This past summer, thanks to the Seattle Mariners’ new-found success, I became obsessed with baseball. I’ve always enjoyed baseball, but when the team you cheer for is supremely untalented and frustrating, you don’t watch the games very closely for sanity’s sake. As the summer went on, I watched more and more games, and I started to notice something. Baseball has never been the most thrilling sport. With a lot of down time between action and sparse physical contact, it doesn’t exactly appeal to the high-octane sports fan. But this year it seemed like the games were taking longer than they had before.
I did a little research and found out that I was correct —the average baseball game is taking longer now than it ever has. 2014 is the first time in baseball history that the average length of a MLB game is 3 hours and 10 minutes. In fact, the Mariners were the only team with an average game time less than 3 hours, at 2 hours 59 minutes. Not only are the games taking longer, but they also contain less scoring than before. This year, runs per game are also down to the lowest total we’ve seen in decades. So not only are baseball games taking longer to play, but less is happening during those games—not exactly the best recipe for fan entertainment.
It doesn’t take much effort to see why game times are increasing, as there are many ways in which the pace of the game has slowed down. Pitchers are taking longer than ever to throw the ball. Batters are stepping out of the batter box after every pitcher, adjusting their batting gloves, and getting coach signals. Meanwhile, managers are making more pitching changes than ever. Combine that with this new obsession baseball times have with constantly using different kinds of shifts, and you have a sport that takes an astounding amount of time to play.
It wouldn’t be very difficult to get the average speed of a baseball game back under 3 hours, possibly even 2.5 hours. If the proper rule changes were made, the average spectator wouldn’t even see the difference. In fact, the MLB already has some rules in place designed to speed up the game that the league doesn’t utilize. Rule 8.04 of the MLB rulebook says, “When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call a Ball.” For some reason, the league has the rule in the books, but elects not to use it. The average time between pitches without a runner on base this season was 24 seconds, double the allotted time under rule 8.04. If you consider that each baseball game has about 300 pitches, and about 100 of those are delivered with no runner on base, then just enforcing rule 8.04 would knock roughly 1500 seconds (or 25 minutes) off each game.
If the MLB really wanted to shorten games more than 25 minutes, they could also implement a few additional rules that would cut down on unnecessary time during games. First off, the league could stop allowing batters to step out of the batter box after every pitch. After every pitch, a batter will call timeout, step out of the batter box, adjust both his batting gloves, take a few practice swings, adjust his glove again, and then finally step back into the batter box. The process takes between 10-30 seconds, and is entirely unnecessary. More often than not, the batter didn’t even swing at the pitch previous. Shouldn’t professional baseball players be able to properly put on batting gloves?
The MLB could also shorten game times by limiting the amount of pitching changes a manager can make during a game—either by not allowing a manager more than a certain number of pitching changes per inning, or by forcing each pitcher brought into a game to face a minimum number of batters. Too often in baseball these days, a manager will bring in a pitcher from the bullpen who will throw one pitch, get the out he needed, then the manager will bring in another pitcher to face the next batter. Each pitching change takes about 5 minutes to complete and causes the game to drag on when three pitching changes are made in the same inning. Far too often, a manager will bring in a new pitcher from the bullpen, only to have the opposing manager bring in a pinch hitter to face the new pitcher. So what does the first manager do? He takes out his new pitcher, before he even throws a pitch, and brings in a different pitcher. Situations like these take almost 10 minutes to unfold and completely delay all flow of the game.
A couple weeks ago, MLB commissioner Bud Selig was on television talking to the commentary crew for the Mariners. Selig discussed how bogged down the game of baseball has gotten and how steps need to be taken in the off-season to make the game faster. I hope that Selig follows through on his word and does make some changes to baseball this off-season before we start talking about 4 hour games as the norm.