Game Time

In the afternoon of September 9, 1919, at the Polo Grounds in New York, Giants pitcher Jesse Barnes retired the last batter as the Giants beat the Phillies, 6-1. Time of the game was 51 minutes, the shortest game ever. In those days the average time for a game was under two hours and remained so until late in the 20th century.

The time now is almost three hours. This may not be a problem for some fanatics who can’t get enough baseball. But even they should consider this: For nearly 40 minutes they’re not watching baseball, and I don’t mean the normal pauses in the action which are part of baseball, a game of situations.

At least five factors add to the time:

(1) The 12-second rule between pitches is often not enforced. According to the rules, when no one is on base the pitcher must pitch “within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call ‘Ball.’” There are at least 18 times the pitcher has no one on base (as he faces the lead-off batter). If the 12-second rule were cut to eight—still plenty of time—four seconds could be saved between pitches. Assuming an average of four pitches per batter, that’s about five minutes—just with the lead-off man. Add several more times with no base runner and perhaps ten minutes could be cut from a game.

(2) Batters waste time between pitches. The rule book says “the batter shall keep at least one foot in the batter’s box” throughout his time at bat, but lists several sensible exceptions, including swinging at a pitch or being forced out of the box by a pitch. The batter, like the pitcher, should be ready in eight seconds. If not, the ump should call “Strike.”

(3) Too many visits to the mound by the catcher; and

(4) Too many pitching changes. I list these together because they both relate to the situational nature of the game. The latter is a managerial option that should be retained, but I think the former could be restricted, saving maybe two minutes. With my eight-second rule, that makes a total of 12 minute saved.

(5) Too much time between half-innings. This is the chief cause for long games and the least likely to be addressed. We all know the reason why—television and money. The time between half-innings is two-and-a-half minutes for regular season games (two minutes, 45 seconds for post-season games). If the corporate grip on the game were loosened just a bit, the time between half-innings could be a minute and 20 seconds. Here’s how:

It seems reasonable to allow 20 seconds for the teams to switch sides. (If a player cannot get from the dugout to his position (or vice versa) in 20 seconds, he ought to look for work that does not entail play.) The pitcher is allowed eight warm-up pitches. According to the rules, he must take no more than one minute. So, if this plan were adopted, there would be one minute and 20 seconds between half-innings, instead of the existing two-and-a-half—still time for plenty of commercials.

Approximately 20 minutes of game-time could be cut, bringing the total to32 minutes. A major-league game could be played in under two-and-a-half hours.

Of course none of this will happen. Baseball makes $5 billion annually. That’s a lucrative river of money that flows from corporations that buy commercial time from the billionaire lords of baseball, who then shell out huge salaries to the multi-millionaire ballplayers and their agents. I doubt any of them would give up a penny of this.

Only a fan revolt will bring change. After all, the tributary that flows into that river of revenue comes from them in the form of expensive ticket and concession prices. The average family can’t afford many games—and if they stay home to watch on TV, the kids (and often the parents) are asleep before game’s end. No wonder potential young fans are ignoring baseball.

(By the way, to see how unrestrained capitalism has degraded ball games on the radio, see “Ad . . . Nauseam,” my post of July 24, 2013.)


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