Major League Baseball’s Hypocritical Effort To “Speed Up The Game” Gets Sinister


When I was a kid, listening to Curt Gowdy describe the discouraging daily travails of the Boston Red Sox of Chuck Schilling, Frank Malzone, Gene Conley and Pumpsie Green over WHDH in Boston, sponsored by Atlantic Refineries (“Atlantic keeps you car on the go,go go,GO!”) and Narragansett Beer (“Hi, neighbor! Have a ‘Gansett! Straight from the barrel taste!”), most baseball games were done in two and a half hours. Now three hours is average, and for Red Sox games, four hours is not unusual. For those of us who enjoy baseball, this is hardly a tragedy, though it can be an inconvenience, and in my case, a major reason why my two languishing ethics books are still incomplete.

The honchos of the game, however, worry that the increasing time of games limits the game’s appeal to the younger generations, whose attention span resembles that of kittens, except for the relative few who can appreciate such features as drama, compelling narratives, suspense, character and probabilities. Thus MLB has been for years trying various measures to pare some of the time out of the modern baseball game. The baseball execs also act and talk as if they have no idea why the games have lengthened. They know. Anyone who follows the game knows.

It’s advertising and TV. Baseball teams can change sides in about 30 seconds, which is how long it takes to grab a glove and run onto the field, or run off the field into a dugout. Now, however, the time between innings has been lengthened to almost three minutes, most of which is to allow TV advertising to run while the players wait.  Let’s be generous and say that a one-minute ad between innings would be reasonable. That leaves an additional two minutes between innings ( 8 X 2 minutes= 16 minutes) and another two minutes in the middle of innings, an additional 9 X 2 (when the home team is behind) minutes, or 18 minutes. There’s 34 minutes of nothing right there. When I was watching baseball as a kid, most games weren’t televised; now they all are. Gee, I wonder why games are a half-hour longer now?

There are other factors at play, of course. Some batters stall outrageously, and umpires don’t tell them to get in the box and bat, as they should. Pitchers wait too long to throw the ball. The new replay and challenge system added time to games. The biggest in-game time expenditure comes from the infuriating number of pitching changes, caused by the flood of new statistics showing how  managers Casey Stengel and Earl Weaver were correct (before the data had been collected and analyzed): right-handed batters really do hit left-handed pitchers better than they do right-handers. Also, now that data shows that most starting pitchers get progressively less effective the more pitches they throw, pitchers are almost never allowed to complete a game they start.  Once, the average number of pitchers who would appear for a team in a game was less than three. Now, it’s about five, and it isn’t unusual for three or more pitchers to be used in a single  inning without a run being scored.

Oh, never mind all that: yesterday MLB suggested that the problem was extra-inning games. Baseball is the only sport in which a game can theoretically continue forever, and this is a feature, not a bug. Only 8% of games go into extra innings, and  43% of those are over after the 10th inning. Only 16 % of them went 13 innings or more. Moreover, extra inning games are great. I don’t know a single fan who doesn’t love them. They are unpredictable, infuriating, nerve-wracking and exhausting. And if you don’t like them, nobody’s making you watch.

I was in the Fenway Park stands when this happened, in the bottom of 12 inning in Game Six of the 1975 World Series:

I have never been happier in my life. (I still have the ticket!) Nonetheless, the new extra-inning rules baseball will begin testing this season might have robbed me, and Boston, and baseball history, of that sublime moment: in two rookie leagues, and also in  this spring’s  World Baseball Classic, teams will begin every extra-inning with a runner on second base. The New York Times’ typically misleading headline says that “purists” are outraged, which is true if you define anyone who actually follows baseball as a “purist.”

What this means is that baseball’s owners would rather tamper with the integrity of the sport than suck it up and sell fewer ads. They are degrading the product in exchange for keeping the cash flowing. They have hurt the game—as with televised movies, the long gaps in the story-telling dictated by commercials reduce the momentum, excitement and drama of games terribly—out of greed, and now they are blaming the game itself for the wounds they inflicted, and are willing to inflict another one.

The attack on extra-inning games is especially bizarre because far less radical changes would shorten most games without even most genuine purists complaining. Why do old, fat managers have to wander out to the mound to change pitchers? Why can’t relief pitchers just walk in from the bullpen, like substitutions in basketball? Why can’t the number of pitchers used in an inning be constrained, such as requiring every relief pitcher to pitch to at least two batters, or forbidding a pitching change until a run has been scored on the current pitcher? Have umpires call  strikes on batters who won’t get into the batters box, and balls when pitchers fiddle around endlessly between pitchers.

