Time for a Change in Baseball

It shouldn't take three hours to play the game


One of baseball's venerable axioms is that no one goes to a game to watch the umpires. Maybe not, but I for one will be happy to go to cheer the umpires.

At least I will do so for any composed of the same stuff as Joe West, who the other day brought down a stern judgment about the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox: "It's pathetic and embarrassing. They take too long to play."

West does not merely say the right things. On Tuesday night, when the longtime—and I do mean long time—rivals met, his plate umpire, Angel Hernandez, did something that is seen about as often on a baseball field as a troupe of ballerinas. Batters asked for time out, and he declined to give it to them. "Shut up and hit" was the implicit message.

It was not enough to moderate the exhausting duration of the game. That night, the two teams managed to pack nine innings into three hours and 48 minutes, during which time you could have flown from Las Vegas to Chicago.

There are many good reasons that games have gotten longer, from an average of two hours and 23 minutes in 1951 to 2:52 last season. (New York and Boston, the slowest teams, typically exceeded three hours). Pitching changes are more common, batters are more intent on working long counts, and base runners may draw more pickoff throws.

But then there are the bad reasons, which fall into two categories: batters and pitchers. The guy on the mound can extend the contest to punishing lengths by stepping off the rubber, walking around the mound, fiddling with the rosin bag, and so on, and many pitchers make full and frequent use of the opportunity.

The rules stipulate that when there are no men on base, the pitcher has 12 seconds to transport the ball in the direction of the catcher. But last year, the average interval was 27 seconds. Umpires punished laggards 15 or 20 times by calling a ball on a pitch that wasn't thrown, but that means penalties were assessed once in every 121 games.

Without more vigorous enforcement, we should not expect things to get much better. Major League Baseball Vice President Bob Watson told the Associated Press, "My dream for 2010 is to have a pace of 25 seconds per pitch." Dream big, Bob!

A pitcher, however, may not carry out his duties until his offensive counterpart is ready to fulfill his. The other day I watched a clip of Game 7 of the 1965 World Series, when Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers shut out Minnesota, and I was less amazed by his pitching prowess than by a strange, inexplicable habit exhibited by the hitters: remaining in the batter's box between deliveries.

Youngsters who have grown up in the intervening years may be surprised to learn that the official rulebook does not strictly require the hitter to remove himself from the vicinity of home plate after each offering. There is no penalty for staying put.

But there might as well be. Today, every self-respecting batsman finds it impossible to perform his function without repeatedly adjusting his helmet, pulling on his gloves, hitching his pants, tugging his shirt, tapping his cleats, checking his grip, and silently reciting the Gettysburg Address.

In the 1980s, the Cleveland Indians' Mike Hargrove engaged in dilatory antics that earned him the nickname The Human Rain Delay. Nomar Garciaparra, who played for the Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers and Athletics, conducted bizarre clinics in the suspension of time every time he strode to the plate.

Players like them used to stand out, but not so much anymore. From the approach of many hitters, you would think they were getting paid by the second. That, or there's a bill collector outside the locker room who they hope will tire of waiting and leave.

More likely it will be weary fans who will run out of patience and flee in hope of finding some sport that is more respectful of the demands on their time. Like the Iditarod.

But Major League Baseball has given the umpires the authority to eliminate the pointless prolongation of games. Some of them, at least, are resolved to act.

Go for it, men in blue! And make it snappy.


NEXT: Smoked Out

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    1. Mornin’.

  1. You leave out two most important reasons why the game lasts 3 hours and more. There is now more time to sell overpriced refreshments and souvenirs to the fans in the stands and more time to sell TV advertising. Follow the money and that often answers many questions.

    1. Not really. The amount of time between innings (when the commercials are) is still the same. They could get more commercials in with each pitching change, but all that time between pitches, with the pitchers and batters calling for time, can’t really be used for commercials.

      1. what about ads like “Now let’s check out the subaru ground ball of the day” *clip of routine groundout* “Subaru, your hometown car team”

        1. Lesbians go to baseball games? I guess Suburu knows where to find their target demographic.

    2. I agree. The author didn’t provide any numerical comparison between games now and the shorter games of the past. Sure, he wrote how long pitchers and batters take now, but without the stats for games of yore.

