Remember when you were in school and several times throughout the year, you had a report card that went home. IN Texas where I lived, it was about every 6 weeks or so. ON the card, you had your grades for the various subjects in school, Math, Social Studies, Language Arts, etc. There were also categories for how you behaved and functioned in class, marks for conduct, talking too much, and yes the one that all ballplayers would be downgraded on, uses time wisely. Today’s ballplayers should be given not just an X, but an X inside an X inside a third X, for blatant mismanagement of their time.
I for one do not really care for the pitching clock, baseball is one of those few sports like golf and tennis that has always meant to be played from a set beginning to an end, guided by the set of baseline requirements that when they are met, the game comes to its rulebook end. Scrabble, Monopoly, and some forms of Poker could last an hour, or three hours, the clock is not the guiding principal.
That said, baseball clearly must realize at its organizational level that time is money and when fans are leaving games in the 6th inning on a school or work night because the game is already 2 and a half hours in length and home is 45 minutes away by car or the subway, well you get the picture. Years ago, the nine inning game that went beyond two and a half hours was the rare happening and it could be a thing of enjoyment, because it often meant that a lot of action was taking place, runs were being scored in bunches and plays were being made on the field. Today, such a long game could be all of 2-1 with a bushel basket full of strikeouts and only in the sixth inning.
It is one thing to think of games in terms of average length of time, but long extra-inning games can throw off the numbers. Frankly I have no problem with a 15 or an 18 inning game. What I have a problem with is a 15 inning game that takes nearly six and a half hours. Do the math and that means that the first seven and a half innings would have taken three and a quarter hours to play.
Using data researched via the play index on Baseball Reference, I decided to take a slightly different approach. I looked at only games that were nine innings in length, looking for the number of games in given seasons that were three hours or longer in length. I then took that figure and divided that against the total number of games played that resulted in a win for a team in the given season. The numbers are almost shocking for 2017, but we will get to that shortly.
What started this exercise was a simple enough project, as I was reviewing the Astros schedule for the 1973 season, the year I was born. I quickly noted how most all of the games that did not go extra innings were under three hours and it took me down this path of discovery. I reviewed data going in five year intervals from 1973 to 2013, then looking at 2014 to the present. Here is the data.
IN 1973, a total of 1,942 games were played in all of the MLB season, the total that were nine innings and three hours or longer was just 93. That is a percentage of just 4.79. The figures were very similar in 1978, 2,102 games with the expansion from 24 to 26 teams, yet the total increased to just 101 such three hour nine inning games, a percentage of 4.80.
By the 1983 season though, the figure doubles, 212 of 2,106 games were of the nine inning and three hour or greater variety, a percentage of 10.07. By the 1988 season, the figure had doubled again, 422 of 2,098 games for a 20.11 percentage. The 1993 season brought expansion to 28 and an offensive jump. The number of these longer regulation games continued to grow too, 568 of 2,268 games or 25.04 percent.
While some fluctuations probably occurred between 1994 and 1997, the 1998 numbers were very similar to 1993 and it too was an expansion year. The figures, 601 of 2,430 games that were the nine inning and three hour or greater variety, with a tiny dip in the actual percentage down to 24.73 percent. By 2003, the figure was actually back down to near the 1988 level, 525 of 2,429 games, 21.61 percent. But by 2008, things went up, up and up. In 2008, 696 of the 2,428 games played would cross this threshold or 28.67 percent. By 2013, things were north of 40 percent, 1,022 of 2,431 games, 42.04 percent, and even worse in 2014, 1,188 of 2,430 games, or 48.89 percent. The measures taken prior to 2015 made a significant impact that season, just 925 such games or a 38.01 percentage, but still nearly 10 percent ahead of the 2008 pace and 17 percent ahead of 2003. The 2016 season saw a return close to 2014 levels, 1,132 of 2,227, 46.64 percent. Sadly 2017 is going to make 2014 seem like olden days, because at the conclusion of games on Sunday May 28, 390 of 746 games have been this nine inning and three plus hour variety, a wrapping 52.28 percent.
The problem is not just the players, but a great bulk of what can fix this must happen on the field. Umpires must enforce pace of play rules, and Commissioner Manfred using the Best Interest of Baseball powers, should fine players 1 day salary for violations after an initial warning. If they continue to violate this pace of play rule, the penalty becomes a two game fine, then three, then four, Etc.
Managers are also guilty of doing things that cause issues. In the Houston Detroit game a few nights ago, Astro catcher Juan Centeno is on base, Jake Marisnik comes up to bat. Detroit all along wanted to change its pitcher, but he was not ready, that is on the Tiger manager. What happens to buy time, a mound meeting by the catcher, then not one, not two, but three throws over to first base, each about 25 seconds apart. Mind you, they are throwing over against a guy who is one of the last players you would ever see as part of a running play. After the third throw to the base, out comes the Tiger manager to the mound to promptly take the ball and bring in his relief guy, who then had two more minutes and eight warmup pitches when he was supposedly already hot and ready to come in from the bullpen. Could it be any more obvious what the Tigers were doing?
Things are so bad now, I never consider going to an Astro game with my wife on a school night, and we live 80 minutes from the ballpark by car. Years ago games started at 7:35 and ended by about 10:10 or 10:15, so they moved the start time to 7:05 and thus it allowed for endings of about 9:40 or 9:45. Now days, the 7:10 start is ending as late or later than the 7:35 starts did back in the early 1990’s.
Consider fans who are in a similar situation around cities all across the nation, it is no wonder that attendance at night games played on Monday through Thursday in many areas is very low. Even cities with public transit have fans that are left with a difficult time getting home when the game is not even ending until 10:15 or 10:30 at night.
If baseball can’t address the length of games or maybe put more accurately doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to do so, then the teams will have no choice but to start night games earlier, say 6:15 or so local time so that fans who are an hour away from the ballpark could actually get home at a reasonable hour on a work or school night. One way or another, baseball has a severe time management issue and using time wisely must be at the forefront of the concern of the players and owners. Failure to do so will not allow for exposure of young fans to what can still be a beautiful game once it gets back an appropriate rhythm.