The biggest complaint about major league baseball today concerns the length of game times. The average game lasts over three hours, many times close to four. A recent 18 inning Washington Nationals/San Francisco Giants outing set a record for the longest playoff game in major league history at six hours and 23 minutes. That's longer than a lot of Hollywood marriages.
An MLB developmental league, the Arizona Fall League, will be experimenting this year with several ways to speed up game times. The Pace of Game Committee, as it is called, will test various ideas including:
- Batters must keep one foot inside the batter's box throughout his plate appearance. Exceptions include a foul ball or foul tip, a pitch forcing the batter out of the batter's box, a request for time out being granted, a wild pitch or passed ball and several others.
- Intentional walks will no longer include the pitcher throwing four balls outside the strike zone. Instead, the manager will signal to the home-plate umpire and the batter will take first base.
- There will be a maximum break of two minutes and five seconds between innings, with hitters required to be in the batter's box by the one minute and 45 second mark. If a hitter doesn't comply, the umpire will call a strike. If the hitter is ready but the pitcher doesn't deliver a pitch by two minutes and five seconds, the umpire will call a ball.
- There will be a maximum of two minutes and 30 seconds allowed for pitching changes, including those that occur during an inning break. The clock starts when the reliever enters the playing field. The penalty will be that the umpire calls a ball.
- Each team will be allowed three "timeout" conferences covering any meeting involving pitchers and catchers, managers, coaches, and batters. Timeouts during pitching changes and those that result from an injury or other emergency will not be counted toward the limit.
- A shot clock-style 20-second clock will be used for pitchers to deliver a pitch.
Some of these ideas might help shorten playtime a bit, but the main reason games take so long today are the extended TV commercial breaks. A baseball game goes to commercial between every half-inning, every time a side is retired, and every time there is a pitching change (and since we have so many pitching changes in today's ball games, this adds up to a lot). These commercial breaks total anywhere from 34 minutes on local channels, to over 41 minutes on networks and many times longer than that.
Besides cutting back on commercial breaks, baseball might consider eliminating the silly crowd-pandering nonsense between innings such as "kiss-cams," strobe light shows, and incidental music including individual player theme songs every time a hitter walks up to bat.
When he was asked why baseball games go on so long today, legendary Dodger announcer Vin Scully said, "I partially blame it on Velcro," referring to the use of batting gloves and the players tendency to adjust them and re-adjust them constantly while at bat. Vinny has a point there.
And while we're trying new ideas to improve baseball, how about this: try going back to the essence of the game. Sometimes improvements are made, not by tweaking a thing to make it more trendy or modern, but by actually going back to what made it so good in the first place. Stop looking to impose today's pop culture into baseball, stop trying to "modernize" it.
How about starting with the way players look and act? I don't care what a ballplayer looks like when he's not on the field, but once he puts on a uniform he should look, well, uniformly. That means no unbuttoned or untucked jerseys, no baggy-oversized gang-style uniforms, no variation on pant lengths or shoe color, and no facial hair and weird haircuts.
By imposing a "dress code" maybe we can curtail the excessive spitting and other bad behavior such as smashing bats on the ground and screaming lip-readable expletives. I truly believe that grooming can influence how a player acts on the field. When you look like a slob you act like a slob.
Also it wouldn't hurt to cut back on the number of games played in the regular season. There's an easy way to do it Ð end all inter-league games during the regular season. Just play the teams in your own league, and then if you make it to the World Series you can play the best team from the other league. It was that way originally, it should go back.
How to improve baseball? Get back to the basics. Cut out the nonsense and just play the game as it was originally intended. That's my solution. I can't wait for next season to find out how many of my solutions the MLB uses. I'll start holding my breath now.