There are a lot of arguments for speeding up the game of baseball, but I’ve rarely heard any for slowing it down.
At the beginning stages of the game for young kids, there are time limits so games only last about one hour. If you’ve ever watched kids play, you’ll see that their attention span wanders early and often, especially when they’re in the outfield, where the ball rarely reaches them unless it rolls through an infielder’s legs.
But players grow up and players get better until there’s no mandated time limit, which means that games last a couple or three hours even though there are no prolonged media timeouts.
Pace of play is No. 1 on Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred’s list of improvements. The question, as always, is how to improve the pace of the game without dramatically affecting the fabric of the game as we know it.
I’ve never been one who minded watching a long game at the Major League level. Part of baseball’s charm or curse, depending on your perspective, is that there’s no clock. Time never runs out like it does in basketball, football, soccer or hockey.
Each team gets the same number of outs. If you’re behind when you are out of outs, the game is over. So in MLB games, each team is guaranteed 27 outs during nine innings, unless the home team is ahead after the visiting team has batted in the top of the ninth.
If you are a TV or radio announcer in baseball, you better have plenty of statistics and stories to tell, because there’s ample time to use both.
Sometime in the future there likely will be a pitch clock, 20 seconds between pitches. If a pitcher goes past that, a ball will be assessed.
One of the funnier stories is when first baseman Mark Grace screamed at pitcher Steve Trachsel to throw the ball: “It’s hot out here!” And they were teammates.
Replay reviews might be an easy target, but that argument is misguided. On a full night of 15 MLB games, just 10 plays get reviewed on average. Not that lengthy reviews are appreciated. “The 4-minute-and-50-second reviews don’t make me that happy,” Manfred said.
A pitch clock has been used at various levels, and it might help, but that’s not the only issue.
Other concerns include how many trips a pitching coach, the catcher or manager make to the mound. Hitters stepping out of the box to readjust their batting gloves after every pitch adds time to the game.
Is it necessary to throw the ball around the horn after every out? If there’s a strikeout, why not have the catcher simply throw the ball back to the pitcher?
Pitching changes also adds to the length of a game, especially when they’re not between innings.
The four-pitch intentional walk, terminated for the start of the 2017 season, was the scapegoat in the pace-of-game discussion.
In the first couple of weeks of the baseball season, there were 55 of the new abridged freebies, saving 220 pitches and roughly 36 minutes over two weeks. After the first 119 games, the length of a nine-inning game actually jumped to 3 hours, 5 minutes, 45 seconds, according to early data. That’s more than a five-minute increase from last season and almost 10 minutes from 2015.
“Pace of game almost has to be a continually evolving concept in a sport that doesn’t have a clock,” said Chris Marinak, MLB senior vice president, who is overseeing the pace-of-game initiatives. “So we’ll continue to make tweaks to the rules as we think that’s appropriate. But at the same time, we have to be cognizant of not changing those core elements that make baseball special.
“We’d like to minimize dead time by taking elements out of the game that are not essential to that core. But we’re not going to do things that change the nature of this sport.”
Are baseball games too long? It depends on who you ask. This much I know: there’s plenty of time to talk about it during the game.
Joe Kleinsasser is director of news and media relations at Wichita State University. You can reached him at Joe.Kleinsasser@wichita.edu.