      The most apt comparison to start an analysis would be average length of innings. Then we could dig into the how’s and why’s of the 4hr baseball game. I would think that there are many contributing factors to the time it takes to play a baseball game now, but to omit the effect of tv advertising is disingenuous. If I’m wrong so be it, but the author should had made more of a case of his position; thus precluding such speculation.

      1. You are ignoring the “green screen” virtual ads that pop up behind homeplate and in many outfields, the sponsorships of slo-mo cams and radar guns, the animated ads that play out in the corners of the screen, and the embedded sponsors that appear on tickers and other onscreen graphics.

        Plus, the longer a games goes, the more net time is accumultated for ratings purposes. That means if the game rates well, the network can charge more. This benefits regional nets like YES and NESN more that national nets.

        Lastly, the longer the game, the longer the encore can be. For regional nets, overnight and next-morning encores are a cash cow.

    3. fewer people in the stands buying beers when the game is in progress…

  2. If baseball doesn’t fit into your ADHD mindset, then watch hockey. There are no clocks in baseball. There’s no shot clock, no play clock, and no time limit. That’s the way the game works. It’s like golf. I suppose next, you are going to try to tell me that this is all intentional, so that stadiums can sell more concessions. Games in 1951 were shorter? Perhaps you could tell me the difference in the amount of commercials shown between innings between then and now. I have a feeling there’s quite a few more now, then there was then. But I could be wrong.

    Dude, take a quaalude, relax, and enjoy the game for what it is.

    1. If you read the article, there is a pitch clock, it just is not strictly enforced.

      1. Where? In the umpires head? I’ve never seen a “pitch clock”. 1 1000, 2 1000, 3 1000 or 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi…

        1. Yes, it’s in the umpire’s head. That’s part of the problem. There’s a rule, but it’s left to complately up to the umpire’s discretion to enforce the rule, or even say that it has been violated. That’s the point, umpires have tools available to speed up the game but they’ve been tolerant so long of the delaying tactics that few people know that the tools exist.

      2. Exactly. Why is Chapman praising that fatass Joe West for ripping the players when it was his crew who was using not the tools provided it by the rules to increase the speed of the game? And in the middle of the series no less. Not only that, but the small strike zone West has contributes the the walks and offense that lengthen games. It’s no surprise that Padres Giants games are 25 minutes shorter than Yankees Red Sox games, those teams are scoring close to 4 combined runs less per game. Oh, and fuck Bob Watson.

        1. Let’s not forget that the Yankees vs. Red Sox series’ are the ones that people actually watch. MLB wants to speed up the game to capture viewers, but the viewers are voting with their watching habits and they seem to actually like the longer games.

    2. TP-exactly what I was thinking! If you cannot begrudge the time, simply don’t come. Tivo the damn thing and watch it at double speed if your time is that precious. The rest of us enjoy a nice leisurely game of baseball on a sunny afternoon at the ballpark.

  3. Sounds like it’d be the perfect thing for Congress to focus on now that health care has passed and they are lacking the political will to put through Cap and Tax.

    I think they should form up a Congressional committee and get to the bottom of this!


    1. This never happened until the ball was made in Taiwan. I demand a fucking infestigation.

  4. At the Yankees/Red Sox opener in Fenway they stopped the game twice for musical numbers. God Bless America is punishment enough, but they added the awful Sweet Caroline for good measure.

    Baseball has no clock. It’s the only major team sport without one. That’s fine with me. It’s what makes baseball what it is. I have only two requests: call the friggin’ strike zone as defined in the rule book, and desist with the musical entertainment.

    1. This.

      Except Take Me Out to the Ballgame at Wrigley is hallowed ground. You best be prepared to rip out my heart like that dude in Temple of Doom.

      “Due to popular demand, we are going to forgo the national anthem.”

      1. “Due to popular demand, we are going to forgo the national anthem.”

        Then we will know that the terrorists have won.

        No, I agree with ed, last game I went to they played ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ or something for people to sing along to. I thought they were just playing a snippet, but they played the whole damn song. Why?

        1. Because baseball is a damn-near perfect sport, without convenient, contrived clock-stoppages (NBA, NFL, NHL) and the owners seem determined to find a way to fuck it up.

