Trimming the fat

Over at The Hardball Times, Shane Tourtellotte is in the middle of a 10-part series with advice for Rob Manfred, Our Next Commissioner. Here’s just a bit of Tourtellotte’s outstanding piece about the ever-expanding game times, and what might be done about this:

Longer games would be forgivable, even laudable, if there were 50 percent more of a game to watch. There isn’t. Granted, a hundred years ago we were in the Deadball Era, offense systematically smothered. Fans would have accepted a longer game if it came with more action—and did. The offensive explosion that attended the rise of Babe Ruth provided just that. Yet note above that in 1939, with the offensive revolution still burning, games had only gotten 10 minutes longer than a quarter-century before. The cost to the attention span was reasonable.

We have no such justification for subsequent lengthening of the game, especially the most recent spike. Offense today is not burgeoning but retreating, to the point where it may soon need official attention (especially the soaring strikeouts). By the previous example, we should expect games to get shorter, but they’re getting longer, swimming fast against the current. Dare we wonder how long they’d be if the high-offense game of 10 and 20 years ago came back?

I don’t think we need to spend any time daring to wonder, since that game’s not coming back unless the #StrikeoutScourge is somehow addressed. For that matter, more scoring might not result in longer games if there were fewer pitches per plate appearance. Probably not, but I would check the math just in case.

Like Tourtellotte, I don’t have a great deal of patience with people who think the game should be allowed to meander along for however long it happens to take. There’s just no good reason for all the dead time between pitches, and we’ve learned that with a few unobtrusive changes, the games can move along at a slightly quicker pace. We saw some of those changes in the Arizona Fall League, and there were also measures in the Atlantic League last August, which Tourtellotte details.

Good stuff, but really just feelers compared to what might be (reasonably) done. The trick, I think, is to keep all the things we love about baseball while ejecting those we don’t. Do we love eight warmup pitches instead of six? Do we love seeing a batter readjust Velcro before every pitch? Really?

Nah, we don’t. The game remains a beautiful thing, but it’s more beautiful when a 4-3 game takes two-and-a-half hours rather than three.