The appeal of baseball has always been the lack of a clock, and that’s great right up until the time you need to go home, or fall asleep for the night and realize that the game is only in the sixth inning.
The average length of an MLB game last season was three hours and two minutes. “The Godfather” is shorter than an average MLB game. It’s a good bet there were few games as entertaining as “The Godfather.”
The players, who do not care about pace of play, often say this story is a media-driven crisis. The media will whine, and wants the game to be over. No one cares about our complaints.
The issue is the fan that wants to see something, and a family that has to go home. The issue is a sports consuming society that wants to see plays, not scratching, sniffing, talking, re-adjustments or the myriad of nothing activities associated with a baseball game.
“As football continues to grow in popularity, baseball feels like it’s a slower game,” St. Louis Cardinals All-Star third baseman Matt Carpenter told me. “People don’t like there is not as much action.”
With Bud Selig having retired his replacement as MLB Boss is making a priority the length that is baseball, and the reality that this is no longer 1920. New baseball comissioner Rob Manfred has made the pace of play a priority, as well as the length of the actual season; in this interview with ESPN, Manfred said he is open to shortening the length of the regular season from 162 to 154 games.
I am all for whatever reasonable measure baseball can implement to get things moving. The first thing would be to call the strike zone the way it’s designed rather than force pitchers to groove strikes that generate offense. Bring back the high strike and games will shorten, ERAs will drop, too. Since that won’t happen, baseball is kicking around a pitch clock, and other measures including making batters remain in the batter’s box between pitches.
A few weeks ago, I spoke with a pair of former TCU baseball players - Carpenter and Indians veteran reliever Scott Atchison - about the pace of play issue. Neither feels this is a big deal, but both understand why baseball is addressing it.
“I think guys could go faster but I don’t know if you need a clock,” Atchison told me. “There are a lot of issues that come with that. If a runner is taking a lead (from first base) and he sees the clock winding down, he knows the pitcher has to throw that pitch so he’s going to go. Why wouldn’t you go? It’s like watching the play clock in the NFL.”
Selig always talked about speeding up the game, but did not do a thing about it. In his defense, implementing rules to baseball is often a litigous task that requires a fleet of attorneys to run anything by baseball’s powerful player’s union. Any changes this time will likely be greeted with the same reluctance, and likely viewed as a concession the next time labor negotiations arise.
Maybe Manfred will have some luck pushing through changes to get things moving, but Atchison rhetorically asked what these new measures will ultimately achieve.
“So we pick up the pace and we knock five minutes off the game. Or maybe 10,” he said. “Is it that big of a difference?”
If baseball can decrease the average length of games to under three hours they will have changed the first number from the unsightly 3 to a 2. From a perception standpoint, that will help. If baseball can force players to play the game and reduce the often maddening series of scratches, sniffs, adjustments and others “routines” that delay a play from happening, call it a success.
Baseball fans know and understand the game is slower, and no one expects a two hour sprint. We would just like to see plays.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7760