I am a seamhead. I don’t just like baseball, I LOVE baseball. So, as a baseball fan, why in the world would a long game bother me?
Are you ready for an interesting role reversal? The biggest surprise of the 2010 MLB season to this point is an umpire actually calling out some teams. And, the umpire was calling out two great teams for something that should be of no consequence to baseball fans – long games.
For those unfamiliar with this situation, a situation which I believe is the most surprising thus far in the short MLB season, here is a quick refresher. Umpire Joe West – who is as experienced as he is rotund – called a Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game behind the plate early in the season. The two offenses each employ the same strategy of stepping out of the batter’s box to disrupt the rhythm of the opposing pitcher. They both foul a great many pitches off in order to extend at bats and see everything a pitcher has to throw at them. West called the length of the game, “a disgrace to baseball.” That is an exact quote. Perhaps if West has something better to do, he should just retire from baseball.
It is true that games are lengthy. It is true that, unless Mark Buehrle is pitching, the games are pretty much a lock for over three hours. But it is also true – especially for the teams in question – that the better teams are the ones extending the games. Good teams have good hitters. Good hitters work a pitcher and a count to ensure they see a lot of pitches and have professional at bats that end by getting on base… or touching all of them. Good strategy means disrupting a talented pitcher’s rhythm and sense of timing. The great hitters and teams do this, with no regard for the feelings or comfort of an opinionated umpire.
Plus, Joe West even acknowledged that the Yankees and the Red Sox are two of the best teams in baseball. It is impossible to recognize that reality in one breath, then dismiss their strategy as a negative on the game with the next. The two are related, and Joe West is foolish for painting it as a negative.
Exactly how long are games? Let’s review some recent history. Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski did some helpful research that will shed some further light on our natural assumptions that MLB games, at a minimum, exceed three hours.
According to the research the average game in the American League East division lasts 3:06. That is the longest of any division, which comes as no surprise since the five slowest playing teams in the entire AL reside in that division. The Yankees lead the bunch with an average playing time of 3:16, and the Red Sox are second with 3:12.
The Yankees and Red Sox also boasted the slowest average length of time in games they played against each other last season, at 3:39. There is no doubt that they play the longest games.
But baseball is not a sport for the impatient. Every pitch, every swing, every grounder, is extremely important to the story of the game. We have the luxury of watching professionals make routine plays out of athletically challenging defense and opposite field hits off of biting curveballs. The two best teams employing the best strategy the game has to offer should not diminished, but publically appreciated – regardless of how annoying you may find the teams in question.
What is really dumb about all of this is that why does the length of a baseball game matter so much? To maintain the interest of the casual fan. Casual sports fans are like dead money in a poker tournament. You invite them because their money is green and they put a warm body in a seat, but you don’t really want to chat them up because you know you won’t have much to talk about. I don’t make this statement to be glib or mean. In fact I am a long-time advocate of the casual sports fan. They cheer loudly too, and their presence is a valuable one.
What I do not condone, however, is modifying the rules of a sport to accommodate the casual fan. Sure, they are valuable, but they should not dictate the rules of the game. They should not carry influence because they are not the ones who will be attending the games when the weather turns, or the after the team is 30 games out on June 1. Changing the rules to speed the game up to accommodate a vocal but ultimately insignificant fan base is a major mistake. Joe West should know that. So, why stir the pot?<br.
While the research is interesting, though unsurprising, it is clear that Joe West is not crazy. The Yankees and the Red Sox do play long games, and they probably feel even longer if you’re calling balls and strikes behind the plate. The problem is no one should care. Game length doesn’t matter because the two best teams with the same proven strategy are duking it out. How is that a bad, disgraceful thing?