Some of my earliest and fondest memories of watching Major League Baseball games. I can’t tell you how many games that I watched in 1990 when the Reds won the World Series. If the Reds were on TV, that is what I wanted to watch. I lived to watch those games on TV and then go to the store and buy his many packs of baseball cards as I could afford with my meager allowance. Fast-forward 26 years.
Today, I watch a few Major League games a year, but it is not my go-to source of entertainment. On the rare occasions that I watch the baseball game on TV, I often find myself playing on my iPad or getting caught up on my email as opposed to being sucked in to the thrill of the game. I am much more likely to watch college football, the NFL, and even soccer lately.
I am not the only one with this reaction and it is not just because the Reds are horrible this year.. The final game of the 2015 World Series had the highest ratings in 6 years at 17.2 million viewers, however, the Monday Night Football game at the same time had 23 million viewers. In contrast, the final game of the Reds v. As World Series in 1990 had 32.9 million viewers. In the 1980s, World Series games were regularly attracting 30 and even up to 50 million viewers. Perhaps this is because people have more channels and more options to entertain themselves, but whatever the reason for the decline in interest in baseball, those that control the game can’t be blind to the fact that something must be done.
If there was one area that baseball could improve to make it more compelling and easier to watch for your average fan it would be to decrease the length of games. Matthew Futterman at the Wall Street Journal had a terrific article about this last year. Basically, baseball games have always tended to run long, but since the 1970s the length of an average baseball game has increased by one half hour. The average baseball game now takes about three hours. However, the team with the longest average games, Tampa Bay, averages 3:17 minutes per game. To put that in perspective that is almost the same length as the The Godfather: Part Two (3:22) or The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (3:21), two movies which can only get away with that length because they are amazing (and even then best saved for a snow storm or sick day).
I’m optimistic about recent minor league experiments with a pitch clock to correct one of the biggest time-sucks in the game: the slow moving pitcher. We’ve all seen it. The pitcher who does nothing but dillydally rather than throw the darn ball. This guy has to adjust himself, do some signaling back and forth to catcher, and then reset himself once or twice before throwing a pitch. Sure, this is part of the psychological aspect of the game, but it is miserable to watch and it wastes tons of time. David Price of the Tigers is the most deliberate pitcher in baseball. He took 26.6 seconds between each pitch on average in 2014. That adds up. It particularly galling considering the there is already a 12 second time limit for pitchers already on the books that is unenforced.
In the end, it should be clear that something must be done to make the sport of baseball more attractive to young people and those who can’t justify watching a game that takes so long. Many games feel like 3 1/2 hour gabfest between the players and their coaches with protracted periods of nothing happening. I think that the shot clock is a good way of speeding up play without cutting into the “meat” of the game. While there is no easy fix, and perhaps it is just America that changed and not baseball, it is worth a shot.