          1. How about the hot-dog launchers?

            “Hey, if we launch $50 worth of weenies at the weenies in the crowd, then we can make $2 million in advertising.”

    2. cricket. Watch two teams play for 5 days and end in a tie. Then come complain to me about 3 hour games.

  5. I do recognize the problem of overly long games. There’s also not much that can be done about it.

    I wish hitters would stay in the box. I wish pitchers would work quickly and efficiently. I think that umps should start calling delay-of-game balls more often.

    There isn’t much of a solution, however. When you get right down to it, a pitcher is throwing a ball 95 mph at another human being. Ultimately they have to make sure the batter has enough time to be prepared.

  6. Are you serious? The length of baseball games? WTF is this, ESPN or Reason?

    Who gives a shit about a bunch of half-wit idiots on steroids playing a game? Aside from the teams host city using eminent domain to subsidize this stupid crap, and the federal government allowing this particular business an exemption to anti-trust law, I really couldn’t care less.

    1. Just below is a mind-boggling thread about apes or apps or something if it makes you feel any better. Half of what’s on this site has nothing to do with libertarianism. I blame the guy who came after Virginia Postrel.

      1. I feel like you’re fishing for a sex joke here. I’m not going to let you have one, though.

    2. DRINK?!

    3. Yeah seriously. These guys shouldn’t be allowed to write about music, movies, or pop culture either. Dry healthcare policy analysis or bust!

      1. And Cleveland, they must save Cleveland!

      2. I think I need to add a little water to my snark reservoir.

    4. It’s Chapman. He could have used his column to tell liberty loving types that there’s no reason not to embrace the VAT.

  7. 1) Did I stuble on the democraticunderground by mistake?

    2) If you are going to cite the why’s of longer games, you seem to have conveniently left out the increased time between innings. If you are going to bash players and managers for doing what they feel is necessary to win a game then you should also bash the greed of the owners/networks/cable operators who have extended the commercial breaks.

    1. If you are going to bash players and managers for doing what they feel is necessary to win a game…

      Baseball is much more strategerized these days. I think it all started with the Texas Rangers.

    2. Make chaw/seed spitting and the crank pull illegal. Time saved: 45 minutes

      1. +1

  8. So the answer is more regulation?

    1. always and everywhere

    2. No, accountability. End the antitrust blah, blah, blah, and limited liability, blah, blah, blah, and hold these mother fuckers accountable!

  9. “Cowboy” Joe West complaining about game length is like a GW Bush Republican complaining about government spending. You want the game to be shorter? Here’s an idea: call the freaking strike zone and stop acting like the arrogant asshole you are. This guy is obsessed with inserting himself into the narrative of a game, no matter where he is on the field.

    Assuming that an extra 10-15 minutes of game time makes or breaks your viewing experience — which it shouldn’t — you’ve left out one major factor apart from hitters and pitchers: umpires.

    1. You are correct about the strike zone. Its bad enough that they won’t call a strike above the waist, but now they won’t call a strike above low hanging fruit.

  10. Ah yes, baseball game run times. The great libertarian issue of our time.

  11. This just in! Slow news day at Reason!

  12. Batters step out and delay between pitches because this increases their success. Seeing pitches separated by at least 24 seconds increases their ability to determine speed accurately. Closer pitch intervals increase the effectiveness of changing speeds. That’s why most of the best tactical pitchers work quickly – think Greg Maddox. There is actually scientific research on this.

    1. Yeah pitchers have very little incentive to work more slowly than necessary. Maddux had complete games that clocked in under 2 hours.

      I guess the one exception would be when there is a speedy runner on base, in which case varying a pitcher’s timing can be critical.

  13. Baseball????

    Really Chappy

    Is nothing safe from meddling liberal douches.

  14. Reason ran a survey awhile back asking what kind of articles readers would like to see. If you didn’t participate, feel free to blame me for this post.

    I think this is just Chapman auditioning for the role of George Will’s successor.

    1. +2

  15. Congress oughta pass a law.

  16. It’s time to get rid of the designated hitter in the AL. It’s that simple.

    1. Yesireebob.

      I’ll watch a Yankees/Sox game for the rivalry, but the AL is just such bullshit. It’s just not baseball. Nine men on the field and nine men in the lineup. It’s that fucking simple.

