I talked a little bit about the length of playoff baseball games this morning, and now here comes the Score to basically prove me right.
I think they get a little too hung up on the amount of foul balls vs. balls in play, (watching a pitcher and hitter get into a battle of skills that becomes a struggle for one of them to win can actually be a very compelling and suspenseful aspect of the game), but they’re right about more here than they aren’t. We have absolutely got to keep these assholes in the goddamn box, for instance.
One issue is the number of batters who step out of the box between every pitch to adjust batting gloves, take practice swings, or go through other rituals. Batters didn’t do that in the 1980s. A few years ago, Grant Brisbee, then of SB Nation, did a granular study comparing the pace of a 1984 game versus one from 2014. The two games had very similar characteristics: score, number of pitches thrown, number of hits, and number of pitching changes. The 2014 contest was 35 minutes longer.
During my stint as a beat reporter covering the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014, I used a stopwatch during one game to record every time a batter stepped out of the box with both feet.
In that nine-inning game, which took 3 hours and 37 minutes, batters were outside the box for a combined 39:51. There was likely a margin of error with my thumb on a stopwatch, but you get the point. Batters stepped out 190 times that night for an average length of 12.6 seconds.
The article also notes these very disconcerting facts.
From 1960 to 1990, the average time of a nine-inning postseason game increased by 20 minutes. But in the 30-plus years since 1990, it’s increased by 40 minutes.
The Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros opened their ALCS series with a nine-inning Game 1 that took 4 hours and 7 minutes to complete. It was outdone by Game 2, which took 4:08. Game 3? A brisk 3:16. Game 4? A not-so-brisk 4:04.
Jesus god almighty.
Yes, one of the things that makes baseball what it is is the lack of a clock. But I think we’ve reached the point where it’s safe to say that the sport in its major league form can no longer be trusted to use that freedom responsibly. It’s unlikely we’ll ever be able to do much about the commercial breaks that seem to get longer every year, but there are things that can and should be done about what’s happening on the field. Players, coaches, old crotchety commentators and even some fans aren’t going to like it, but we need to start strictly enforcing the rules adopted and then quickly forgotten in 2015 and make some serious movement on whatever good ideas are still in the pipeline. That automatic baserunner in extra innings thing can continue to die in a horrific accident, though. That one sucks.