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Slow Baseball Games: Length, Pace Won’t Change

Stay used to slow baseball games

Slow baseball gamesMajor League Baseball has a problem according to some experts, analysts, and fans – the games take too long and are too slow.  Slow baseball games have always been around.  Both of these problems are one in the same, but there is little that is going to change the fact that professional 9-inning baseball games are going to take upwards of three hours on average. The Boston Red Sox had an MLB-high game time average of three hours and 15 minutes in 2013.

Before I get into the reasons why the game is considered so slow, let me tell you why baseball will not get relatively shorter anytime soon. Baseball players are a special breed of professional athletes. There is no time limit in baseball, and there never has been. Players are used to being able to take their time and not being rushed to finish anything. This is instilled as kids and only becomes more prevalent as players get older and feel more privileged the higher they rise in the game of baseball.

Hitters walk to the plate and step out of the box whenever they need to. Pitchers walk to and from the mound and take trips around it when they need a breather. Coaches and managers walk to the mound for pitching conferences and pitching changes. All of these things have been the same way for so long and players know what to expect and follow suit. Changes may occur to the game quickly such as the recently implemented instant replay, but to change the way the game is played will take years, if not decades.

There is no shot clock or play clock, or any kind of clock except the game time. This is a stopwatch and not a timer, a big difference in how a game is played. In football, teams get three timeouts per half and cannot effectively stop the clock late in a game without possession. Basketball allows teams timeouts, but then also is slowed down if a team decides to foul at the end of the game to try and make a comeback. This takes time, but there is still a final whistle when the clock reaches double zero. Baseball has no time limit, which allows the players to do whatever they want whenever they want.

Slow Baseball GamesSlow baseball games have become slower for a few reasons, one which you may not think of right away: with the crack down on steroids in recent years, players are not as home run worthy as they thought they were (whether they were or not). By changing the mentality of players from swinging at anything and everything trying for a home run, they have become more selective and see more pitches. Teams also have used the “Moneyball” strategy for years and may value walks more than power numbers. Walks means at least four pitches to a batter, longer at-bats, and longer games.

High walk and strikeout numbers contribute heavily to lengthier ball games. The things that fans see though are the times when batter step out of the box, pitchers back off the rubber, pitchers pick off to a base multiple times in a row, catchers taking a long time to give signals, batters getting signals from a third base coach, and so on. The parts of the game that don’t progress it are what makes it seem so slow.

If a pitcher picks off to a base and the runner is safe then so what. If he pick off again you hear some disgruntled players and fans. A third pick off means boos are coming. But if one of those pick offs results in an out then fans cheer and the pitcher has done his job.

On the flip side, you have some pitchers who like to “quick pitch” batters. They get the baseball and are on the rubber trying to pitch as fast as possible. This can be considered “Bush League” by some, but does progress the game at a faster pace and can be effective in throwing off a batter’s timing.

The independent Atlantic League made some dramatic changes to its rules last season to try to make games faster. Strike zones were larger, batters could not step out of the box as often, and pitching changes were discouraged in the middle of an inning. There was also a time limit in-between pitches. While it worked for a bit, the difference was about 15 minutes being taken off the game time average. That is not very effective when you consider the lengths that it took to make that happen. Not to mention that baseball wants as many night games as possible for it’s TV viewership.

Starting games a little earlier would make the length less relevant. It’s a matter if you want fans getting there for the start of the game or staying through the end of the game. Few fans are passionate enough to stay through an entire game. Because of the unknown length, including possible extra innings, people are less inclined to plan to stay for the entirety of a baseball game versus knowing the fourth quarter of a football game will be over in a certain amount of time (according to the game clock).

Slow baseball games

Batters step out when they need to, and pitchers can step off the rubber when they need to

If Major League Baseball were to install new rules and guidelines like that, it would come as a major shock to players and coaches. They would have to adapt but it would ultimately change the way the game is played. Is that 15 minutes worth changing the complexity of a game by nitpicking and whittling every possible second away?

Why should the league be worried about game length anyways? As long as fans come to the game to begin with, it shouldn’t matter when they leave. The team gets paid for the tickets, the parking, and whatever is purchased in the first half of the game for the most part. Most venues stop serving food and drinks late in the game anyways, and the only thing worth staying for is the game itself.

Baseball may be slow. It depends on whom you are talking to. As a player, most games aren’t slow. Some of them are of course. As a fan, it’s hard for me to say because I watch more than just the game when I am in the stands. Depending on what level of baseball you are watching, the umpires can tell you if they think the game is slow by making the strike zone bigger.

It shouldn’t matter that baseball games are a few minutes shorter or longer than before. Fans are going to come to the game and watch on TV anyways. They may not stay or watch the entire thing, but it is going to take more than rushing pitches to make them stay tuned in. At the same time, players don’t want to have some imminent changes pushed upon them because of the length of the game. Like I said before, there is a way that baseball has been played for a long time and players have become accustomed to. I imagine there would be uproar and high opposition if the league were to try to enforce rules such as the Atlantic League did. Major League Baseball wants to keep its fans happy, but it needs to keep its employees happy as well. As long as the players aren’t overly concerned, things are likely to stay moving at the same pace as they are now.  Slow baseball games are just the way it is.

If you saw the hashtags associated with this article on a social media site, “turn the page” is yelled at a pitcher who picks off to first base multiple times in a row in an effort to get on with the game.

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