A Modest Proposal: The 7-Inning Ballgame

windows_seven_high_resolutionJimmy:

MLB should change the length of games to seven innings. The games would be better, faster, filled with more drama. What do you think, Mike?

Mike:

Yes! I have been a proponent of this for a few years now. Just a few weeks ago I was at  Brooklyn, and they played two, creating two seven-inning contests. The first game went 1:45. And I can tell you, I did not fee cheated. Instead I enjoyed every pitch. My mind never wandered, in fact, I never felt the urge to leave my seat. I cannot remember the last time I did not feel a need to wander around at a major league park.

Jimmy:

That desire to wander might be the Alzheimer’s, Mike. Remember what your doctor said, “More cowbell.” But I understand what you mean. The games are long and getting longer. The mind drifts.

Of course, a change to seven innings would be radical, and would blow the doors off the record books.  I think that’s the primary reason why some folks would never accept it.

Mike:

I agree with you, and have heard that argument many times. It’s so bogus. The record books are already useless, unless you compare players who played during the same era. Mickey MantleDoes anyone really think it is meaningful to compare Christy Mathewson to Clay Kershaw? Or the roided up exploits of McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds to Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron? And anyone who played before Jackie Robinson, just forget all of that too. It’s useful to see what those guys did, in their time, but their time excluded a lot of the best competition. Hey, just last week, we wrote about defensive shifting, which is changing everything as well. That’s just a few reasons. Comparing players from one era to another is comparing apples and oranges already.

Jimmy:

Let’s just push that concern aside for the moment and focus on the things that would be impacted by this revolutionary change.

* The length of games would get back to more manageable times, averaging less than 3 hours. Finally, fans might be able to watch a complete game.

* With shorter games, each inning becomes more important, increasing the drama.

* On rosters, teams could probably cut back from the 12-man pitching staff. Or, conversely, perhaps experiment with a 4-man rotation, figuring that starters only need to go 5-6 innings.

* It would improve the overall level of play. Less back-end relievers, less need for subs, fresher, better rested players.

I guess I could go on and on.

Mike:

Me, too. I just think it’s the cleanest and easiest way to fix the game. And the game is broken. Baseball is not meant to be a four-hour affair. But what I find so intriguing about the seven-inning game is it can assist with other current problems, not just the length of de-soto-firedome-sportsman-05contests.

One big one, that you hit on above, is pitching. Pitchers throw less pitches now, and it is very difficult to envision a scenario where things go back the way they were. Because of this, and a static 25 man roster, pitchers take up more and more of every roster.

But there are other things. At one time major league baseball did not extend past the Mississippi. Additionally, doubleheaders were a normal occurrence. Now, teams are strewn all over North America, and the single admission doubleheader has gone the way of the De Soto. There are too many uninspired games, as long games and increased travel create overly fatigued players.

Jimmy:

Okay, then. It’s settled. Next let’s tackle these pesky problems in the Middle East . . .

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15 comments

  1. Morty Brown says:

    To borrow from “There’s Something About Mary” and the 7/6 minute abs scene, why stop at 7? A 5 inning game would be REALLY dramatic!
    Keep the batter from stepping out of the box for every god-forsaken pitch and the game would move along nicely.
    Have some respect for the tradition of the game fellas.

    • Thanks, Morty. We’re just trying to fix a problem that MLB does not seem inclined to address. Catchers walking to the mounds to talk things over, etc.

      Here’s a cool sortable data dump from the good folks at Baseball Prospectus.

      http://www.baseballprospectus.com/sortable/index.php?cid=1668182

      Quickly, length of games:

      1950: 2.38 (note the decimal, that translates to roughly 2 hours and 20 minutes on average)
      1970: 2.57
      1990: 2.87
      2010: 2.91
      2014: 3.14

      Again, that’s an average of about 3 hours and 9 minutes per game, meaning that nowadays roughly half take longer than that. Respect for the tradition? We hear ya! But also, there’s a Swiftian kick to the concept here, “A Modest Proposal,” in a word, using satire to make a larger point.

      • Michael Geus says:

        Thanks for the comment Morty. I don’t think this idea is anti-tradition. One element of the game would change (the innings) but maybe the complete game returns? I liked the complete game. Maybe teams could carry enough hitters to have a real bench again? I liked that too.

        Things have already changed, this adjustment may change some things back. And that’s the thing, no matter what anyone liked or disliked change is inevitable in life. Baseball already is not the game it was years ago.

        I have a lot of respect for a lot of things that existed 100 years ago, but many of them are long gone now. Acknowledging that things cannot stay the way they are is not the same as not having respect for how things were.

  2. Gentlemen, I hadn’t given the idea of a seven-inning game much thought before, but I think you’ve convinced me. But one question, what happens to the 7th-inning stretch? :)
    Cheers,
    Bill

  3. wkkortas says:

    I think the idea of a seven-inning game is a little radical for the powers that be to embrace, plus you’re losing four half-inning breaks to sell advertising. Still, MLB could cut the time of games somewhat if they wanted to–actually enforce the time limit between pitches instead of letting Edinson Volquez stand around on the mound and compose sonnets in his head or whatever the hell he does for half a minute between pitches, have guys stay in the box once they get there, cut the visits to the mound, dispense with the pticher having to throw four balls on an intentional walk, and so on. If MLB would commit (and have the umpires enforce it) to just moving the damn game along, you could cut a half hour from the game by doing relatively minor things.

