Guest Post: Baseball Takes Too Long, by Don Patten

The NCAA tournament brackets come out tonight, and I still have a lot of work to do. For instance, has Wofford come up with a replacement yet for Blitz II? I admit it, I’m not sure. I’m stressed, I’m running out of preparation time, and I can’t get my mind on baseball right now. Thankfully for all of us at 2Guys, loyal reader Don Patten understood my pain and has written a Guest Post for today. It’s about a topic near and dear to my own heart too, the length of a baseball game. So, let me step aside and get to my research on Coastal Carolina’s free throw percentage in late game pressure situations. Thanks again, Don.

Baseball Takes Too Long

The number one spectator sport in 1920 was baseball. At that time, numbers two and three Boxing in 1920were boxing and horse racing. How long has it been since you’ve been to the track? In 1985, the NFL surpassed MLB as the favorite sport, (25% to 24%). Since that time, the NFL has grown to 35% of fans and MLB has declined to 14%. Baseball is losing the battle for America’s entertainment dollar. If the declining interest continues, it will become irrelevant.

George Carlin has a famous baseball bit. It describes the things that make baseball and football different. I’m sure you’ve heard it. Parts of it go “Baseball is a 19th century pastoral game. Football is a 20th century technological struggle. Baseball has no time limit: we don’t know when it is going to end- – might go extra innings. Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we’ve got to go to sudden death.”

Over the years, the average length of baseball games has continually risen.

  • 1920 – Less than 2 hours
  • 1960 – 2 hours, 38 minutes
  • 2000 – 2 hours, 58 minutes
  • 2009 Post season games – 3 hours, 30 minutes

When America was slow-paced, Americans loved baseball and baseball was played quickly and lasted less than 2 ½-hours. Now, in a fast-paced culture, we have slowed the game to a crawl and it is driving away people who crave instant and continuous gratification. Baseball is the game that never ends. This increase in playing time has hurt the product.

Baseball has never welcomed change, so I suspect that baseball doesn’t want to hear my suggestions for speeding up the game. But boring doesn’t sell and baseball better wake up. I believe there are six rule changes that could be made to speed up the game.

1. Enforce the pitch clock. Put one behind the backstop and one each in right center and left center. The second base umpire can make the call. 20 seconds between pitches, period! Otherwise it’s a ball. Batters must be ready at 10 seconds and are not granted timeout after that. Otherwise it’s a strike.

2. All pitchers should face a minimum of 3 batters or complete an inning. Baseball survived for 100 years without the lefty specialist.

3. Trips to the mound are timeouts. Each manager gets 2 per game. There is no reason for a meeting on the mound for each pitching change.

4. Intentional walks are signaled from the dugout.

5. The strike zone is defined in the rule book. It is not up to the whim of the home plate umpire. Umpires should be reviewed after each game with access to Strike f/x readings. Umpires who can’t perform are replaced. When the technology advances so that it can replace umpires, they should be replaced. We have heard for years that all anyone wants is consistency. Well, a computer generated strike zone would be consistent.

Billy Martin6. Managers are not permitted on the field to argue a call. Coaches in other sports are ejected if they come on the field of play to argue; they should be ejected in baseball. Watching Earl Weaver or Billy Martin kick dirt on home plate is nostalgic, but should no longer be tolerated.

Football is a 3-hour commitment. Basketball is a 2 ½-hour commitment. To compete with these sports, baseball must be committed to shortening the game.



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  1. Eraff says:

    Limiting “trips to the mound”…. yeah, let’s start there. In the days when perhaps a reliever or two would pitch it was polite gamesmanship and a reciprocal allowance.

    Add the Pitch Clock: Dizzy Dean used to refer to slow pitchers as FIDDLE HITCHERS— Guys who would stand on the mound Fiddling with their belts and shirts, Hitching up their pants….

    Mike Hargrove, aka THE HUMAN RAIN DELAY launched an Army of Fiddle Hitching Batters… enough!

  2. Great post, Don. Thanks. You did a particularly good job contextualizing the problem. It’s the Bud Selig conundrum. The owners have never made so much money, they love Bud, but at the same time the popularity of the game is slipping away.

    However, I do resent some guy coming in off the street and putting up better work than we do.

  3. Michael Geus says:

    Unless baseball makes changes the sport will continue to decline. The demographics in the attached article quantify what every parent knows. Baseball has a big problem coming.

    Some of the changes Don lists might seem like heresy to purists, but some are very easy to do. Yet nothing is done, and the powers to be worry about instant replay.

    Go ask a seventeen year old why he never watches baseball. I guarantee you, the answer isn’t “too many blown calls.”

  4. Raff says:

    Great Post!!! I can uy into every with every entry, except #6. I would like to see #6 modified to state— “Managers are not permitted on the field to question the umpires’ judgment, except in cases where they launch a tirade full of cussing, spitting and kicking dirt”, after which they will be ejected for the reminder of the game.” A pissed-off manager is one of the great things about the game, and it’s worth the occasional delay. And let’s never forget how our Aristotle- Gil Hodges, used reason and evidence- a little white ball with a little black shoe polish to write a crucial and memorable chapter in Met history. Please. don’t take that away from me.

  5. Eraff says:

    Baseball “popularity” may have waned in comparison to football, but the revenue and attendance have grown….that includes recent history.

    • Michael Geus says:

      There is no doubt about that, like most businesses baseball has been obsessed with the short term, and those accomplishments are real. One huge accomplishment was much better marketing of the product. I honestly believe there was greater national interest in baseball in the 1950’s and 1960’s, but the current game blows away those decades attendance figures. That is a very impressive thing to pull off.

      But those demographics are real too. I see the Baby Boomers as the last generation of hardcore baseball fans, and soon they will all be either dead, retired, or too poor to retire. They need to be replaced by new fans, and they are not being created. Length of games is not the only reason for that, but that is a post for another day.

      If I could add major league baseball to my investment portfolio I would do so. I actually see a little more short-term growth due to the changing landscape of television.

      But by 2024 I would be completely divested.

  6. Don P says:

    Thanks for the kind words about the post.

    The easiest of these rule changes to implement would be the pitch clock. Heck, it ‘s already on the books.

    But the rule I would most like to see is the requirement for pitchers to face 3 batters or finish an inning. It would do more than speed up the game. It would change rosters, with fewer pitchers, we could have useful platoons. For a game locked in the past, it would return the game back to the game of the 70’s and early ’80’s.

  7. Eraff says:

    Here’s a link to the Yankees attendance records:

    The 1950’s teams drew 1.5-1.8 million—- actually, the late 40’s teams drew more (????).

    OUR “Baby Boomer Guys” concept of devotion to the game may be different than more general reality— the Yankees teams of the 2000-2010 decade drew 4 million fans.

    Team by team/game by game results of virtually all teams is consistent with the fact that the game has never been better attended measured by numbers of fans and dollars.

    I just wish all of those people knew the game with the capacity for great conversation about the game, such as we share here.

  8. Alan K. says:

    While the attendance numbers are good, there are dark clouds on the horizon. Look at the TV ratings-World Series viewership is less than half than what it was in the late 1980’s, and post season night games end too late for most working adults, let alone kids to be able to follow. Youth baseball is on the decline, with soccer being far more popular with kids. The game is in trouble, and that trouble will get worse as the baby boomers gradually fade from the scene.

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