One of my objectives of these posts is to show that baseball is unjustly characterized as slow. Baseball is not slow if you get into watching the game in the right way.
Okay, I take it back baseball is slow.
But there are reasons for its pace, some traditional and charming in my view, some that can (and are) being addressed and some that are a result of prevalent baseball strategy that we will most likely have to live with for the foreseeable future.
Traditional and charming: Former National League President Bart Giamatti, with whom I was fortunate enough to spend some time talking about our game has written: “A baseball game’s beautiful symmetry is also a pastoral setting for an epic struggle…The game’s leisurely pace and structure will suddenly give way to speed and dynamic movements toward freedom.” (Google Bart Giamatti, Baseball as a Meditation and Narrative on Life—it’s truly great). His words are more beautiful and eloquent than I have the capacity to be, but in more pedestrian terms, when I watch a game I love the pace: the battle between pitcher and hitter and the anticipation of what each pitch might bring-either in immediate action or in setting up the next pitch-are the elements that make the game so enjoyable (which was what this was originally going to be about, but I got sidetracked. More on that later).
Being addressed: Many pitchers take WAY too long in between pitches. This does not add a thing to the heightened anticipation—it’s just slow. Baseball has implemented a time clock between pitches. That is a good change. Also, batters historically have taken WAY too much time. Stepping out of the box after every pitch, adjusting batting gloves (or things we ought not to adjust publicly), getting their minds straight for the next pitch. The new rules have helped dramatically in this regard, too. We no longer have a Mike Hargrove or Carlton Fisk—nicknamed the human rain delays—to bring an inning to a screeching halt (I have to say here that I was a teammate of each of these terrific players for brief periods of time. Nowhere will you find better teammates or players who played their whole careers exactly the right way—the kinds of players you would want as examples of how the game should be played by everyone…except for their, shall we say, deliberate behaviors).
Have to live with: Pitching changes. Baseball can do all it wants to try and speed up the game, but nothing will dramatically change the too-long ballgames because of the way the game is played and rosters and game strategy are constructed today. Starting pitchers aspire to finish 6 innings (give up 3 runs or less in 6 and it’s a “quality start”– somewhere Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson are throwing up!). Ballclubs construct their staffs from the closer backwards: get to the 9th with a lead, bring in the closer. How do you get to the 9th? Starter for 6…7th inning guy… 8th inning guy…closer. Meanwhile, in the 7th or 8th you might even have two guys each: lefties and righties to match up with opposing hitters or pinch hitters. This is now such an institutionalized structure of roster and game strategy that I don’t see a way to meaningfully speed up the game until this trend changes.
Other factors that contribute to longer games: pitchers today can’t or don’t want to throw strikes consistently and more and more hitters are willing to strike out in record numbers in the endeavor to hit the ball out of the park on most every pitch. This adds to total number of pitches and drags out the game. Much more on these developments in a future post…