last night at Target Field. There were only a total of 14 hits between the two teams which, theoretically, should’ve been played lickety split and everyone could be heading home by 9:45 to get up for work.

But the game approached 3 1/2 hours. This is typical of baseball these days.

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci writes this week that a half-inning of a game he watched took 22 minutes even though there were no hits or runs, and only three balls were put in play.

He’s not sure fans care about the issue as much as the media does, but he says the average time for a game has increased by a half hour in just 10 years, even though action has dropped significantly.

In just 10 years the time in between balls in play has increased 18 percent. What does that mean in actual dead time? You have to wait an extra 32.4 seconds today to see a ball put into play than you did only 10 years ago. Multiply that extra time by the average of 54.04 balls in play per game, and that’s how you get the added 29 minutes, 11 seconds of down time over the course of an average game.

That’s why pace of game is a bigger priority than length of game. The Dodgers-Mets game may be an extreme example, but pick any game any night and you see players dawdling without umpires or baseball officials doing a darned thing about it.

Only A Game’s Bill Littlefield writes today, however, that this is pretty much what baseball fans want.

Sure, football is more popular than baseball, but according to measures such as ticket sales, rights fees, franchise values, and salaries, the MLB is enjoying boom times. Perhaps that is because, even if we’re not aware of it, on some level we yearn for slower. Maybe our attention spans, conditioned everywhere else to get the message in micro-seconds and move on to the next explosion of dazzle and flash, are crying out for 30 seconds between pitches.

We are constantly on our electronic devices. Or at least that’s what I am told. But what if there is some small voice deep in the brain of even the most thoroughly wired-in adolescent that’s calling for precious bits of time when nothing is happening? For that adolescent, there is the batter fiddling with his gloves. There is the pitcher kicking at the rubber, picking up the rosin bag and dropping it and picking it up again and shaking off so many signs that you know he’s going to end up throwing the first pitch the catcher suggested. There is baseball, lyrical and leisurely. Infuriating, sometimes, and sometimes goofy when some hitter readjusts his batting helmet 11 times before deciding he’s prepared to step in and take a called third strike, but dependably, rebelliously, and perhaps therapeutically slow.

  • The biggest problem is the proliferation of these godawful 13-man bullpens. When the last couple of people on your roster are your 4th and 5th bats, pinch-hitting or pinch-running takes minimal time. When it’s your 7th and 8th relievers, a pitching change mid-inning takes forever.

    The eighth inning of yesterday’s game was a perfect example:
    -In the top, Caleb Thielbar has retired everyone he’s faced and with two outs and no one on, Gardy pulls him for Matt Guerrier
    -In the bottom, Neal Cotts has retired everyone he’s faced and with two outs and no one on, Ron Washington pulls him for Jason Fraser

    At least Guerrier got to pitch the ninth. A simple rule that a reliever must pitch to at least two batters would get rid a lot of these delays and probably put an end to the over-specialization of the bullpens because a manager wouldn’t always be able to get the matchup he desires.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    It matters for me, a lot. I’m sharing season tickets this year for the All Star Game, but last year game times were so bad I didn’t go to a Twins game after June 1. I’m a single guy and I’m not willing to sit there until 10:30 on a weeknight, why would any parent with kids? I was at a Dodgers-Twins game in April. It was in the low 40s, rain and drizzle the whole game. 2-1 into the 7th inning and the game still took 3:40. Here’s the kicker: there was a doubleheader the next day! One of its games went extras but was still well over three hours by the 9th inning.

    This led me to a conclusion: Players don’t care about game time. If they’re not going to move it along the night before a doubleheader, after which one team has to travel to the east coast, then they simply don’t care.

    There are simple things baseball could do to fix the problem, but it won’t for any number of reasons. There’s no need to a warmed relief pitcher to take six pitches on the game mound when he’s called it, two would be sufficient. But that would mean fewer TV breaks, which is at odds with the billions of dollars networks pay to broadcast games. It could limit mound visits to two per inning COMBINED between coaches and the catcher. Won’t happen. It pretends to force batters to stay in the box but that’s a farce. Why not expand the batters box outward and tell players they can back away from the plate as long as they stay in the box? Limit them to one practice swing between pitches. Ban them from re-doing their batting gloves between pitches. Ban batting gloves. Start games at :02 after the hour. Every network has 30-minute pregame shows now, there’s no need to delay first pitch by another two commercial breaks. Wouldn’t make much difference but it’s something.

    If baseball thinks it can flippantly point to its finances as proof that fans don’t care about longer games then it’s writing its own obituary. There’s nothing so special about baseball that it can defy societal entertainment trends and expect to survive. Jam packed soccer fields and families leaving at 9:30 should get through to them.

    • “There’s nothing so special about baseball that it can defy societal entertainment trends and expect to survive,” he said about the 150-year-old game.

      • kevinfromminneapolis

        Ha! Good point. But for most of that time it was not challenged by as many competitors as it is today, and the challenges come from every angle.

    • DavidG

      Why would they care about fans leaving at 9:30? They have that money in their pocket already.

      • kevinfromminneapolis

        Also true. But fans who leave at 9:30 probably turn off the game at 9 when they’re at home…then at at 8:30…then 8…then watch something else.