That interest in baseball is dying is manifested by the dropping off of the crowds that to the games. That sounds like a lead-in to any MLB story that could circulate today. However, it actually is something that was found in the Oakland Tribune … in 1905.
In 1929, a similar article ran in the Lansing State Journal. Baseball had “slowed down to a snail’s pace in recent years,” according to the Clarion-Ledger out of Jackson, MS in 1955. There have always been complaints that baseball games take too long, yet nothing ever changes, at least not on any major scale. Today, though, there is a renewed push to change the pace of games and these efforts might actually pay off. We can only hope.
According to legend, the seventh-inning stretch was added to games shortly after baseball was introduced. The reason was simple. The crowd was getting restless and fidgety and baseball directors wanted to do something to engage the stands. If games were already considered long back then, why hasn’t anything drastic been done to speed things up?
The key word is drastic. The MLB has tried to implement changes to move the game along, but teams are good at taking a few extra seconds here and there to make sure they have their strategies just right. Every time the league takes a step forward, creatively orchestrated decisions on the field take it two steps back. Virtually any fan at home will tell you that they can step away from the TV for as long as 10 or 15 minutes, only to return and not have missed a single bit of the action.
Games are now averaging about three hours, five minutes – the same amount seen two years ago. It’s difficult enough to keep peoples’ attention glued to anything for an hour; three hours is only inviting disaster. Attention spans seem to continue to dwindle while the consumer culture evolves to one of instant gratification. The MLB is in a tight spot, determining how to juggle the needs of the game with the desires of those that ultimately keep it running – the fans.
The league is in the process of making some changes, such as reducing mound visits and testing a new pitch clock between pitches and innings, but other options are possibly coming. Whether these changes will produce the desired result remains to be seen, but most baseball lovers shouldn’t hold their breath. Just like teams have already figured out ways to gain back precious seconds, they’ll most likely do it again.
Many players don’t want things to change; they don’t want to break the status quo or tradition. Even young players don’t want to see anything different. For example, 18-year-old baseball player Ezra Caspi recently stated, “When you start messing with the game, you mess with what has made people love it for so long, and how it should be played.”
Some may not agree with the young player, although his enthusiasm is to be admired. The first World Series game in 1916 took two hours and 16 minutes to find a winner. Given the amount of time taken to complete a game now, one has to wonder if anything can really be done to make a difference, short of reducing the number of innings to five or seven. That is unlikely to ever happen.
So, where does this leave us now? The answer is obviously not easy, or it would have already been offered. MLB is still enjoying a solid fan base so it is obviously doing something right, but the pace of the game continues to be a major topic of discussion. Personally, I would never be able to watch anything for three hours straight, so I’ll just have to stick with the highlight reels.