john henry interview game pace time future baseball

I saw the headline and figured this e-mail interview (of sorts) with John Henry would be filled with all variety of nuggets.

Uh, no. Which makes my job easier!

On the baseball side of things, Henry says

1. Tom Werner should be the new Commissioner;

2. The games are too slow; and 

3. Baseball needs to get with it, digitally.

No. 1 isn’t surprising, since Werner is Henry’s business partner, and No. 3 seems a little anticlimactic, since MLB’s already doing a pretty tremendous job on the digital side with MLBAM’s various offerings. Granted, Henry might have talked about choice: fixing MLB’s ridiculous blackout rules, or letting baseball fans pay for their television games à la carte. Ah, but of course those aren’t things the owners actually want. So he didn’t talk about them.

Let’s go back to No. 2 on that list, which certainly is a popular subject among a certain subset of baseball people …

The notion of standing still at this juncture relates closely to Henry’s No. 1 concern about the game: its pace. While there are rules in place for how long pitchers are allowed to take between pitches and long batters are allowed to set themselves, umpires are not enforcing them. And players and pitchers, with the exception of Mark Buehrle, are doing little self-enforcing.

To Henry, the matter is not trivial, and he insists action must be taken to quicken the pace.

“Attention spans are shortening in regard to media. That has been the case for some time now,” he said. “Making fans wait between pitches isn’t a big issue at the ballpark, but on TV it’s very easy to switch to something else. There is too much waiting in baseball for 21st century television viewers.”

Maybe. Except the ratings are pretty good, as we noted just last week. Henry complains about the Red Sox’ ratings, but we can guess they’d be significantly better if the Sox had played better this season.

It seems to me that if Baseball really cared about the pace of the games, something would have been done by now. There are rules, but they’re not enforced. Why aren’t they enforced? Because the umpires have not been told to enforce them. Why haven’t the umpires been told to enforce them? Two obvious possibilities: Nobody wants to start a fight with the Players Association, or the RSNs actually like four-hour games, because whatever the ratings for the games might be, they’re surely better than whatever’s on after the games.

There are forces trying to quicken the pace. But there are larger, more powerful forces actually pushing the games ever longer. And I don’t see this changing anytime soon.