Baseball’s Too Slow. Here’s How You Fix It.
Make the fans enter through tiny turnstiles surrounded by armed police officers. Make the seats really uncomfortable and humiliate anyone who leaves in the middle of play to get food or go to the bathroom. Encourage people to shout abuses at one another and to chuck garbage onto the field.
No kiss cams. No seventh-inning stretch. You want to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” or, worse, “Sweet Caroline”? Do it on your own time. Anyone who attempts to propose to his or her partner via the Jumbotron will be ejected from the game and banned for life.
As for the players: No relaxing. No chatting. No being nice to your opponents. No doing that thing where you waste time knocking the dirt out of your shoes with your bat for good luck, or whatever. You’re hit by a pitch/rupture your hamstring/bleed from an open wound? Suck it up.
Cap the games at five innings. Make sure at least 75 percent of the crowd is in a vile temper by the end of the game. If the score is tied, the winner should be determined by penalty kicks. — SARAH LYALL
Cut Down on the Yakking
Ban all mound visits except when using one of three allotted timeouts per game.
Imagine a basketball player has just entered the action. The buzzer sounds and she walks onto the court. But before play resumes, the coach strolls to midcourt to discuss strategy with her.
A preposterous idea, of course, but that happens in baseball every time there is a pitching change, and often when there is not.
The relief pitcher was just sitting in the bullpen spitting sunflower seeds for the last two hours with a telephone hookup to the dugout five feet away. Talk to him before he goes in.
Now, picture a soccer goalie halting play to walk 30 yards upfield and chat about tactics with a teammate. Everyone waits until the discussion ends and play resumes. But two minutes later the goalie stops play again to walk upfield again and talk to the same teammate, and never has to ask for a timeout.
That’s what catchers do with regularity. But there is no need for it. They have signs. If they can’t keep the signs straight, then practice more. That should be on them, and not on the fans who suffer through the endless mound visits. — DAVID WALDSTEIN
Perhaps We’ve Been Here Before
O the interminable glory of base-ball!
O the joyous expectation that, for the willing surrender of a mere coin, we might see a match between the respective nines of New York and Chicago that could last to the End of Days! Imagine: Our sainted Christy Mathewson, “the Christian Gentleman,” twirling against those shifty Chi-town triplets, Tinker and Evers and Chance — forever.
Be still my sclerotic heart.
Alas, this cannot be. Our children have been raised without proper discipline (I, for one, am grateful to my dear pater for having once tied me to a tree after my refusal to eat a tomato that mater had so lovingly stewed). As a result, our youth lack the necessary patience for base-ball, so eager are they to return to their wireless devices and motorcars and 23-skiddoodling. Now the august custodians of our national pastime are forced to consider changes to the game’s sacred text.
To which I say: Bosh!
Forgive me, dear readers of the female persuasion, for my coarse language. But this cannot stand.
Your humble scribe suggests the following. Make the distracting billboards along the outfield walls smaller. Order dawdling batsmen to step into the box — like men! — or pay the consequences of a first pitch thrown in their absence. Prohibit the spitting, the tugging of nether regions and other unseemly habits that waste time and offend refined sensibilities.
We must address these matters posthaste, before some contraption of illumination is invented that leads to this game of sunshine being played at night. Then all will be lost; it truly will be the End of Days. — D. FRANCIS BARRY
No More 40-Man Rosters in September
Part of baseball’s charm is the quirks: No two games are the same. But long ones can leave an unfavorable impression on at least some fans, so here are some ideas on how to shave off some time.
First, instant replay needs refinement. The time it takes for a manager to signal for a review, or for the umpires to rule on a play, needs to be shortened. Second, games can turn painfully slow in September, when rosters expand from 25 players to as many as 40. With so many relievers suddenly at their disposal, managers start to change pitchers with every batter. But the game should not be played by one set of rules for five months and then a different set in the final month. Perhaps allow teams to choose up to, say, 28 active players per game in September, but not 38.
Finally, a more radical idea: Cut down on television commercial breaks, especially when they are longer during national broadcasts. Keep the flow of the game constant, and make up for the lost revenue by putting advertisements on the jerseys, as they do in soccer and will next season in the N.B.A. — JAMES WAGNER
No Body Armor for Batters, but Bonuses for Umps
Ban all arm/hand armor and padding on batters — it’s an unfair advantage and wastes thousands of minutes as straps are adjusted between pitches.
Prohibit any hitter from leaving the batter’s box once an at-bat commences, except for obvious, debilitating injury (feeling uncomfortable at the plate does not count). The penalty for stepping out: A strike is called. Do it twice in one at-bat? Take a seat — automatic strikeout.
