Baseball is slow. We already know this fact and it’s only exaggerated by today’s Twitter/Tablet/Instantaneous society that’s helped attention spans rot away into nothing. Baseball’s moniker of “America’s Pastime” does feel increasingly antiquated when a lot of people under the age of 40 would rather Instagram pictures of their ballpark food than watch the game itself. So be it. If you pay $40 bucks for the right to pay $9 for a 16 ounce plastic cup of beer and want to stare at your phone the whole time, that’s on you.
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal published a report about how the Red Sox have formed an internal study as to why games are so long. Anyone who’s
watched endured a Sunday night ESPN Yankees/Red Sox game knows these games are tough to take since both teams are on-base percentage driven, taking pitch-after-pitch to work counts and get into the opponent’s bullpen. Most times these games finish four hours after they start and there are few things you want to do more on a Sunday night before the week starts than stay up until midnight watching regular season baseball, right?
Taking pitches and working the count to get on base is indeed a smart strategy and one that most teams have adopted in the post-Moneyball world. However, watching Brett Gardner grind out a pitch count isn’t exactly among the Top 10,000 most-exciting ways for a sports fan to commit his/her time.
And as the WSJ notes, an increase in strikeouts means an increase in total pitches and therefore more chances for the batter to step out during an at-bat or for the pitcher to slow down and stall.
Here’s the most damning part of the WSJ report:
"Entering Thursday, the average game time this season was 3:08, according to Stats LLC. Never mind comparisons to the days of flannel jerseys and black-and-white telecasts: That is 13 minutes longer than the average time in 2010."
Three-plus hours in this day in-and-age, when time feels increasingly fleeting, is a massive commitment regardless of how much you may or may not like baseball. At this time in the calendar, when it’s still chilly in many parts of the country, kids are still in school, and the NBA/NHL playoffs are in full bloom, the three-hour time of a baseball game is tough to handle. Fast forward to the summer, three hours relaxing in the evening air with a beer and a dog doesn’t seem quite as intolerable, or that you’re missing out on something more exciting.
The WSJ story mentions the independent Atlantic League trying to take some measures to speed up play:
"The league started enforcing several existing time-of-game procedures that are rarely invoked in the majors. Batters were no longer allowed to step out of the box after every pitch. Pitchers were required to limit their between-inning warm-ups to one minute and, if the bases were empty, deliver the next pitch within 12 seconds. Managers were asked (though not required) to limit mound visits and make pitching changes between innings only."
The measures cut off about 15 minutes from games, but were hard to enforce and eventually everyone reverted back to their old habits.
Reading this, perhaps the only way to increase the play is through the players themselves. I was watching a Tigers game earlier this year and the announcers told an anecdote about rookie Nick Castellanos. The point of it was to relate how the third baseman wasn’t a “baseball junkie” who watched a lot of games in his spare time.
Perhaps this younger generation of players coming up will spend less time adjusting their batting gloves so they can get to the postgame clubhouse spread a lot quicker … and Instagram it.