New rules to speed up the game

Gary Kodner

So how long is a baseball game? The answer for many of us is… Too long! 

How long should it be? Thanks to an agreement between Major League Baseball and its players association, this season it’s supposed to be shorter. Here are the new rules:

  • Managers must initiate all replay challenges from the dugout. In 2014, the first year of replay challenges, the general practice involved a manager waiting to get a signal form a coach watching the replay, then coming on to the field
  • Batters must keep one foot inside the batters box at all times, unless an established exception occurs.
  • Game play to resume “promptly” after each commercial break. Baseball certainly doesn’t want to decrease its advertising allotment, thereby decreasing revenue.

What are the causes for the delays, and will the solutions work? The answer is an emphatic…maybe. 

First, some history.

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The longest game (by time) in major league history was played on May 8-9, 1984. The Brewers and White Sox played 17 innings before the game was suspended with the score 3-3. The game set a record, 8 hours, 6 minutes. 

The average length of a 9 inning Major League ballgame has increased from 2.85 hrs in 2004 to 3.13 hrs. in 2014.

What are some of the causes? 

Commercial breaks now account for at least 34 minutes on local broadcasts in a full nine-inning game (41 minutes for nationally televised games). That time represents big-time revenue for the teams and league. Ballparks have also changed dramatically. Owners have turned their parks in to multi-faceted entertainment venues. From food & beverage – to merchandise – to entertainment – fans can spend more money in more ways. Owners know that customers spend more in 3.5 hrs. then they can in 2.5 hrs. TV commercials have increased and so has sponsorship revenue. The commercials are not limited to TV/radio broadcasts, they are also in-park on large video boards. 

Pitching changes add significantly to the delays as well.  Managers have a pitching specialist for every situation. This trend is growing (4.8 pitchers per nine-inning game in 1963 to 7.7 in 2012).

There is a soaring number of strikeouts — from 12.52 per game in 1999 to 14.72 in 2014; more strikeouts; more batters going deep into counts; more pitches thrown; more walks; more pitches and more bas runners contribute to longer games. 

Add to it all, the video play review. Talk about a waste of time! There seems to be no time limit on those (though one of the new rules might help).

And the seemingly trivial, too:  “I partly blame it on Velcro,” said Vin Scully, now in his 63d year in the booth, referring to the advent of batting gloves and players’ tendency to adjust them unceasingly during at-bats.”

So what’s the big deal? Baseball, unlike the NFL, NBA, NHL, has no clock to control the pace of game. A game is over when its over, regardless how long it takes. For some, that is one of the special qualities of the game of baseball. For most of us though – the game is too slow, too long.

Here’s one clue to the issue: Wall Street Journal calculations, a baseball fan will see an average of 18 minutes of action over the course of a three-hour plus game. 

The most time-consuming part of the game is the inaction between pitches. This time accounts for an average of 1:14:49. Even though there is no clock ticking, players, managers and umpires call frequent timeouts. It seems there is an unlimited amount of game delays: pitching changes, warm-up tosses, mound meetings, batters stepping out, pitchers stepping off, managers stepping in, baseballs tossed out, equipment adjustments, video reviews, commercial time-outs, field maintenance, etc. etc.

Will the proposed solutions work? One of the big questions is, Will the new rules actually be enforced? MLB already had a 12-second time limit on pitches in their rule book, but this rule has gone generally ignored. Stepping out of the batter’s box after each pitch without calling time has also been illegal, yet commonly tolerated. 

Under the new rules, will players continue their inane equipment and bodily adjustments while standing one foot in the box and one foot out? Will umps get tough with the new requirements?

What it boils down to is this: Do MLB, owners, players and sponsors really want a shorter game, or are they simply adding superficial rules that may only be loosely enforced?

Time will tell.