June 8, 2018:

On June 8, 1920, during a Cincinnati Reds-New York Giants baseball game, several Cincinnati players got into a heated argument with the umpires. Uninterested in the rhubarb, Reds’ all-star outfielder Edd Roush went to sleep on the outfield grass using his glove as a pillow. Several teammates unsuccessfully tried to awaken Roush but an umpire finally roused Roush and ejected him for delay of game.    

In 1920, the average time to play a major league baseball game was a mere 1 hr 47 min. One can only wonder how Mr. Roush would have coped with today’s three hour plus snooze fests. He would probably want to drag a Laz-Y Boy out to center field every inning.

Apologies to my good friends who wax romantically about baseball’s timelessness, strategy and blah, blah. I concede that baseball might be the greatest game ever invented and has a history that is second to none. But the length of today’s game is absurd. Imagine what you could do for humanity if you put the three and a half hours of a post-season game to better use. Back of the envelope calculations indicate you could write and post 17 checks to charity. If you are short on cash, you could help 35 old ladies across the street. If you must have your sports fix you could watch 15 “seven on seven “rugby matches or watch a replay of the second Ali-Liston fight 138 times.

Sobering Statistics

In 2013, veteran statistician Steve Moyer stopwatched three baseball games and discerned that the average amount of action in nine innings is just under 18 minutes. His study published in the Wall Street Journal is in line with a Fox Sports study that found the average MLB game contained 14 minutes of action.  That’s marginally better than an NFL game which contains 11 minutes of action.

Moyer broke down the 17 minutes and 58 seconds of action into two categories. Balls in play or runners advancing took 5 min 47 sec. Other action including pitches, foul balls and pickoffs took 12 min 11 sec. “Inaction” was broken down into categories including time between batters (34 min) and time between innings (43 minutes). If you guessed that the biggest cause of delay was “time between pitches” you win a pair of David Ortiz spit-covered batting gloves. Time between pitches clocked in at
1 hr 14 mins.

A study by sports writer, Grant Brisbee compared a game from 1984 to one from 2014. He focused on what he termed “inaction pitches” — balls, called strikes, and missed swinging strikes that didn’t result in the end of an at-bat. The two games contained an almost identical number of inaction pitches- 146 versus 144. The difference was that in the 1984 game inaction pitches accounted for 33 minutes while in the 2014 game they comprised 58 minutes, an astounding 80% increase.

Whistling Past the Graveyard
Despite the overwhelming evidence that time between pitches is the reason people like me tune out, MLB has focused on other fixes. It’s commendable that there is now a clock that enforces time between innings and a rule that requires batters to keep one foot in the batter’s box (although it is loosely enforced). One of this year’s changes is the elimination of the four- pitch intentional walk even though the average number of intentional walks in 2017 was only 1-per-2.6 games. Talk about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic! At last count, the rules changes have only shortened the average nine inning game by four minutes.

One meaningful fix to restore sanity to a sport that I once watched religiously is to enforce a 20 second-clock between pitches. The second is to restore the strike zone back to the 1967 level which was “between the batter’s armpits and the top of his knees.” In 1988 the upper limit was reduced to “a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants”. It drives this former fan crazy to watch multi-millionaires lay-off eminently hittable balls- pushing pitch counts to astronomical levels and turning Yankees-Red Sox games into four- hour -plus torture sessions.

I would love to continue but I need to kick a couple of towheaded eight- year-olds off my front lawn.

Have a great weekend.

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