|Are Games Too Long - Speeding up the Game||| Print |||Send|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on January 13, 2003
One of the cardinal complaints from MLB about baseball is that the games are too long. My opinion is that a good length is roughly three hours, but as any real fan will tell you, we don’t care if a game lasts 6 hours as long as it is a good game! 2002 games averaged only 2 hours and 55 minutes (According to Elias Sports Bureau), down about two minutes from games played in 2001. However the owners and the commissioner have determined that to be too slow. As a result an edict was sent down before last season telling the umpires to shorten the game even further. To do this they were told to cut the pitch count down by roughly 15 pitches per game.
What this means, is that the umpires and not the players were meant to become even more of a factor in a game. Now my understanding was that a umpire was not supposed to be a part of the game, but a coordinator, manager and arbiter of the rules of the game. Yet this edict offered from on high, forces an umpire to either call many borderline strikes, or to tighten the strike zone down so that a pitcher must pitch in the hitters zone. This may already be a factor in the number of home runs which have been hit in the last few years as the strike zone continues to be redefined and made smaller.
This idea may have been quashed because the umpires threatened to file a grievance about it effecting the “integrity of the game”. Instead what they ended up with was a officially modified strike zone. This year the owners and Selig during the winter meetings, added a few optional ways for an umpire to speed up the game. However, by making these things the umpire's option they have guaranteed that they will either be used unevenly or not at all.
How about a radical idea? Let the umpire call the game the way he believes he sees it, and implementing some across the board rules changes to speed up the game? Maybe somethings which won’t really effect the game like:
1) A Pitch Clock: Any time a pitcher does not deliver to the plate (or throw to first) in 20 seconds an automatic ball is called. If he does it twice to the same batter on consecutive 20 second cycles its is treated as a intentional walk. Average time saving about 5 minutes (Time saved with Steve Trachsel on the mound: 32 minutes).
2) Intentional Walks: Can and must be declared by the manager and the batter automatically is awarded first. No pitches are thrown. Average saving 1-3 minutes per game. If a manager fails to declare an intentional walk, the umpire will do so after ball 2, and award an extra base. (Footnote - years later, I really think this was a dumb idea - JL).
3) Mound visits: Cannot be made by any player other than a catcher and cannot last more than 30 seconds. Otherwise the umpire calls the pitcher out of the game and gives no warm up pitches to the reliever. This will eliminate the delaying tactics used to let a pitcher warm up while the fans wait 5-10 minutes for a pitching change. This would lead to pitchers actually being ready when needed. Average time saving 10-15 minutes per game (Time saved during a Yankee game ~ 20+ minutes). Managers may also take a 30 second visit to the mound. A second visit could be made only for the purpose of removing the pitcher. If you feel the manager needs to talk to the pitcher let him wear a earphone.
4) Time outs: No batter time outs except for injury, broken bat, or a ball fouled off onto the batter. Average time saving 3-4 minutes. Goes well with a pitch clock.
5) Coaching: Give the pitcher an earpiece to the pitching coach, so the coach can talk to him while he is out there. This would eliminate all pitching coach visits except for possible injury or when a pitcher calls for the coach. Time Saving 2-3 minutes.
6) Shorten the commercial breaks: Just taking 30 seconds off of each of the average 21 commercial breaks(2 per inning and 3 pitching changes) would shave 10.5 minutes per game. You could run bottom of the screen advertisements between pitches and such to make up for lost revenue.
7) Set a firm rule about how long a rain delay can last: Nothing is worse than sitting in the stands for 2 plus hours and only then being told that the game will be rained out. Unless of course they actually start it again, and then get it washed out later. It also won’t leave TV viewers waiting forever to know if a game is going to be played.
8) Enact a mercy rule: If a team is trailing by more than 12 runs after 5 innings, the trailing manager can call the game and take the loss. Average time saved about 4 hours per season (average time saved when your team is Tampa Bay, about 14 hours per season).
9) Equipment breaks: No delay of game for equipment repair. Fielders should all have their back up gloves ready. Simply trade them out. No 4-5 minute waits while a glove is re-laced. Average time saving ~ a few minutes per month.
10) Time between batters: Once the ball returns to the pitchers hand after a play or after a pitcher’s warm up tosses, the batter must head to the box in a timely fashion (30 seconds or so). Pinch hitters could have an extra 30 seconds to loosen up. Average time saved 1-3 minutes per game.
11) Don’t stop the game for commercials: Give the TV fans get a video review of what happened while they were on break. You don’t need to show every pitch, or all of the time between them. Odds are they’d miss seeing less than one batter per inning if the game just continued without full coverage, and like I said, hits, strikeouts or whatever was missed could be shown in between pitches. Average time savings ~18 minutes per game.
I’m not sure that any of these are real answers to shortening the game, but I am certain that they are a better option than making the umpires change the game by calling forced strikes, or implementing rules that will not be applied across the board. However if the commissioner thinks that fans are going to flock to the sport because he finds a way to shave 15 minutes from the length of a game, I think he is missing the big picture. Fans will flock back to the game only when competitive balance is finally restored. I mean in the end, even the fan in Milwaukee doesn’t care if the Brewers loses in 2 hours and 57 minutes or if they lose in 2 hours and 42 minutes.