Stopwatch patrol: Final minutes of NBA games can take an eternity; Buehrle rips slow games in baseball

As readers of the Sherman Report, you know I am on a campaign to eliminate slow play in all sports. Baseball has been my main target, but it isn’t the only culprit.

Richard Sandomir of the New York Times did a story yesterday on how the final minute of a NBA game can feel like an hour. He writes:

The finish in the Nets-Raptors game was more routine in some respects, but in the end the teams took nearly 18 minutes to make it through the final 60 ticks of the clock.

One of the N.B.A.’s problems in the playoffs is present in most sports’ postseasons: Games last longer on national networks, which, to cover ever-growing fees for the broadcast rights, must sell more advertising time, expanding each commercial break.

During the regular season, N.B.A. games averaged 2 hours 17 minutes. But those broadcast on national television averaged 2:29, and so far this playoff season, when all the games are nationally televised, the number has risen to 2:38, up two minutes from last year.

Jeff Van Gundy says the long final minute drains all the suspense out of a game. His solution:

“In the last two minutes, I’d like to see each team get one timeout, and that’s it,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t think it would be a problem for players and coaches; they would evolve and adapt and know they play more in a flow after a made basket or a missed free throw.”

Indeed, those timeout go way too long, Sandomir writes:

It is hard to take seriously 20-second timeouts that lasted, in order, 1:35, 1:21, 1:15 and 2:46. (The last timeout was the only one during which ABC did not leave for a commercial.) If shifting to commercials and N.B.A. promos in the final seconds could be considered unfriendly to fans, why not stay at the game to let Brown continue to analyze? His exuberant verbosity suggests that even if the game was in a commercial break, he was still talking.

Good stuff from Sandomir. Once again, the stopwatch never lies.


Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune did a column on slow play in baseball. It included this passage:

Mark Buehrle’s one-man march against time-wasting routines in baseball is unlikely to make an impact on the game.

We’re too far gone to turn back the clock and return to the days when hitters stayed in the box between pitches and pitchers got the ball, retrieved the sign and went into their windup.

But Buehrle, the veteran Blue Jays pitcher, spoke for a lot of fans during a recent interview with Yahoo’s Jeff Passan when he excoriated his fellow players for prolonging at-bats and making games as long as foreign film festivals.

“You see guys get in the batter’s box, they listen to their (walk-up) song for 20 minutes,” Buehrle said. “They don’t swing the bat and they have to step out and tighten their batting gloves and do their stuff.

“I don’t like sitting on the bench for a four-hour game when I’m not pitching, I’ll tell you that much. When you’re sitting there in between your start(s), looking at the scoreboard, looking at the clock, saying, ‘Holy (expletive), this is ridiculous.’ I know how fans feel.”

Here is one of the ways MLB is trying to deal with the problem.

MLB asked players to speed up the game a few years ago, to no avail. They made a subtle move this year, and it involved an issue near and dear to Buehrle’s heart — curbing the walk-up music for hitters heading to the plate.

Almost every team allows its players to choose a walk-up song, with the exception of the Cubs, who tried it for one year in 2010 before reverting to organ music. Before 2014, there was no limit to the length of walk-up music and, as Buehrle pointed out, some players wait until the clip of their favorite song is done playing before they’re ready to get in the batter’s box.

Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino stretched out his at-bats at Fenway Park last year because his walk-up song, Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” turned into a sing-along with fans. As Marley would start to sing “Don’t worry about a thing,” fans would join in loudly with the lyric “Cause every little thing gonna be all right.”

MLB did not want to eliminate walk-up music entirely and upset the players, but asked the Players Association last offseason to limit them to 15 seconds. The request was granted. It wasn’t much, and it doesn’t make a huge difference, but MLB reasoned it was better than having no time limit at all.

I suppose that’s a start, but there’s a long, long way to go to make the game much shorter.


One thought on “Stopwatch patrol: Final minutes of NBA games can take an eternity; Buehrle rips slow games in baseball

  1. Vince Sculley says ban velcro in baseball. That way the players can’t continually step out of the batter’s box to adjust their batting gloves. E.g. Nomar Garciaparra.

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