Institute a pitch clock and strictly enforce it (a ball is called if the time expires). Any pitcher going over the clock more than five times is ejected, as with fouling out of a basketball game.
Stipulate in the umpires’ union contract that each ump gets a $500 bonus for every game that ends in less than 2 hours 40 minutes. The bonus is $1,000 for games ending in under 2 hours 25 minutes, and the entire umping crew gets the next weekend off, with pay, for games lasting less than two hours. — BILL PENNINGTON
Seven Innings Are All You Need
Enough about the idiosyncratic habits that obviously slow the game down, but are also part of the game’s natural appeal and help build drama. My advice is to shorten the game. No, I mean, really shorten the game. Reduce it to seven innings from nine.
Beyond the time saved, think of the benefits in eliminating two innings. Starting pitchers would throw far fewer pitches, needing to only go four innings to record a victory. The scourge of serious arm and shoulder injuries would very likely diminish. Not having to rely on middle-inning mediocrity before getting to the late-inning studs would also quicken the pace of games. Many games might take between two and two and a half hours, or the time it takes to play most soccer and basketball games. Games starting at 7 in the evening would be over by 9:30, making it easier for fans on work and school nights. After the seventh inning, everyone could get up, stretch and go home. — HARVEY ARATON
Tinkering Is Fine, but More Diversity Is Even Better
Baseball is timeless, and often endless: enduring truths my friends and I came to appreciate as Mets fans in the empty upper decks of Shea Stadium in the early 1980s. Whenever those terribly played games got too long, copious inhalation helped along our Zen appreciation. Ah, the color schemes. …
My mind is clearer now. So I’ll acknowledge that I like pitch and innings clocks. If batters haven’t adjusted gloves and cups, it’s too late to start once they step into the batter’s box. I’d limit coaching trips to the mound. Otherwise, leave the beautiful game alone.
I don’t expect I will convince Commissioner Rob Manfred to put a sock in it. He is that neighbor puttering around his garage, tinkering with an old lawn mower. So here’s a thought: Forget putting a greased pig of a runner at second base in extra innings, and instead call the owners and general managers and urge them to hire blacks and Latinos and women. He’ll feel virtuous and his deeply white and male sport will benefit. — MICHAEL POWELL
Foul Ball, You’re Out!
Enough of these suggested baby steps and timid tweaks to make baseball games shorter. It’s like trying to make a marathon markedly shorter by making it 26 miles, instead of 26.2. Thanks for nothing.
What baseball needs are a few spectacular changes to make it not only faster, but also more appealing to young fans whose attention spans have melted into the abyss of their iPads. Let’s get rid of the fourth ball, too. Let’s use a chain saw instead of a scalpel and say three strikes, three balls. Also, there should be no more free passes in this new world of speed baseball. Every foul ball would be counted as a strike. Make those changes, and the marathon becomes not much more than a 10K, just with hot dogs and beer, of course. — JULIET MACUR
Some Inside-the-Box Thinking
People keep looking for innovative ways to speed up the game, but baseball was played briskly for 100 years, so looking to the past may offer more answers. Specifically, we could look to April 16, 1993, when Mark Hirschbeck, a veteran umpire, decided there was someplace he would rather be than standing behind a catcher in San Francisco’s notoriously chilly Candlestick Park.
With two outs in the ninth inning and one strike against him, Atlanta’s Ron Gant called for time and stepped out of the batter’s box. Unfortunately for Gant, Hirschbeck did not honor the request. Gant defiantly strode away from the plate and Hirschbeck, who perhaps had movie tickets or a late dinner engagement, ordered Rod Beck to start pitching. The Giants’ closer was happy to oblige, firing in another strike as Gant frantically raced back to the plate. There were plenty of words exchanged, but Beck ultimately retired Gant on a pop-up to preserve a 1-0 victory.
Laugh all you want about the thought of pitchers letting things rip regardless of whether the batter is in the box, but that game was over in 2 hours 16 minutes, and Gant probably thought twice for the rest of his career about calling a timeout. — BENJAMIN HOFFMAN
Attack All the Dead Space
I don’t want less baseball. I want less nonbaseball.
Stepping out of the batter’s box to call a timeout, peer vaguely down the third-base line or scratch or adjust oneself is not baseball. Stay in the box.
Pitchers aren’t blameless, either. Fondling the rosin bag or chatting with your catcher is not baseball. Pitch the ball.
A visit to the mound? Let’s not. If you want to make a pitching change, just sound an air horn or something, have the pitcher leave the mound and have the new one come in. And he gets three warm-up pitches, not eight. Come on, you’ve done this before!
