July 1996 - Longing For Shorter Games

The five o'clock shadow I had when I got to the ballpark now needs a hedge clipper. A perfect reverse-impression of my box seat is permanently imbedded in my backside. Kevin Kennedy is making his umpteenth long, laborious trip to the mound to bring in yet another meatball artisté. I'm growing old, ungracefully, sitting at the ballpark. My life is whiling away as the Red Sox slog into the late innings in a desperate but vain attempt to salvage a victory.

Major League baseball games seem to just keep getting longer and longer. Unfortunately, that doesn't necessarily make them better. Of course, one of the great things about this game is that it has no clock. You play until you're done. It's an inherent beauty and characteristic I'd never want to change. But in this era where players over-specialize and field bosses over-manage, the game is losing some of its pizzazz. I'm good at suspending time when I enter the friendly confines -- I always remove my watch. But when I'm knocked into a stupor by watching highly talented athletes play mediocre baseball, and my circadian rhythm tells me I should be sawing logs, the hour becomes paramount.

Some wise sage once cracked that "baseball is only boring to boring minds," but they probably never had to watch this year's Red Sox squad. But it didn't used to be this way. The last time the Red Sox won the World Series, they beat the Cubs in six. The longest game ran 1:58. Today, you're lucky if a World Series game is over in 4 hours. While the pace of life has speeded up in the 20th Century, the pace of baseball has slowed to a crawl.

The Lords of Baseball think they're competing with the other major sports for your entertainment dollars, so they've sadly tried to be more like them with an expanded playoff system, and soon-to-come interleague play. But the pace of football, hockey and basketball lends itself much better to an MTV-weaned attention span. While us old timers may have more patience, the paying customers of tomorrow might not.

Pitchers are afraid to pitch. They hem and they haw, do anything to avoid having one of their offerings find its way over the outfield fence. Batters are afraid to hit, continually stepping out of the box to fiddle with their batting gloves and supposedly focus their concentration. As many have pointed out, umpires must bear a huge amount of responsibility for all of this lollygagging. The most common complaint is umps refusal to call a higher strike zone, even though they have been instructed to by their superiors. That simple act -- following the rule book as it's published -- would result in more pitches being called strikes (and thus immediately improving the quality of Major League pitching) and it would get more batters to swing at pitches they currently watch. Putting the ball in play more often would not only speed up the game, it would make it more entertaining as well.

Baseball has nominally acknowledged it has a problem. Former umpire/hero Steve Palermo was assigned to investigate what was taking so long and how to fix it. His report included several fairly obvious ideas to quicken the pace, but all indications are that his findings have pretty much been ignored, and the problem appears to be getting worse.

Of course, it makes a difference how your team of choice is performing on the field. Sox games might once again seem ephemeral if they were playing better baseball and in a pennant hunt. Winning makes everything better. Since only a few teams in each league can play at that level in any given year, the rest of them will plod along in mediocrity. There's got to be a way to put us out of our misery quicker.

Until then, I guess I'll just bring my razor to the ballpark.

©1996 - 2007 Douglas T. Dinsmoor


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