Pace Of Play Is Not The Problem, Impatient Fans Are

by Ben Porter | Posted on Wednesday, May 10th, 2017
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There are two problems with Major League Baseball. Neither of them are the pace of play.

In the wake of the 18 inning battle between the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees on Sunday night, there’s been a lot of buzz about potential ways to make extra inning games end in a more timely fashion. A handful of Wrigley’s loyal fans stayed throughout the game, and I can only assume that many turned off their TVs and fell asleep before the final pitch. The game lasted over 6 hours, and ended with the Yankees taking a 5-4 win. That’s a LONG game, the longest of the year, and you can’t argue with those who jumped ship before the game ended. But is an 18 inning, 6 hour game really enough to warrant rule changing discussions? Absolutely not.

Like I said before, in my opinion, the MLB has two problems. The first being that they are trying to fix an unbroken game. The second, and more important problem is the attention span of young baseball fans. Of course, the MLB, like all professional sports, is a business. I don’t blame the MLB higher-ups for attempting to cater to the millennial baseball crowd, who can’t seem to sit through an entire game.

Baseball games have gotten longer over the years. That is simply a fact. More matchup specialists means more pitching changes. Some batters take painfully long during their pre-pitch routines. Instant replay and call challenges add a significant amount of time as well. According to data from Baseball Reference, the average time of a 9 inning baseball game was a little under 2 hours 100 years ago. Two hours remained the standard duration of a game until the 1940’s, where game length began an upward trend that has yet to plateau.

Since that point, baseball games have gotten longer and longer, reaching an all time high of 3 hours and change in 2014. Currently, baseball games last around 3 hours on average. There have been a number of rule changes and amendments to drive down the time of games, but they have been relatively unsuccessful thus far. This year, the MLB introduced a rule change, which eliminates the process of intentionally walking a batter. Instead, the manager merely says that he wants to put the batter on, and violà, ball 4. The MLB is also making batters remain in the batter’s box between pitches to avoid lengthy at bats. Other rules of this sort are in place as well.

What confuses me is why the MLB brought challenges via video replay into the game. I am firmly in favor of instant replay when it comes to reviewing home runs (fair/foul), but am against challenging other plays. There are undoubtedly times when umpires blow calls. I have chirped at umpires time and time again because of missed calls, but I do realize that umpires are human and will get calls wrong. They always have and always will. Similar to the strike zone, all calls should be at the umpire’s discretion. Video replay challenges take a few minutes, which, forgive me if I’m wrong, extends the duration of a game. The instant replay challenge does nothing more than negate existing rules intended to speed up the game. Oh, and it’s also a slap in the face to umpires, who we clearly have no faith in. Every schlub sitting on his couch at home thinks he knows more than the umpires, but there’s a reason they are paid to officiate professional baseball games. Give them some respect.

“But Ben, those are minor rule changes, why does that make you so mad?” Well, allow me to enlighten you. Yes, these are small changes that don’t interfere with the game that much. But the “speed the game up” craze has been taken too far. After Sunday’s marathon game, there were murmurings of a rule change to make extra innings more bearable. The suggested rule was to start with a runner on second base during extra innings. In Little League, we called that California rules. Little League is the highest level of baseball that this rule should exist in. Right now, it’s being tested in the low minor leagues, and a variation was even brought to the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

I love free baseball. When a baseball game is tied entering extra innings, something special happens. Each subsequent inning becomes more exciting. Who is going to score first? Will the home team walk off in dramatic fashion? It only takes one swing to end the game. Every pitch becomes more and more important because there is seldom recovering from a deficit in extra innings. In marathon games, every baserunner could be the determining factor. But those baserunners need to earn their way on base. Beginning an inning with a runner on second is no more than a consolation prize for not losing during regulation.

With a runner on second base and nobody out, there is a 63.3% chance that that runner will score. Depending on who is up and who is on deck, there would likely be an intentional walk, a pitching change (for matchup’s sake), or a bunt. None of these three things, if you ask me, are exciting. If the team leads off with a double, that’s a different story. The hitting team earned those bases, and all of a sudden the pitcher has to pitch a lot more carefully now. If a runner starts at second, there is actually less pressure on the pitcher because the runner will, statistically, score more often than not. That takes the fault off of the pitcher if the runner does score. I pray that this rule makes it no further than wherever it is now.

Now, let’s talk about the people responsible for the proposed changes… the fans. Let me preface this by saying that there’s no right way to watch a baseball game. The beautiful thing about baseball is that it does not require laser focus to follow. There are fans who record every pitch on a personal scorecard, fans who drink beer and talk with their friends while the game is on in the background, and everything in between. Many things other than baseball draw people to the ballpark. The atmosphere, the theatrics, hell, maybe the weather is nice and you wanted to get out of the house. But there’s one thing I can’t stand, and that’s the person who doesn’t even attempt to watch the game.

In today’s world, people get frustrated with things that are slow. I get it. You better believe I talk to my phone in public and ask it why it’s not loading. That’s just how things are. I’m all for advancements in technology, but if it comes at the cost of people not having the patience to sit through a baseball game, count me out. Young kids are growing up with the expectation that everything is action packed and instantaneous. The awesome thing about baseball is that it isn’t like that. It’s relaxing and exciting at the same time. Thousands and thousands of people some together to rally behind their team, which is a beautiful thing.

The MLB is a business whose goal is to make money, but making money should not mean destroying the integrity of the game. Sure, one little rule isn’t a big deal. But what happens when the next generation is more impatient than this one? Walks will become 3 balls, strike outs 2 strikes. Why play 9 innings when you can play a game in 7? Please God let’s not push these dominos over.

Even while I sit here and complain, I’m optimistic about the future of baseball. The 2017 World Baseball Classic shattered expectations and drew millions of viewers. The 2016 World Series drew 23 million viewers per game — the most since 2004. The MLB’s television ratings are on the incline. My advice for the MLB? Don’t lose views from true baseball fans in order to gain views from the impatient youth.

Baseball is a beautiful sport. Pitchers art like artists who paint masterpieces whenever they step foot on the mound. There are so many intricacies that make baseball fun to watch. Not everyone is going to appreciate how much a changeup drops off the table, how the ball seems to float when outfielders are playing catch between innings or how infielders like Dustin Pedroia move before the ball is hit. But all I’m asking is that you try. Don’t go to a game and complain that nothing is happening if you’ve been glued to your phone screen all game. Appreciate that which the ballpark has to offer. Baseball is America’s pastime for a reason. So what if it takes 20 minutes longer than it did 50 years ago? To me, that’s a blessing in disguise.

Follow Ben on Twitter @Ben13Porter

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Ben Porter
About the Author

Ben is a sophomore at Columbia University where he plays baseball. He loves everything about the game and is a little biased toward the Boston Red Sox, Ben has future ambitions of a career in sports media, follow him on Twitter @Ben13Porter

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  • Bob Long

    As a baseball fan whao has been around for a long time, I agree that the problem is not the pace of ply. Baseball is more akin to chess than checkers. The children today are too attention deficit to enjoy any sport that doesn’t engage them in nonstop action. Baseball is to be enjoyed liesurely. Stop trying to change the most wonderful game ever invented. If you want to attract the younger generation, make certain that there are constant distracions for them….like mirrors, shiny objects and selfie booths. Leave baseball alone. I saw Mantle, Mays, Snider, and Gehrig. If you can’t enjoy their grace and athleticism, play with your phone, at home. Now, you pesky kids, stay off my lawn!

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