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The problem with baseball: lights, camera … inaction

 
The Boston Red Sox's Jackie Bradley Jr., right, scores in front of New York Yankees' Austin Romine after a throwing error by Miguel Andujar during the ninth inning of a baseball game in Boston, Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
The Boston Red Sox's Jackie Bradley Jr., right, scores in front of New York Yankees' Austin Romine after a throwing error by Miguel Andujar during the ninth inning of a baseball game in Boston, Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Published Aug. 6, 2018

Baseball is broken. And Sunday night might have been the perfect example of everything that plagues the great game.

The Red Sox and Yankees were wrapping the last of a big four-game series at Fenway Park.

This is about as marquee as it gets in baseball. Two really good teams. Legendary ballpark. Sold-out crowd. National broadcast. Two good pitchers. A close, exciting game with a dramatic finish.

And it took every ounce of energy to get through it.

First things first. Let me start by saying that I love baseball. Love it. So this isn't a column from someone who thinks baseball is boring or is looking to bash the sport.

And, I will admit, that we're talking about just one game out of 2,430 in baseball's regular season. Still, what we saw Sunday night is hardly atypical and a big reason why baseball is having issues and needs to worry about its future.

So here's what happened:

First pitch was at 8:10 p.m. Despite no scoring, the first three innings took more than an hour. At one point, ESPN's broadcast said Boston starter David Price and Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka were each taking approximately 30 seconds between pitches. By the fourth inning, Tanaka and Price had combined to throw 144 pitches. That meant there were 72 minutes when the only thing happening was a pitcher holding a baseball.

The game continued on and the Yankees took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth. It was already after midnight. The Red Sox mounted a stunning rally and tied the score at 12:26 a.m. The game went to the 10th and the Red Sox won on a walk-off single.

The game took four hours and 39 minutes. No rain delays. No delays at all. No crazy score like 14-12. Still, it ended at 12:49 a.m.

Don't you wonder how many people were still watching at that time? More importantly, how many 15-year-olds were watching? How many 12-year-olds? How many 8-year-olds?

Again, this was one game. Two nights earlier, the Yankees and Red Sox played a game that lasted only two hours and 15 minutes. But that's the outlier.

Long games have become the norm.

This season, major-league games are averaging exactly three hours. But it's not only the length of games, which really is not much different than the typical NFL game, but it's the lack of action in those three hours.

In other words, the games are just too long with too much down time. And when you take a marquee game such as Sunday night and imagine that as a World Series or League Championship game, how can you not see that having the biggest games of the year start late, drag on and end well after midnight in the East as a problem?

How can you expect to grow the game when your future audience, the ones who are going to sustain the game for decades, is fast asleep in the sixth inning because they have a social studies quiz in a few hours?

Is it any wonder that baseball has the oldest viewers of the major sports, with half of its audience 50 or older? The average baseball viewer is 53, up from a decade ago.

So how do we fix this?

Well, you can go super drastic and suggest things like cutting the games to seven innings. Or have every batter start with a 1-1 count. Or start enforcing a pitch clock. My radical change isn't all that radical: have umpires open up the strike zone from truly the letters to the high ankles, and batters are going to start swinging at more pitches. More balls in play will speed up the game.

You can also think about other changes, such as having World Series day games for the first time since 1987. But the first objective is to study pace of play.

Perhaps the best place to start is 1978. Exactly 40 years ago. The average length of games in 1978 was two hours and 30 minutes.

Major League Baseball should go back and study those games in detail, compare them to today's game and see where the half-hour difference is coming from.

Hey, at least it's a place to start. After all, baseball needs to do something.
And fast.