Times Change: MLB Always Looking to Shorten Games, but Is It Necessary?

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Times Change: MLB Always Looking to Shorten Games, but Is It Necessary?

It’s a day and age of fast-food drive-throughs, microwave ovens, broadband Internet, online shopping, eHarmony dating, Twitter feeds, push notifications, fast drying and fast acting products, instant rebates and instant applications. 

And then we have baseball. 

It’s a slow paced deliberate game within a fast moving world.  We’re a society that craves instant gratification, and we aren’t willing to wait longer than a few hours to enjoy our entertainment.

Except that we’re not.  We’ll line up and camp out for days to be first in the theater for the Lord of the Rings movie.  We’ll play online computer games for weeks straight without eating or sleeping.  We’ll watch two-hour long episodes of American Idol broken up by commercial breaks in order to find out which two  people are voted off from the previous two-hour episode. 

We’ll watch football on Sundays from the time we wake up, through the extended halftime shows, right up until the post game analysis from yet another celebrity guest.  I would disagree with the assertion that games are too long, and I would completely disagree that John Q. Public isn’t watching baseball because of the length.  I think the problems lie elsewhere.

MLB games clock in at around two hours and 47 minutes and commissioner Bud Selig is constantly trying to speed up the game.  New rules govern the amount of time a pitcher has to pitch on the threat of heavy fines.  Every winter meeting, MLB officials meet with various unions and front office personnel to discuss ways to improve the speed of the game.  Umpire Joe West even famously called games pathetic and embarrassing due to their length

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Granted, there are some slower paced games, but that happens everywhere.  Boring movies, the final two minutes of a blowout football game, watching the entire news program to find out the answer which was supposed to be coming right up—it happens.  Rather than place fines and restrictions, we should monitor it for major problems and otherwise just let it proceed as usual.

New rules are always bounced around as well.  Limiting the amount of pickoff pitches to first base, not allowing batters to leave the batters box, limiting the amount of times a catcher can go calm down his pitcher, even removing the intentional walk and just placing the runner on first base. 

The problem with these rules is that speeding up the game will come at a cost somewhere else.  If the pitcher has thrown over his allotted four times to first, that runner is taking a 20-foot lead and walking to second.  Without making the pitcher throw all four balls wide, you wouldn’t have drama of the Angels pitcher throwing away an intentional ball and runners scoring.  It’s a part of the game, why remove it for the 45 seconds that would be saved each game?

Besides, nowadays it’s expensive to go to a game.  Why are we trying to rush through a Yankees-Red Sox game when people have paid premium prices for tickets and rearranged social schedules to watch it on TV?  The answer probably is the TV networks. 

Networks don’t like baseball because there’s no clock.  The game might run two hours, usually runs three and it might go on indefinitely.  Rain delays, extra innings or sometimes just a slower pace—these all make games go unpredictably long.  Television networks don’t appreciate that because they have to cut into House or Glee to finish the games. 

Sportsnet Canada famously cut away from the 11th inning of the 163rd game playoff between the Twins and the Tigers to show the start of a hockey game.  Many channels have cut out the pre and postgame shows and just crammed them into the broadcast wherever they can.  And lets forget the fact that nationally televised games are given more commercial time between innings. 

It also takes the cast of Glee longer to be announced and sing the national anthem than it would anybody else.  No, the real problem is the game itself is three minutes too long.  Sure it is, FOX.

MLB executives work closely with television networks to keep their lucrative deals, so we begrudgingly can understand why they’re upset with the length of the games.  But the average fan who complains about the length of the game is a different story. 

Many fans are bored by a lack of home runs and the fact that the game drags on for four hours.  What they don’t realize is the two conflicting ideas there.  Any true baseball fan knows that lots of home runs increase the length of the game.  Slugfests involve more mound conferences, more pitching changes and more batters faced. 

It’s the pitching duels and low-scoring games which go the quickest.  Having the best pitchers in baseball facing each other in a 2-1 game makes it both faster and more exciting than a 10-9 slugfest.  Chicks dig the longball and casual fans enjoy scoring, but it results in a four-hour game that seemed boring to watch.

The underlying problem is casual fans don’t always understand the subtleties which pass through any moment.  Home runs are easy to understand. Your team scores, and the fireworks go off.  Acknowledging the tension of a base stealer on base with a good hitter at the plate in a tie game takes much more understanding. 

Casual fans just see a pitcher throwing the ball to first base too many times while a true fan sees all the individual matchups and mind games occurring at once.  The real problem isn’t the game being too long; it’s these fans who haven’t grown up with the game to understand what’s happening.  It’s not about shaving three minutes off the game; it’s parents and coaches who didn’t teach the next generation how it’s really played.

The next game I watch, I really won’t have much to comment on the three or four minutes that Bud Selig managed to shave off the game.  The fact the pitcher took 15 seconds instead of the allotted 12 to pitch the ball won’t matter to me.  Even the casual fan probably won’t make a big deal about whether a game was two hours and 48 minutes or the full two hours and 50 minutes. 

The true problem lies with getting people to appreciate the game for all its nuances and understanding why things happen the way they do.  It might not make television executives happy, but in the end, it will give everybody more enjoyment of the sport.

Life is too fast and hectic as it is.  Take me out to a ball game.  Give me a cold beer, some buddies to talk with and a seat in the shade of the hot sun; I won’t care if the game ever ends.

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