Baseball players aren’t used to watching
clocks. But that changes this season. Major League
ballparks have installed timers for the commercial breaks between innings, requiring players
to resume the game as soon as those clocks hit zero.
It’s one of the small steps the league is taking to speed up the pace of play after
average game times hit a record high in 2014 – 3 hours and 8 minutes.
It would be one thing if those 3 hour games were action-packed, but actually both hits
and runs per game are down in recent years. So what’s going on? It’s like watching Lord of the Rings 160 times in 6 months or something. Every night you’ve got Lawrence of Arabia. This is Grant, he watches baseball sometimes.
I watch probably about 200 baseball games a year.
He says there’s no one thing slowing down the pace of play. But part of it is that the
some of the players are kind of dawdling. The time between pitches has gone up.
Last season pitchers took an average of 23 seconds between pitches.
There’s actually a rule on the books that the pitcher has to throw the ball within 12
seconds if the bases are unoccupied. But it hasn’t been enforced.
Just limiting pitchers to 20 seconds would cut around 15 minutes of game time.
The off-season league started testing a pitch clock last year — 20 seconds without a pitch
and the umpires calls an automatic ball. That’s something that may be coming to the
majors next. If they already have the clocks in place for
between innings, I don’t think they’re going to be too delicate with the idea of
a pitch clock. It’s not just pitchers that set the pace
though. Batters have their own bad habits. This year, they can be fined $500 if they
don’t keep one foot in the batters box between pitches. But there’s a pretty long list
of exceptions. Still some players are not happy about this.
I call that bullshit. Batters are already at a disadvantage in this
era of hard-throwing pitchers and stricter drug testing. It can be a strategic move to
be able to slow things down. If you force a hitter to do that, 70% you
are out because you don’t have no time to think.
But baseball purists say if you go back and watch classic games, before velcro gloves,
before players came on the field with a soundtrack, there was a lot less fiddling going on at
the plate. Some other factors are a bit harder to tackle.
There’s been a shift in how teams deploy their pitchers, and it has to do with something
called a loogy. Lefty one out guy.
It’s a pitcher brought in just to face a left handed batter. And it’s one of the
ways that the bullpen has become more specialized, which means more pitchers playing in each game than
before. You’ve got the loogy, maybe two loogys,
7th inning guy, 8th inning guy, maybe a couple of 8th inning guys then 9th inning guy.
More relief pitchers mean more game delays and more commercial breaks. But it’s working
for the teams so, this trend is probably here to stay.
The new instant replay process may have also helped slow down games last year. In theory,
reviewing calls should eliminate arguments on the field, but it ended up that managers
were stalling while their bench coach tried to decide whether to use their challenge.
New rules this year should keep the managers in the dugout during challenges.
The league hopes that by cutting out some of the dead time in the game, they’ll make
baseball more palatable for young people whose attention span can’t survive the 23 seconds
between pitches. Baseball knows that it has the oldest demographic
of the four major North American sports and it’s not particularly close.
But here’s the thing — football games are actually longer than baseball games, with
more dead time and more commercials. And the kids love football.
But it doesn’t hurt to try. And there’s one way that baseball could become more relevant
rather than less, in this era of constant digital noise.
I think baseball can survive as something of an oasis around that.
Where people come and say we need at least one leisurely sport that we can go to and
just relax. And if we miss an inning,you know, we’re not going to feel bad. We’re going
to go to the park and sit in the sun for the whole express purpose of a leisurely game
with punctuated bursts of excitement.