  4. I was thinking about this topic some more today. Many folks through the years have noted the perfection of the 60-foot mound, and the 90-foot basepaths. There’s an undeniable mathematical beauty to the game. Of course, no one has ever, strangely, settled on the proper distance for the fences. The size of the field varies. How odd, when you think about it. You’d think a person focused on the purity of statistics would be made crazy by that fact, the variability of the home run. And I’ve never heard anyone say: “Nine innings, the perfect length.” Because it’s obviously arbitrary. Or maybe not. I’d say that the length of a game — how many innings should we play? — was originally designed to fit the lives of real people, the fans and, importantly, the players. If the original game last four hours, I don’t think baseball ever reaches the same popularity. Basketball is a sport played at different times through different levels, including a running clock at many tournaments. And we’ve all seen dramatic baseball played at 6 innings, 7 innings, 9 innings, and extra innings. Time is the constant. Though the game does not have a clock, the early adopters settled on 9 innings because it felt like the right length. Long enough to secure a fair winner, but not toooo long. Until, well, now.

    • wkkortas says:

      One thing that Bill James noted long ago was that, unitl after World War II, baseball did, for all intents and purposes, have a clock–it was called the sun. James also noted that umpires of that generation were often called on the carpet if they didn’t keep the games moving along at a brisk pace; once the umpires of that generation filtered out of the game in the late 60s and early 70s, there was no one running the show on the field who had lived with the necesity of keeping things moving along. Baseball, if it wants to, can easily have nine-inning games played in 2:30 if it wants to without much effect on how the game is played at all, and if they would look at some more significant changes–like limiting the number of pitching changes per inning, which would have the added benefit of getting rid of twelve-man staffs where one guy is facing 100 batters a year–they could cut that to two hours. It’s not the number of innings that’s the problem; it’s how the game is conducted inside the framework of those innings.

  5. Eraff says:

    So, we’re really just a bunch of OLD GUYS talking Mets Baseball! We want our 2-2.5 hour game…we want BASEBALL.

    Whether it’s the “Velcro Breaks”, the mound visits, Pitching Changes…. the 4 hour EXPERIENCE is a big money maker! Mike, you’re walk around the ballpark is CAUSED by the long game?…Great!!!…. visit the snack stand, the Bar. Go buy a Hat!!!!

    Listening at home….. keep track of the in-game spots for SAFE DEFENSE of your home and Business. “That was the SAFE DEFENSIVE PLAY IF THE GAME”— 4th inning mind you. No Matter…. just know that Ruben Tejada’s clean pick and throw on that 4th inning squibbler is a perfect reminder for you to spend money keeping all of your junk and loved ones safe with a home security system.

    The game is totally structured around revenue…. revenues are up….that’s the measure of the Fan Experience. They don’t care about starting games at 8pm if they can optimize 2 hours of audience on each coast. You can’t watch the full game on either coast?—who cares?….. have some fun…watch some baseball….spend some money….look up the score in the morning!!!!

    • I will say this about the “OLD GUYS” comment. None of this is a concern for the “YOUNG GUYS.” Their solution is elegant in its simplicity: They don’t watch baseball at all.

    • Michael Geus says:

      I disagree totally. Old guys are the only people putting up with it all. Revenues are up because they have done a great job in the last ten years squeezing every last dollar out of the remaining fan base. Not because they are attracting new fans. That is great while it lasts, but even though baseball refuses to acknowledge the existence of time, the clock is ticking on the game.

  6. Raff says:

    The most obvious problem is understood by all- $$$ are predicated on 8 opportunities, between innings to sell beer and soap. I don’t think you can get past this. The baseball purists, especially National League, will bemoan the loss of strategic elements, such as whether and when to make a pitching change, pinch hit, etc. I actually think you lose too many of those special elements if the game is a shorter format. Changing the duration is the desirable goal, but I think the shorter format of 7 innings would fundamentally change the game in some undesirable ways. Baseball should be able to figure out a way to return to those days when 9 inning games were played in a much shorter period of time. That would allow them to have their cake and eat it, too. Keep the 9 inning game with all it’s great features, keep the 8 opportunities to shill product, and get the game back to the 2 hours and 20 minutes in which it was previously played. The path is to have the umpire yell “Play Ball” and to really mean it., and to have a means of enforcing it. This might mean a year of baseball in which umpires yell STRIKE ONE, with a batter fidgeting around outside of the batter’s box, and having umpires yell BALL ONE with a pitching fiddle-faddling with his hat and his glove while off the rubber. BTW- this would also present a great economic benefit to the game. Many more eyes would be tuned in during the prime-time portion of the game, and tuned into the commercial segments which air between innings during that period — and many more people would elect to make a decision to watch a game, knowing they had at least a prayer of being awake to see the final outcome.

    • wkkortas says:

      You have a point–they used to call Mike Hargrove “The Human Rain Delay”, because he did a lot of fidgeting with his jersey and his gloves and his helmet before getting ready to hit. His routine before he got into the box really stuck out in the mid-70’s, but no one would even notice him now.

    • Michael Geus says:

      Again, I disagree. With pitching changes and the like there is plenty of disruption to the action to fill commercial time. More importantly, again, look past the present to the future, and where home viewing is headed. Technology is making television ads obsolete, as DVRs and streaming services change the industry. It’s not 13 stations held together by an advertiser based model, it’s unlimited viewing opportunities for the individual, at a price.

      The quality, not quantity, of the content will be key. I’ve never heard a person say they would pay more for Netflix if only the movies were longer. I might not be a kid anymore but I’m not stuck in the past, or the present.

      I’m looking to the future. Baseball has real issues.

      • Michael Geus says:

        Obviously, the comment above is in the wrong spot, and is not a direct response to either W.K. Or J.P.

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