Speed It Up

I’m watching the replay of this afternoon’s Red Sox home opener as I prepare to post tomorrow’s (Tuesday) blog post. NESN rebroadcasts each game shown on the New England-based television home of Boston’s professional baseball franchise. They call it, Sox in 2. The beauty of these reruns is that they get condensed into a two-hour time frame. I’m watching what was originally a 3:01 affair won by the Sox, 9-4.

There was a time when pro baseball games averaged slightly over two hours per contest. Now, even a pitcher’s duel is apt to approach the three hour mark. Back in the day, no one had to tell pitchers to “speed it up,” and there was no need for the baseball equivalent of a shot clock, either. Any pitcher worth his salt knew that the defensive players behind him benefited from his working quickly. In fact, the highly successful Atlanta Braves rotation, which included Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, followed the adage of their pitching coach, Leo Mazzone, who preached a variation on the original “work fast, throw strikes, change speeds” preached by Ray Miller, when he was pitching coach for the Baltimore Orioles, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. His Baltimore staffs were successful ones, and included another HOF-er, Jim Palmer, along with other successful pitchers Mike Flanagan, Dennis Martinez, and Steve Stone.

Clay Buchnolz has nice hair.

Clay Buchnolz has nice hair.

Now, baseball is bloated with pitchers like the Red Sox’s Clay Buchholz, who is a friggin’ human rain delay on the mound. I will say that his Opening Day start in Philadelphia was promising, but he returned to his Jekyl and Hyde ways Sunday night against the Yankees. He looked very much like the pitcher we saw all of 2014, when he failed to log a quality start in 15 of his 28 starts. No wonder Buchholz, a guy we’ve been waiting to finally put it all together—showing promise in 2013 that he might, prior to getting injured—has been so disappointing. I guess $12 million per year doesn’t buy you what it used to. Actually, Buchholz is a bargain, compared to the $20 million that the Sox just gave to Rick Porcello, a guy that would have trouble breaking a double-pained window pitches to contact. At least Porcello chews up innings, and actually, probably is a pitcher aligned with the Ray Miller/Leo Mazzone school of pitching. Porcello isn’t even baseball’s highest paid pitcher. That would be Clayton Kershaw, pulling down $215 million over seven years, or a cool $30 million per annum.

Back to the time of the game issue. Why do major leaguers take so damn long to complete their games? What’s with all the stepping out and tugging at the batting gloves, and all the other “tics” that every batter seems to have?

The first report about whether the speed-up rules were working was positive. This article in the New York Times indicated that “In the 46 games played through (last) Thursday, the changes have rolled the clock all the way back to the average length of a game in 2010, with a time of 2 hours 55 minutes, a 16-minute reduction from the first 46 games of 2014 and 13 minutes faster than the average game length for all 2014.

This is still short of the two-and-a-half-hour ideal that is the standard being sought. And part of the so-called improvement in pace of the games might be attributed to there being 12 shutouts compared to eight the season before. Plus, the average number of runs per game is down nearly one run.

I’m anxious to see how this plays out with a larger sample size.

While I appreciate the pastoral nature of baseball, the game has instead become glacial over the past two decades, too slow even for long-time fans like me.

2 thoughts on “Speed It Up

  1. The NESN plan sounds like a good deal. Overseas, Armed Forces Network is commercial-free, so a three-hour NFL game gets the commercials, half-time and dead time cut out and it’s a fast hour and a half when they rebroadcast the games midweek. However, when Sky or other UK networks broadcast a big game like the Super Bowl, they do it in real time, but without the US commercials. Instead, every commercial break, every dead ball time, they cut away to four talking heads (usually a few ex NFL jocks and a Brit to translate) in ugly suits in an uncomfortable studio to fill time. The ratio of actual game time to non-game time becomes painfully, painfully, painfully apparent.

    I don’t think MLB has aspirations to move into Europe, but NFL sure does, and it is utterly doomed to fail. UK watchers are absolutely right to complain about the length of the game, given that a soccer or rugby match is 80 minutes, period. The clock starts, the players play, clock doesn’t stop when the ref stops play (although refs can stop the clock for injuries and other circumstances), game is over when the sideline time judge says so (even the players don’t know the exact time left). There is no way an 80 minute match will exceed two hours on the telly.

    Although it’s not in the spirit or history of the game, it may be necessary to give the umpires “delay of game” penalties to throw to move MLB along. I don’t see them giving up the commercial revenue.

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