By Tony Hooker
How is it that the hours and days can pass so slowly, but the months fly by like 20-dollar bills to my college aged daughter?
At any rate, baseball is back next week, and contrary to my earlier, “old man shakes fist at clouds” stance, I’m looking forward to watching some baseball. It’s too ingrained in my soul for me to stay mad at it for long.
A lot of my fondest memories involve baseball. Whether it was playing for the Mighty Moose Braves, or coaching the Chiefs, or watching the Cheetahs in my daughter’s brief foray into the world of softball, I spent a lot of time haunting the diamonds of VG and the surrounding area over the past 5-ish decades. Every summer, I would pile into my Uncle Bill’s old blue chevy truck to take in a game or two at Busch Stadium. Uncle Bill was a Cubs fan, but his love of the game was such that he didn’t care who was playing. He would always keep a scorecard, a habit that I’ve tried to maintain over the years with varying degrees of success. As a young adult, ball trips with my dad and stepdad were always a hoot, for different reasons. I remember one “Hideaway” bus trip when I was home on leave from the Navy in particular, but what happens on bus trips stays on bus trips. I’ll just say that Hoggy and Bill were the protagonists and leave it at that.
As I’ve written previously, baseball is losing its popularity here in the states, having slid from being “America’s pastime” to a distant third in fan interest behind the NFL and the NBA as far as professional sports go. The reasons are many and have been much discussed, but the gist is that the games themselves take too long. Last season, the average length of a major league game set a new record of 3 hours, 10 minutes and 7 seconds, which was up from 3:07.46 in 2020, which was up from 3:05.35 in 2019. The playoffs are even worse, with the average game lasting 3:38.
Why? Why is it that the games I went to see with my dad and uncle were 40 minutes to an hour shorter than today’s marathon events? There are many reasons of course, but the main one, the one that has been most researched, is the length of time between pitches. In 2017 Grant Bisbee watched two games, one from 1984 and the other from 2014, that had the exact same number of runs, pitches, baserunners and batters, and found that the 2014 contest lasted 35 minutes longer, with 25 of those minutes coming from extra time between pitches. The other ten minutes were caused by 6 minutes more commercials and a play review that lasted 4 minutes. Of course, the fact that every batter from coach pitch to the MLB now feels compelled to step out of the box, adjust his or her gloves, look down to the third base coach for a sign, etc. is also a contributing factor, I’m sure.
One potential solution is a pitch clock timer. A low west minor league experimented with one last season and found that setting a between pitch limit of 15 seconds with the bases empty and 17 seconds with runners on base cut 21 minutes off the average game time.
The fact is that our attention spans and our available free time are way shorter than in the past. Just like I seldom have time to play 18 holes, but I might be able to sneak in nine, I don’t have three hours to watch a game or a Nascar race, but I can fit in an hour or two to check out the NFL or college game. Here’s hoping baseball figures it out.