In MLB, slow is how it goes

Even baseball during the Pandemic Era hasn’t accomplished a goal that MLB’s Rob Manfred set as a top priority when he took over as Commissioner in 2015. Games are still moving at a snail’s pace.

Through the first two weeks of the 2020 season, the average length of a nine-inning MLB game is 3:07, up two minutes from 2019 and up 11 minutes since 2015. If that current pace of play continues, it would set a new nine-inning record. Despite a number of rule modifications and no fans in attendance, the pace of a baseball game is as slower than ever.

Manfred believes that faster games will attract a younger, video game generation. Baseball monitors mound visits, has instituted a three-batter minimum of relief appearances, eliminated the four-pitch intentional walk, tried to limit between-inning breaks and other moves looking to speed up play.

The excuses are plentiful. Too many mound visits. A DH’s at-bat is longer than a “three and out” pitcher’s plate appearance, etc.  But the increased length of games could be as simple as 60-feet, six inches. Pitchers simply don’t complete what they started and umpires don’t call balls and strikes by the book.

There is an old story that is told about the 1972 World Champion Oakland A’s. Jim Hunter and Ken Holtzman were consummate starting pitchers. They wanted to finish what they started.

Allegedly, they would make a bet before the season on who could pitch the fastest complete game. Hunter pitched a 1:55 shutout at Baltimore on June 4. But he lost to Holtzman’s May 5 shutout against the New York Yankees played in 1:47. On the road, Catfish had to pitch an additional half-inning or might have bested Holtzman’s gem.

The average length of a baseball game in 1972 was 2:25 or just slightly more than an average NBA game today.

Former MLB umpire Al Clark once told me that when you go to a game, remember that there are three teams out there: the home team, the away team, and the umpiring team. Really? I pay to see the players. If they do their jobs, like calling balls and strikes and getting calls right the first time rather than having to rely on video evidence, I won’t even know who the umpires are and games would be shorter.

So, blame the DH, players constantly stepping out of the batter’s box and pitchers fiddling with the rubber and rosin bag. Blame TV commercial breaks, instant replay, and mound visits.

In the end, it appears that the key to faster games is pitchers taking control, having control, and umpires making calls by the book. Otherwise, baseball won’t appeal to a younger audience and will remain as efficient as a floppy disk.