Stopwatch patrol: MLB takes first swing at speeding up games; more to come

My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana is on MLB’s initial efforts to deal with the pace of play issue. It’s a start.

From the column:


Of all the suggestions being made to speed up baseball, this one might be the best.

Inspired by watching the Oscars, Eric Edholm of Yahoo Sports fired off this tweet last night:

“Instead of a pitch clock for baseball they should just bring an orchestra that plays with more fortissimo when the pitcher is lagging.”

Now that would be awesome. When the pitcher circles the mound for the fourth time because he’s deathly afraid of throwing that next pitch, fire up the orchestra to let him know he’s about to be pulled. Neil Patrick Harris, or specifically his writers, could have used a relief pitcher at the Oscars.

The Oscars, though, always will draw big ratings no matter how long it drags on. The same can’t be said for baseball.

That’s why Major League Baseball took some steps last week to speed up the game. The changes include strict policies to get the games started immediately out of commercial breaks and requiring batters to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box in between pitches.

Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe wondered how that regulation will play with a certain Red Sox slugger.

“Red Sox fans are familiar with the routine. David Ortiz takes a pitch, then takes two steps out of the batter’s box. He taps each cleat with his bat, claps his hands, and adjusts his helmet before stepping back in and taking a few practice swings.

“Sometimes Big Papi will go for a little stroll and adjust his batting gloves, especially if he disagrees with the umpire’s call. The process can take up to 30 seconds.”

Those 30 seconds times 500-550 plate appearances equals viewers tuning out on baseball. For all the talk about the rules changes being aimed at the young demos, it also focuses on old geezers like myself. I have plenty of avid sports fan friends who tell me they no longer can sit through an entire baseball telecast.

MLB’s ratings for the All-Star game and postseason are at historic lows. While some teams do strong ratings at the local level, who is to say they wouldn’t be even bigger with a more palatable product?

MLB knows it can’t continue to sustain an average game time of 3 hours, 2 minutes and climbing. And that’s brisk compared to Tampa Bay (3:19 per game) and Boston (3:17). The numbers are even worse during the postseason with some dreadfully dull 4-1 games pushing four hours.


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