Of course, none of these measures, indeed even all of them together, would reduce game times as effectively as limiting the number of TV commercials to, say, one of these (that’s Nichols and May, by the way)…

23 thoughts on “Major League Baseball’s Hypocritical Effort To “Speed Up The Game” Gets Sinister

  1. Speeding up the game rests on the performers and management. Notice when you have pitchers who realize the idea is to take the ball, get a sign and toss the ball within a few seconds the game moves along rapidly? As a Red Sox fan Steven Wright would speed right along. Clay Buchholz? A vendor’s delight.

    Wright is similar to a decreasing number of pitchers who consider 2.5 hours a long game. Too bad. The defense needs to be kept alive and counting to see if there are really 108 stitches between pitches does not work.

    Fueling the nonsense is the idea of having a home run contest after 10 innings or a designated runner in extra innings.

    The baseball record that will never be broken – even Cy Young’s 511 wins – is a 51 minute MLB game played in 1919.

  2. Yo, MLB. Why not flip a coin or have a mini-home run derby if a game is tied after nine innings. Like a penalty shoot out in soccer. Dumb. A guy on second base? What is this, college football where teams get the ball on the twenty-five yard line? What a joke.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the players’ union is in on this as well. The players probably hate late night/early morning finishes and late night plane rides.

  3. Is it possible that one motive for the extra-inning rule is to conclude games more quickly for the sake of reducing wear and tear on players, especially pitching staffs? (If that had been part of the discussion already and I had not seen it, I apologize for my missing that and beg forgiveness.)

      • Well, now wait a minute: You call out the unethical negligence about CTE by the NFL. Granted, that concerns brain injury – perhaps not as overall debilitating as arm, leg, or back injury. But still, why would you just say “Tough” about not changing the traditional rules for playing any sport when they are known to be physically destructive to the participants?

          • “They’re not destructive. They just get stiff, sore, tired and have boo boos. That IS what they are paid for.”

            Not persuasive. They are NOT paid for destroying themselves. I’m just gonna leave this up to the union(s) and the owners, because they know best. Some fans don’t like it? Tough. More will come along.

            • You don’t see the distinction between crippling yourself for life and normal wear and tear? You know how many players have destroyed their health and career in extra inning games? I think ZERO comes to mind. Have you ever seen a baseball game? What the hell are you talking about?

        • Baseball in not above modifying the rules for legitimate concerns. Runners are no longer allowed to run into catchers to attempt to dislodge the ball.

          The NFL has a long ways to go before it is as ethical as baseball.

  4. I’m mentally picturing an umpire counting off 10 seconds, waving his arm like they do in basketball when inbounding a ball…

    Good ideas.

  5. “What this means is that baseball’s owners would rather tamper with the integrity of the sport than suck it up and sell fewer ads.”

    No. What this means is THEY’RE LYING. They’re not testing this in the low minors for future use in the majors. They’re testing it because they don’t want pitching prospects throwing more than they’re scheduled – more than they want games contested to an end. This raises the tricky question of telling minor league fans that you really don’t care how the games or seasons turn out, and a nice slimy, way to do dupe them is to say that they’ve been chosen to test a new rule that the majors might pick up, uh, someday.

  6. Hit them where it hurts, fine them. In last November’s cricket match between Pakistan and New Zealand, The whole Pakistan team was fined and the Captain was banned from the next match because of their slow over rate.

  7. Okay, I propose an extra innings device whereby all players (excepting the Designated Hitter) pick up baseball bats (not to be larger than size 34), proceed to the mound, and stage a ritualized brawl until one team gives up and/or loses consciousness.

    This is morally equivalent to to “runner at second base rule” except it really shows that the eventual winner wanted it more (or had bayonet training, whichever)

    Leave my damn sport alone. You have been warned.

    Anyone notice that the NBA is moving forward with ads on the actual team uniforms? Another reason I watch High School basketball and stop there. The NBS sold out to this monetizing trend years ago with the three second clock.

  8. Jack… want to sing along??
    You’re just in time for the ballgame
    You’re just in time for excitement and fun
    WHDH has reserved your place
    so glad you could make it, so glad you could come…

    • I did. Thanks for the memories…Jess Cain, “It’s Warm-Up Time, time for your featured baseball story before this Red Sox game. I’m Bob Gillis..” Curt, Ned Martin, Al Forrester, Sherm Feller. Tears in my eyes.

  9. And I just decided that I needed some education about the business of baseball, being a pretty well educated fan of the game itself. It was suggested to me that I start with “Moneyball.” Anyone with other ideas?

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