Vigilant and rigorous eradication of nonbaseball will give us the same dose of baseball in far less time. — VICTOR MATHER
If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It
Several of our readers defended the game and its slow pace, claiming that the problem lay with the attention span of today’s viewers. Here are some of the best comments:
Fix baseball? Fix baseball? I’ve got news for you. Baseball doesn’t need fixing! It is just about perfect the way it is.
Oh, you in a hurry? Need to get back to the office? Well, then you don’t belong at a baseball game.
What are you? From the MTV generation? Shorten the game? Please.
You don’t go to a baseball game because you’re in a hurry. You go to a baseball game to relax and watch how it all unfolds. One of the great things about baseball is that there is no clock. You get to chill out, have a conversation or two, and take what amounts to a mini-vacation.
The game doesn’t need shortening and those who think it does need to go to a basketball game. Or a football game. Or any other sport with a clock, so you can make sure not to miss your dental appointment.
Now, leave it alone! — Bill Leeman, San Rafael, Calif.
As a practicing Buddhist, I try to live in the present moment at every moment. A slow baseball game allows me the opportunity to meditate between pitches, compose my soul with the personnel changes on the field, calm my feelings with foul balls and intentional walks, and generally muse about life, its vicissitudes and joys, throughout a well-played game. And how I miss the doubleheaders!
May I suggest therapy for those sorry, frantic fans who have lost touch with their inner selves? Go to England and watch a cricket Test match. Go to Norway and watch their “Slow TV.” Life is short. The calmer you are, the slower things are, the more life you have.
Don’t fix baseball, FIX YOUR SOULS!
Breathe! — David Glidden
Why does baseball need fixing? Baseball isn’t checkers, it’s chess! It feasts on strategy. The visits to the mound; the stepping out of the box; the examination of the ball, the pre-inning warm-up tosses — all of it gives us the chance to restart our thoughts about how the next half inning is going to play out. The pitcher’s toss to hold a man on base provides an opportunity for something exciting to happen that can change the game. The same is true for throwing four intentional balls from the mound to the catcher. One of those pitches can go astray, or possibly be close enough to the strike zone to allow a batter to swing — and hit the ball to an unprepared second baseman or left fielder or whomever. Baseball is a great game the way it started. Get rid of the d.h.! That was the biggest mistake — and took all the fun out of the American League. Otherwise, LEAVE BASEBALL ALONE! Not every game needs to be played for television viewing. — Barbara Ames, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Oh, It’s Broke. Please Fix It.
The majority of our respondents agreed that baseball was too slow and offered their opinions on how to fix it. Here is a selection from the submissions we received:
If you accept that the problem with M.L.B. is that it moves too slowly and that the exciting moments are too few and far between, and that it takes too long to play, then I would fix it by borrowing from other versions of the game and other leagues: 1. Shorten the game to seven innings (like various youth and scholastic leagues); 2. Start hitters with a 1-1 count (like some recreational softball leagues); 3. Allow players to “foul out” with a two-strike count (like some recreational softball leagues); 4. Move the fences in (similar to the N.H.L. effectively making goals bigger by making goalie pads smaller) to have even more home runs, and 5. Reduce the number of players on the field (like the N.H.L.’s 3-on-3 overtime) to create more space for base hits. — Jacob Ritvo, Palo Alto, Calif.
Fewer commercial breaks. I feel like this is easily the worst addition to baseball games and the worst contributor to wasted time and the No. 1 reason why I don’t watch baseball on TV and don’t love going to more than a few games a year. Commercials add another 45 minutes to an hour to a game! Alas, I feel that even if changes are made to the rules, nothing will change about ridiculous advertising time and thus games will still stay the same length. I’m there to watch baseball. That is why I bought a ticket — to view a live sporting event. I did not purchase a ticket to wait around for a commercial break on TV. And shorten pitcher changes and make the pitchers and batters go faster. — Mattie Vukmir, San Francisco
Outlaw batting gloves, which slow down the game because of the ritualistic ripping and repositioning of the Velcro on them. They don’t loosen up that fast, dudes! This is also associated with the batters stepping out of the box after every pitch, a practice that should be prevented. — Gabriella Howard, Augusta, Me.
