The Detroit Tigers eased past the Oakland Athletics Tuesday night, 6-5, in a sprightly three hours and 19 minutes, or only 10 minutes beyond Oakland’s average game time for the year of 3:09.
This, of course, represents an enormous outrage to the keepers of the game, who with the expansion of replay have finally noticed that games are borderline unbearably long, while forgetting (or ignoring) that this trend has been going on for 15 years.
Longer game times, of course, mean more money through commercials and concessions and other whatnot and bric-a-brac, and rest assured that the people who run Major League Baseball could not be less interested.
[RECAP: Gray, 'pen struggle in 6-5 loss to Tigers]
Put another way, they care as much as the people who run college football, which is now easily a three-hour-45-minute torturefest and heading toward four hours. Even the planet-eaters over at the NFL, who want football piped into your oatmeal-engorged skulls 365 days a year, get nervous when games go much over three hours. They’ve programmed this out, and they have a better sense of TV than the cleverly shaved mammals who run television. Three hours is what they want, and they see to it that their games come in at right around that time.
Baseball, though, has never found time of game to be that much of a bother; the games of the last 15 years between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have been waxworks still-lifes, and the networks can’t put them on often enough.
Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, who has covered baseball long enough to consider himself one of its primary guardians, has just completed a story with a 12-point plan for making games seem less like a hike from Bucharest to Vladivostok, and his ideas are largely on point and even helpful. They do not, however, handle the central issue, which is this:
No issue has ever been tackled if owners do not care about it. And since pace of game cannot be monetized, pace of game does not matter. Indeed, baseball has never been more profitable for the people who run it, so I would suggest that there is a greater chance that games will actually be slowed down even more in the next five years.
And why, you ask, can that be? Because of the one great truth that cannot be legislated away -- players and managers are smarter than the people who pay them, or the people who pay the people who pay them. And they play the way they want.
This goes back to Carlton Fisk, the Hall of Fame Red Sox and White Sox catcher, who all but demanded that games be run at his preferred pace -- which was languid in the extreme. He was a snake shedding its skin, or more accurately, like rhinoceros shedding its skin, and he routinely bent rules already on the books to make the games conform to his patterns and rhythms. He was a Turner seascape in cleats, and by example he taught generations of catchers how to run a game that way.
But this isn’t Fisk’s fault alone. He did what needed to be done to win his team’s game each day, and it worked. It only got progressively worse as teams extended the time between innings and between batters and between pitching changes and between pitches and between . . . oh, between every damned thing they could think of. The time on stage was more important to too many people, and now it is -- ta-daaaa -- a crisis.
Except that it isn’t. Nobody seems to mind but the guardians, and the guardians don’t generate doodley-squat.
If you want game times to shorten, you have to become a television network that says, “You guys get three hours and then we go right back to ‘The Big Bang Theory.’ Oh, you can play until your tongues drop out, but we pack up in three hours, and that’s all you get paid for, too.”
Or you can be 30 cities, all of whom declare an inviolable 10:30 curfew after which all activity must cease.
Or you must be umpires who expand strike zones and time between pitches and cannot be fired because the umpires union suddenly discovered its privates and defended their jobs.
Or you must be the rule book, violations of whose tenants result in immediate and horrifying death.
Or you must be a culture that (a) cares about time of game, (b) has a change of heart about ties, and/or (c) can come up will a foolproof reason to make the owners speed up their games. Me, I’m thinking that the government gains power over their accounts and docks owners for each minute over three hours it takes for their team to complete its task, and commensurate rebates for every game under 2:45. They could call it the Get On With It Tariff, and at the present pace of games, they could dwarf the income that derives from legalizing marijuana in the areas near bakeries and snack shops.
So far, though, none of these conditions exist, or are likely to any time soon. It’s a problem without a constituency, and that’s not really a problem at all. I mean, sure, Verducci’s right and all, but that and $1.75 billion can get you the Minnesota Twins, and you ain’t got that kind of scratch. Nor should you ever.