Baseball Is On The Clock…Sort Of

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Edwin Escobar is taken out of the game against the Houston Astros during the fourth inning at Chase Field in Phoenix May 30, 2016.

By Jeff Munn

An amazing thing happened in the final game of the home and home series Thursday between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Houston Astros.

The two teams managed to play the game in under three hours.

That IS a departure from the norm. D-backs’ games in particular have been among the longer, in terms of average, games in the Major Leagues.

However, this is not an attempt to criticize baseball on the persistent problem of pace of play.

Instead, a question should be asked – why are people complaining?

A lot of people my age (let’s just say I’m not a kid) have been openly griping about the length of Major League Baseball games, and yet, these are the same people who regularly profess their love of baseball and all its nuances, one of which, by the way, is the fact the game is not dictated by a clock.

True, certain things like between-inning breaks and visits to the pitcher’s mound are now timed, but if we’re going to embrace what makes baseball unique, isn’t it right to embrace EVERYTHING that makes baseball unique?

Lots of these clock-watchers are the same people who might have told you at some point, “Well, when I was a kid, I would have watched baseball at 3:00 a.m. if I could.” Thanks to DVR’s, the MLB Network and MLB.com, you can, by the way. Yet, start a Saturday night D-backs’ game at 7:10, and it’s as if some sacred rule has been violated.

Yes, the D-backs do start some Saturday night home games at 7:10, and it’s because the FOX network has exclusive rights to show games on Saturdays from Memorial Day weekend to the weekend before the All-Star break from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Arizona time. That’s television, as in “we pay baseball billions to show games, so we’d really appreciate some cooperation.” Were the D-backs to stay with 5:10 starts during that time of the year, some of the patrons would be happy, but lots more wouldn’t. The game couldn’t be televised.

Then there’s the length of the game itself.

We’re told baseball would be more popular among younger fans if the pace of play was quicker.

Isn’t baseball already setting attendance and revenue records?

For comparison, let’s go back 50 years to the 1966 MLB season.

It’s been said that the Boston Red Sox are one of the main offenders of pace of play, yet a ticket to Fenway these days is as hard to get as a conclusion to ‘Deflategate.’ On July 9, 1966, the Red Sox hosted the Chicago White Sox at Fenway. Boston won, 4-2, on the strength of two hits each from Joe Foy, Carl Yastrzemski and Tony Conigliaro. Both Chicago starter Gary Peters and his Boston counterpart, Bucky Brandon, each threw complete games. Time of the contest: two hours, 11 minutes.

Only 7,000 people were in attendance. At Fenway. In July.

Major League Baseball games are longer, but they’re also more colorful, with more entertainment during innings and between innings than ever before. Come to a Major League baseball game and you see kids, young adults and old timers all enjoying the game without concern for what time it is. If it gets late, nobody is chaining fans to their seats. They can go home.

There is one thing baseball can do to ease the concerns of those who are bothered that they have to stay so late – stop announcing time of game. Who cares? The classic film Lawrence of Arabia ran three hours and 42 minutes, with a 10 minute intermission built-in. Yet, when my Dad took me to see it, I don’t remember anyone with the theatre announcing “time of film” afterwards.

Maybe Major League Baseball should ask the people who really matter most – the fans – if they have a problem. They buy the tickets, eat the hot dogs, tune in the TV and radio. Ask the players – the ones those fans come to see. Are they ever aware how long a game is going while they’re playing it?

You haven’t heard a lot of complaining from either group. Maybe it’s because to them, it’s not a big deal.

Gripe about start times and length of games if you must, but to a lot of us, you’re just wasting our time.