By Ken Reed
Major League Baseball (MLB) in general, and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred in particular, seem obsessed with the average length of big league baseball games.
My question is why? Why are a few minutes here or there so important?
The average length of an MLB game is very similar to the average length of an NFL game: a little over three hours. But the NFL doesn’t obsess over the length of its games like baseball does.
Baseball is different — and always has been different — than other games. One of the ways baseball’s different is that there is no clock. The national pastime has always been a leisurely, no-rush activity played mostly in the hot summer months.
Part of the game’s ongoing allure is the fact that there is no clock. The winning team needs to get 27 outs in a game, no matter how long it takes. If the game is tied after nine innings, the teams play extra innings until one team comes out on top. A clock isn’t involved.
But Manfred seems intent on making a clock part of baseball. He’s threatened to implement a 20-second pitch clock in MLB games. We already have “experimental” pitch clocks at the minor league levels. This year, the pitch clocks at AAA and AA will move from 20 seconds to 15 seconds when there are no runners on base. Pitchers will still get 20 seconds to throw a pitch when runners are on base.
Baseball is also experimenting with other speed-of-game rules in the minor leagues. For example, this year, extra innings throughout the minor leagues will start with a runner at second base. What?! That isn’t baseball. What’s next? Batters going to the plate with a 1-1 count?
“We believe these changes to extra innings will enhance the fans’ enjoyment of the game and will become something that the fans will look forward to on nights where the game is tied late in the contest,” said Pat O’Connor, president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the organization that oversees minor league baseball.
Uh, I beg to differ Mr. O’Connor.
Why this crazy urge to change a game that’s been popular for 140 years? Manfred and baseball owners and executives don’t appear to fully understand, or appreciate, the game’s natural appeal. It’s the timelessness of the game, along with its history and traditions.
Mr. Manfred, I would suggest you watch the movie “Field of Dreams” and then contemplate why it is one of the most popular sports movies of all-time.
Baseball is grandparents, parents and children going to the ballpark and casually talking about the same basic game they’ve all played and watched through the years.
Fans love the changelessness of baseball. That’s why the new old-style ballparks, sparked by the positive reaction to Camden Yards in Baltimore, are so popular. And why classic parks like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park remain fan favorites.
Back to the length of games. MLB’s greedy owners are primarily responsible for the increased length of games due to their “need” to cram in so many commercials between half-innings. Instead of cutting one 30-second commercial between half-innings, which would shave off nearly nine minutes a game, owners decided to implement a no-pitch intentional walk to help shorten games. No-pitch intentional walks might save about 15 seconds per game on average.
Clearly, MLB owners value 30 seconds of additional ad revenue vs. speeding up the game, which they contend is such a critical issue.
I’m fine with little things like having batters keep one foot in the batter’s box when getting signs from the third base coach, instead of allowing them to go for long strolls while incessantly adjusting their batting gloves. But otherwise leave the game alone! And for sure, no clocks! The lack of clocks is an important differentiator vs. other professional sports.
Play the game and quit worrying about how long it takes.
And Mr. Manfred, one last suggestion: Instead of worrying about the length of games, focus on enhancing baseball’s unique characteristics and traditions.
That’s something that will appeal to fans more than inserting a damn clock into the game.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
- League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.