Start every inning with a man at second base. Have that man be Bartolo Colon. — Howard Cole, Los Angeles
You know how fans boo every time a pitcher throws over to first base in a halfhearted attempt to pick off a runner? Limit the number of times a pitcher can do that in any given at-bat with a runner on first or third base. Say, the pitcher can attempt a pickoff throw twice, but then must throw home. If a runner is stealing second, the catcher has the better vision and ability to throw him out than the pitcher does, and if he’s stealing home, well … he’s probably not Jackie Robinson. — Max Rettig, New York
After 11 innings, the home team can send up their best slugger (even if he was in the game and taken out). The visiting team can send out the pitcher of their choice for a 10-pitch home run derby. If the home team hits a home run, they win the game. If they don’t, the visiting team wins the game. — Robert Azar, Brooklyn
Every time there’s a pause in the game (a manager’s visit to the mound, a catcher’s visit to the mound, replay review, etc.) that’s long enough, the stadium plays music, and all players on the field not involved in the specifics of the incident must dance. I figure this will either result in fewer pauses because players don’t want to dance, or will make the pauses much more entertaining. — Rebecca Thorsness, Providence, R.I.
Abolish the abominable designated-hitter rule in the majors and minors. — Nelson Hernandez, Austin, Tex.
How is it that a baseball game used to take two hours to complete and now can take up to four hours? The easy answer is to blame the players. And certainly they deserve some of it. But I believe that before commercial TV got involved, the time between innings was a lot shorter than it is now. With 17 changeovers in a full nine-inning game, that really lengthens a game. Of course, there is no such thing as a complete game for a pitcher anymore, and managers are prone to add to commercial timeouts with three pitching changes for each team. But before we add a clock on the players, let’s think about putting the clock on those who are off the field — managers and TV broadcasters. — Jeff Byron, Los Altos, Calif.
If no one is on base, let the batter run in either direction — i.e., to first base or third. All batters and runners who follow have to go in the same direction until the bases are empty. This will bring an element of suspense and interest to the game. — Mark Flannery, Fullerton, Calif.
To improve offense, eliminate radical shifts by fixing the locations of fielders within zones until the ball reaches the plate. Inspect pre-WWII photos so the zones match what Ted Williams faced in 1941. Violations are errors. — Robert LaRose, Taiwan
Relegation! Adopt the global soccer system of sending down the worst teams and bringing up the best from the level right below. This would inspire small-market teams to compete with the larger markets rather than muddle along for decades in third or fourth place. In addition, it would bring pro baseball to smaller markets and give those cities a taste of major league talent. — Kurt Gardner, Brooklyn
Some of us like watching professional soccer in part because we know it will be a two-hour game. You can count on it. Not so with M.L.B. Isn’t it ironic (moronic?) that M.L.B. officials are quoted as saying that they can’t shorten the breaks between innings because of the ad revenue that would be lost. So if I understand this, they’d rather have the dollars than the fans. What a strategy. How about this strategy — put the customers first by shortening the game, and that in turn would increase viewership and attendance and eventually maybe even increase revenues. Customer-centric. This should be all about improving the customer experience. Once you do that, the data shows, you increase your revenues. — Dennis Stern, Lyme, N.H.
Award multiple runs for gigantic home runs, much as the basketball 3-point shot. This wouldn’t speed up the game, but it would add some excitement. — Steven Sherwood, San Francisco
What if the batting order were eliminated? What if a manager could send up a particular player to bat as many times as he wanted in a game in whatever order he wanted? A batter could even get up consecutive times if he didn’t reach base. Presumably the team’s best hitters would get up over and over — maybe the best six would only see at-bats and the other players on the team would be defensive specialists. — Alan Stricoff
Legalize the use of certain performance-enhancing drugs, to be monitored by medical professionals. The drugs to be legalized should focus on maintaining health and recovering from injury. Sure, we’d have to consider stats and records from prior eras as distinct from current player accomplishments. But today, it appears we are at the point where “performance-enhancing drugs” is almost synonymous with “medical advancement.” These guys play a lot of baseball. Healthier, better players spread across the league would be great for the game. And, yeah, keep the hitters in the box between pitches, too. It’s ridiculous already. — Dan Davidow, New Jersey
Baseball is the sport where superstars have the least impact at the most crucial times. In every other sport the star can hit the big shot, throw the touchdown pass or score the goal when it counts. Here is my idea, and it’s radical for sure. In the eighth or ninth inning, the team at bat, if losing or tied, can advance the batting order back to the top of the order (one time only). We need more offense. More excitement. Let the best players put the bat in their hands against the best relievers at the most important times. — Doug Tumen, Woodstock, N.Y.