      1. Agreed, although the talent and quality of play in the AL versus the NL right now still make the former more entertaining. But yeah, get rid of the DH.

  17. Baseball’s fine. What I want is no timeouts allowed in the last five minutes of basketball games.

    1. This is what you get when your sport has a clock and your fans will take anything up the ass without complaint.

  18. “I never realized how boring this game is!”

    1. “And now, the mascot is running out onto the field to retrieve the beach ball!”

      1. Pitiful.

        “Aaaand now there’s a beach ball on the field. And the ball boys are discussin’, which one of ’ems gonna go get it!”

        1. I remember streaking – at least once in a while you would have women with a nice pair bouncing across the field…whatever happened to the days of gratuitas public nudity?

          1. They couldn’t handle my Infinite Wang.

  19. Today I am introducing a new five-point plan to reduce the scandalous length of baseball games. This outrageous length is a slap in the face to all fans of America’s Game!

    Also, I’m not at all sorry that I trampled you on my way to the microphone to say this. You shouldn’t have gotten in the way. Thank you, and God Bless America.

  20. What a relief – I was afraid the “libertarian” solution to this problem would be to get rid of umpires.

    1. +5

  21. I’m upset that he had to throw in the Iditarod…

  22. screw baseball

  23. Amazingly stupid essay.
    Isn’t Reason the magazine that shit all over Congress for taking up the steroids-in-baseball issue?
    How about sticking with relevant topics yourself, bags of douche?

    1. Can you make a list of “relevant topics” for the writers and editors? I’m sure they could benefit from your guidance. I assume all of the posts on music, movies, and general pop culture miscellany could be gutted too. Good riddance; I was enjoying myself too much anyway.

      Isn’t Reason the magazine that shit all over Congress for taking up the steroids-in-baseball issue?

      Right, because niche media outlets and Congress should have the exact same set of priorities and job duties. Good call.

      1. Oh fuck your dick-roping sister.
        Music, movies, pop culture? Sure — in the broader context of libertarian ideas of freedom, they’re relevant.
        But the average length of a fucking baseball game? Show me anything in that essay, you grandmother ass-plugger, that has anything to do with libertarian philosophy.

        1. I’m not sure, but it has clearly touched a nerve with you. Don’t read the site — and click through and comment — if you think they’re wasting your time.

          The rest of us will continue to not be miserable dickheads.

    2. Hey dipshit – How about not reading the articles and writing mutliple comments about them, if you’re so damn above it all?

  24. “Don’t think, just throw. … Don’t think, just throw.”

    1. Who are you, Steve Sax?

      1. No, I’m Ebby Calvin LaLouche.

  25. This is why I never smoke dope and watch a baseball game at the same time. Because it would, like, never end.

    Also why I never smoke dope and read a Steve Chapman column at the same time. Although it would make them a lot funnier.

  26. Every year or so the usual conversation about baseball games taking too long comes up. It’s all a purely psychological problem since most baseball games last about the same as those of other professional sports (basketball would fly if it wasn’t for the eighty timeouts called at the end). The presence of a clock usually soothes game-length complainers by ensuring that the game must be played to 00:00 despite the numerous stopages that distort the minds count of the game time. If however we MUST make baseball faster, reducing the number of mound practice pitches for a bullpen pitcher would, as would calling more strikes.

    However, this isn’t the most pressing issue in sports, the BCS is one because Congress only tackles the most important legislation. The undisputed top issue is the NFL allowing replay challenges to penalties.

  27. I am a serious, serious slacker and malingerer, but even I think these basball players need a good boot to the ass. I remeber watching Bob Gibson pitch – people below forty probably won’t believe it, but after the catcher threw the ball back to Gibson, he would IMMEIDATELY send another pitch (usually unhitably fast) right over the plate. Really moved things right along.

    1. Those were the days, Fresno. The players were lean mean tobacco juice spitting no-nonsense machines. They reflected our values of the time, unknown bands like one hit wonder Thin Lizzy rose to the top of the charts on their backs. It was the apex in the evolution of the game, our favorite along side football. “Major League” or “Big League” were terms used to measure success in any endeavor in life involving competition and requiring skill. The baseball cap was the most commonly worn headwear then, it can still be seen on heads world wide to this day.

