I should be directly in Major League Baseball’s wheelhouse. I fit every demographic – old, white, cranky, slow.
But the game has become too slow even for me. I didn’t realize how slow until I recently happened onto a Youtube video of the 1970 World Series. My God! No walk-up music. No un-Velcroing and re-Velcroing the batting gloves. (Hell, no batting gloves.) No walking around the mound. No mopping the brow. No resin bag.
It was just aim and fire. Toss back to the mound. Toe the rubber. Hop in the box. Aim and fire again. Here, look at the game yourself.
Look in particular at how quick back to the mound the Orioles’ ace Jim Palmer was. Some of his pitches are fewer than 10 seconds apart. The duration of the game was 2:24 – in the first game of the World Series, mind you.
Compare that with the average this year of about 23 seconds between pitches and an all-time high average game duration of 3:05. What is going on?
Well, you might guess television is to blame for some of the extended time – 90 seconds to two minutes between half innings. Those delays are not going away. Ad time is the golden goose for everyone in baseball.
But that’s by no means all of it. Really, it’s just about time between pitches for nonsense – cap straightening, walks around the mound, shoulder shrugging outside the box, helmet snuggling, digging with spikes.
I think it’s all about players wanting air time. The longer they’re on camera, the more they’re noticed, the more people know who they are, the more their “brand” is built.
Forget that about half of MLB’s television audience is >55 in age. I’m not watching anymore. The games go on forever. I can’t invest anymore.
MLB created a Pace of Game Committee three years ago ostensibly to attack this issue. Nothing has been done. Unless you want to count this year’s totally superfluous elimination of the 4-ball intentional walk.
Enough already. I never thought I’d say this. But it’s time for a clock in baseball. And not just s suggestion of one, not just a stopwatch in the second base umpire’s pocket that he never glances at or guidelines that are never enforced. I mean pitch clocks that everyone can see, activated automatically by position of the ball.
Can this happen? The technology is absolutely out there to do it. If pitchers don’t hit the rubber and throw a pitch within, say, 10 seconds after they have the ball, they are charged a ball. If hitters aren’t in the batter’s box within five seconds of when the rubber is tagged, they are charged a strike.
There won’t be any warnings. Just balls and strikes charged right away.
Fans of all ages would benefit from this rule change. But especially it would benefit baseball. Young fans are abandoning the game in droves. The pace of play is a main reason. They don’t have time to spend watching nothing happen. And why should they?
But in order for any of this to happen, the Major League players association must realize the game has a big problem losing not just young fans but those of all ages, and acquiesce to a few hard and fast rules. It’s the only way all of the ingrained attitudes enabling slow pace will be broken. You must exact a penalty and do it consistently.
The Fourth of July is approaching. This should be a day owned by baseball. Nothing else of import is going on in the sports world.
But you know all I’m hearing? Can’t wait for football to start. Can’t wait for training camps. Can’t wait to get through July.
Baseball has become a weigh station, a languid stretch of the summer in which no one really talks about it, the All-Star Game has become something of a joke and overall sports fans are hard-pressed to tell you who’s even where in the standings.
I know the Phillies’ demise and the Pirates’ sub-.500 position has something to do with this sense locally. But the average MLB attendance was 30,059 last year, the lowest in 11 seasons, down from an apex of 32,785 in 2007. And it’s trending toward a lower figure still in 2017.
Can it be just a coincidence that we are headed for the longest game times this season in the history of the game? That’s what a 3:05 average would be. In 1970, that Series game I mentioned (2:24) was the average. They’ve been lengthening ever since.
So, would you be averse to a clock if you knew a game could be over in 2:30 or so and you’d home at the same time as if you were at a Flyers or Penguins or Sixers’ game?
This is what has to happen, other than the clock. Everyone has to be onboard including the umpires, players and owners:
* Home plate umps have to revert to calling the high strike. The “strike at the letters” has become obsolete and nobody quite knows why. Call it. If you do, it means more strikes. More strikes mean more swings. More swings mean quicker outs.
* Have your walk-up music. But get out of the on-deck circle quicker and be in the box by the time it ends. If not, you get docked a strike.
* Replays must be judged much quicker. They’re still taking forever and there’s no good reason for most of them to be lengthy.
* Wanna step out of the box? Fine. Gotta be back in within five seconds. Sensors will judge whether you made it in time.
* Wanna step off the mound? You get one of those per inning. Otherwise, get the ball, toe the rubber, throw the ball. A sensor in the rubber and at the plate will time you.
I don’t know if clocks must be visible for this to be viable. But if it’s decided they must, just do it.
This Roger Angell notion that baseball is charming precisely because it has no clock is not only outdated, it’s wrong. Baseball is charming when it’s good because it’s a great game. When it’s played by those more interested in face time, then it’s not charming, it’s just s drag.
And its live fans are, for the first time in decades, really perceptibly beginning to dwindle.
Baseball should be the game of July. The game of the Fourth. A celebration of our heritage during this time of year.
Time to do something about it before a generation abandons it altogether.