Basically, I have only one problem with baseball that stops me from viewing a game at certain times, and that’s while I’m eating. And that problem is SPITTING! SPITTING! SPITTING! I don’t enjoy watching grown men, nor anyone for that matter SPITTING! It’s not pleasant, it’s not cool as most players and managers/coaches think it is and it’s certainly not masculine/macho. TV producers have an affinity for showing it but it needs to stop. — William McGrady, Piscataway, N.J.
Easy fix: have one lineup for offense and one for defense (like the N.F.L.). M.L.B. will get more hitting, more base running, more scoring … more excitement! — Larry Sternbach, Marlboro, N.J.
One sure (and radical) way to speed up the game would be to make ALL foul balls be strikes no matter the count. If there are two strikes on the batter and he fouls a pitch off, he’s out. — Paul Morrison, Boston
The biggest improvement M.L.B. could make is to institute an electronic strike zone. Aside from providing ultimate consistency and fairness to both pitchers and batters (and fans), the electronic strike zone would eliminate the hidden, time-consuming gamesmanship practiced by pitchers, batters, catchers and bench jockeys as they try to influence the umpires’ calls. Statisticians at Stanford have determined that home-plate umpires are biased by game situations when calling balls and strikes (the same 3-1 pitch with the bases loaded is more likely to be called a strike than ball four). — Andreas Lord, Brookline, Mass.
Why don’t we enforce the rules that already exist? Batters are supposed to stay in the box, and mound visits are limited to 30 seconds. The umps and baseball need to actually, and consistently, enforce this. What’s the point of the rule if no one pays attention to it? — Erika Crawford, Washington
10 contemplated rule changes for 2017 that would revolutionize the sport (time saved is per game):
1. After a home run is hit, the batter just touches home plate without running the bases. Average time saved: 98 seconds.
2. A pitcher gets one free strike per inning. Thus, a three-ball, two-strike count with the bases loaded and two outs becomes an inning ending punch-out with a wave of the hand. Average time saved: 21 minutes.
3. If a team is ahead by more than four runs in the seventh inning or beyond, they forfeit their right to bat. Average time saved: 36 minutes.
4. One batter on the opposing team can be designated as ineligible for any game. The same player cannot be chosen more than once per series. Average time saved: 38 minutes.
5. The third inning, and any extra inning, is three balls and two strikes instead of four and three. Average time saved: 39 minutes.
6. Managers are eliminated. Average time saved: 56 minutes.
7. Home teams get to call games two hours after the first pitch is thrown. The dilemma is the team must make this choice before the game starts. Average time saved: 58 minutes.
8. One fan, coming to the park with two screaming children, is chosen to decide when he has had enough and wants to leave. At that point, everyone, including the players, has to go home. Average time saved: 78 minutes.
9. There can be only one pitching change per inning, and none in the second, fifth and eighth innings. If a game lasts more than 10 innings, the opposing squad gets to designate the pitcher(s) for the 11th and 12th innings. Average time saved: 81 minutes.
10. The season is reduced to 12 games. Average time saved: infinity, as baseball dies. — Robert Nussbaum, Fort Lee, N.J.
Limit visits to the mound by players and coaches; a team must use them the same way football, basketball, hockey teams use timeouts.
A batter must always have one foot in the batter’s box. Batters must learn to stop fidgeting around; they are professionals, not 14-year-old kids.
Shortstop and third baseman must be on the third-base side of second base, second basemen and first basemen must be on the first-base side of second base. Outfielders must stay in the outfield. This is before the pitch. Anything else is an illegal defense. Learn from basketball.
This has nothing to do with the speed of the game but make “high socks” fashionable. — Vincent, Encinitas, Calif.
Require all M.L.B. teams to designate a certain number of games (one per month, say) as “Youth Games.” In a Youth Game, all tickets — and at least certain concessions — purchased by someone under a certain age (say, 16) would be STEEPLY discounted — say, by 90 percent or so. And, ALL tickets should be set aside for those games, so a box seat that might normally go for $150 would be only $15 and $20 upper-deck seats would be $2. Teams might also consider ways to subsidize transportation to those games. — Ken Landau, Overland Park, Kan.
One free pickoff attempt per at-bat; after that, each pickoff attempt counts as a ball. This will speed up the game and increase excitement with more stolen bases and runs. — Rick Dorfman, Boca Raton, Fla.
Nine innings, nine positions. The players rotate one position each inning, as in volleyball. Players would be better rounded and the disproportionate importance of pitchers would disappear. Then I would watch it with interest. — Tom Jones, Boulder, Colo.
Drop the fourth inning. Nothing ever happens in the fourth so just go from the third to the fifth. You would still have the ninth inning, and we would be there at least 20 minutes sooner. — John Connolly, Rockville Centre, N.Y.
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