The notion is afoot (again) that Major League baseball games are too slow. Even the commish for life, Bud Selig, has picked up on it, and has ordered that it be studied. This ensures that any answers will be a long time coming, but that’s appropriate, don’t you think?
My view is that yessssss, baseball is too slowwwww, but this is not to say that it’s too dull. That’s mostly a matter of perception. Nonfans of horse racing tell me they can’t abide the gaps between races (20-to-25 minutes at most tracks on weekdays), but if you’re poring over the numbers in the Daily Racing Form, hoping to make them speak to you, it’s not long enough.
Ditto for baseball if between pitches you are running through your mind the relative abilities of the immediate actors and the many ways any particular play might play out. That’s the main reason that the older I get the more I like the game without a clock. As Yogi said, “Ninety per cent of baseball is 50 per cent mental.” At least.
Still, here are things that could be done to bring a welcome speed-up to the game without affecting its essential nature or lessening its money-making capacity. The latter consideration is why the sport’s biggest too-long issue—the length of the season—is off limits for rational discussion. Nobody argues that it takes 162 games to determine which eight of the 30 teams deserve to make the playoffs, but it’s not a competitive question, it’s a financial one, and the main law of business is that you can’t make money if the store ain’t open. The dictum’s sports corollary is that schedules never shrink, they only expand.
The same goes for the length of time between innings. That’s when the radio and TV commercials run, and without them baseball wouldn’t get the broadcasting revenues that keep the owners and players happy. So live with it.
But there’s a lot of on-field fooling around that could be eliminated, with the only injuries being to a few of baseball’s many silly traditions. I refer mostly to all the games of catch that go on while the players are, supposedly, poised for real action.
In what other sport, for instance, do the players whip around the ball during stoppages of play, as baseball’s infielders do after an out with the bases empty? Those guys have been playing catch since age 5 so they’re not likely to forget how if they don’t do it every couple of minutes.
And what’s with the six warm-up throws pitchers get to start each half-inning and relievers get when they enter a game? Does the forget-how-to-do-it argument apply here, too? C’mon.
Everybody makes a big deal about starters’ pitch counts these days-- it’s as if they risk turning into pumpkins if the number exceeds 100. But if pitch-count is so important why aren’t the between-inning throws counted? They wear down arms, too. A pitcher’s official six-inning tally may be 100 but it would be 136 if the warm-up throws were included. Maybe without them there would be more complete games.
Nothing slows a game more than changing pitchers during an inning and scratching the reliever’s warm-up throws would make that process more efficient. Other sports don’t stop dead so a substitute can practice on the field and there’s no reason for baseball be the exception. If the on-field warm-up’s purpose is to get the pitcher used to the mound, the groundskeepers should take a load of dirt to the bullpen and make the mounds there identical to the real one.
Other small changes could help. Zip relievers to the mound in golf carts, as some teams already do. Stop hitters from stepping out of the batter’s box between pitches and constantly fiddling with their hitting gloves. Heck, ban the gloves—The Babe and Stan the Man never needed them. Stop managers and coaches from visiting pitchers on the mound; other sports don’t permit such on-field confabs.
I’m guessing that taken together those changes would clip 10 minutes or so off the length of a typical game, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Ten minutes times the 2,430 games in the regular season equals 24,300 minutes, or 405 hours, or almost 17 days.
You could do a lot with those days: paint a picture, visit Yellowstone Park, work for world peace. Or you could watch more “Law and Order” reruns.
It’s a free country.