      But times have changed. Americans weren’t content with keeping their eye on the ball and just want their free ride for simply being born. Competition is looked at in a negative light, skill and professionalism no longer are admired, success is meaningless in a world which takes from one to give to another, and ball caps are usually associated with red necks in a derogatory way.

      If “Time for a Change in Baseball” is the goal making adjustments to the game that was a reflection of America should only be possible by changing the America the game reflects upon. As it stands the strikes, the cheating, the prima donna attitudes, the governmental interference, and the rest of the nonsense are in perfect allignment with who we are today.

      About the only thing that will change in baseball is new rules to enforce “fairness” in which no team will be allowed to hold an advantage over any other. Perhaps initially by enforcing “handicaps” such as in the thrilling and exciting game of golf. And ultimately by eliminating the unfair “winning” system that exists only to “unfairly” punish the “disadvantaged.”

  28. Baseball games have always seemed to last forever.

    What’s another 29 minutes?

    1. They don’t seem to last forever when you finally have a team and it makes the championship series as happened in 2001, the first series in baseball history to be played in my home state. If you were a local and weren’t enjoying every second of those games chances are good you were a member of the non-English speaking half of the population.

  29. To all the whiny little bitches complaining about the relevance of the article, here’s an idea: shut the fuck up and scroll down to something more palatable to your refined libertarian tastes. Jesus, you pussies, they even have a little wheel on your mouse that makes it easy to avoid wasting your precious time reading (and then commenting on!) a subject you don’t care about.

  30. Baseball blows, watch lacrosse. More athletic, faster paced, more fun.

    1. Any game is more fun when players are issued a stick.

      1. Lacrosse – The Special Olympics of butterfly capturing.

    2. It would be difficult to find a game more American than lacrosse. Too bad they blew it by giving it a French sounding name.

  31. today the elongation; tomorrow the boredom.

  32. Television (mostly Fox Sports) extend the games by showing more than one minute of commercials every half inning. If you ever go to a live game just watch how much the players have to wait for the broadcasters.

    1. Yes, Fox is to blame as would be expected. For years Americans have been struggling to understand why the unrelated act of eating a meal of 20 lbs of cheese was often followed with inexplicable occurances of constipation. When the cause of the digestive blockage was finally discovered no one was surprised what was causing it – as you probably already know – it was Fox.

  33. Americans seem to be enjoying Hockey. Maybe we should bring the steriod rage induced brawling back to baseball as a regular game feature.

  34. I’m pretty sure that the batters are trained and encouraged to delay 15 seconds between pitches. This is because of a study that showed it takes that long to clear you brain so you can recognize the difference between different pitches. This improves ones chance of getting a hit.

  35. My wife and I went to an Atlanta Braves game and promptly got suspicious when we were handed pillows, sleep goggles,and a blanket on last years opening home day. We started fine, slept to the 7th. hit the bath room, and was rested to finish the game. We were not tired at all on the way home. Speeding up the game will ruin it for the fans! Thanks.

  36. If you think the games are too long…don’t watch.

  37. Does anyone else think this sounds like something Obama needs to fix?

  38. American Baseball too long?, cycling would drive you batty!

    Just imagine: 5-6-7 hours on a bike, in questionable climate and geography; the pure physical insanity of it is beautiful.

    The strongmen of sport ride. You Baseball (and any such other “gee, look at me hit a ball with a fancy stick” wastes of time is for nancys. Get over yourself. Here, have a wad of cotton to staunch the bleedin’.

  39. This is absurd article. Pitchers and batters take longer breaks because maximal speed/strength puts strain on the CNS, which takes a long time to fully recover. The longer they dick around, the harder they can throw/hit.

    Not saying I like slow games, but this reminds me of the Simpson’s with Mark Mcgwire, when given the choice between “dingers” and the “horrifying truth” everyone chose the “dingers”.

    If it isn’t entertaining don’t watch the fucking game.

  40. shut the eff up you as.shole. who the are you to determine how long a game should last……jer.k off.

  41. which limited the actions of Congress and by extension had to be incorporated, the Second Amendment stated that RKBA was not to be infringed, and lacked detail as to by whom, and therefore applied to all government. By its very language it was already applicable to the states!

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