Five hours and 17 minutes. That’s how long game five of the World Series took.
To put that in perspective, you could drive from Rochester to Cooperstown and spend two hours at the Baseball Hall of Fame in that time. In five hours and 17 minutes, you could listen to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” 94 times. You could watch “Rookie of the Year” three times or write that paper you’ve been procrastinating on, and still catch the last couple innings of the game.
The point is that the MLB has a problem. Game five was one of the more exciting baseball games you’ll see — it was a World Series game with many lead swings that was tied after nine innings. It also featured a pitching matchup between two Cy Young Award winners, and there were seven total home runs in the game. But it took way too long.
It is pretty much impossible for any person to watch every game a team plays in a season. Each year, a baseball team plays 162 games, and although most are about three hours long, the average game length has been rising despite attempts by the league to speed up the game. No person should spend 500 hours per year watching baseball unless they’re on a team’s payroll. (And that’s just if the team doesn’t make the playoffs.)
The game length increases, but the amount of action in a game remains constant. It’s still the same 54-out game (unless the home team is leading in the ninth, the game gets cut short due to weather, or it goes into extra innings). Now it seems that every play at bat, the hitter steps out of the batter’s box to adjust his gloves, the pitcher goes to the rosin bag or attempts to pick off a baserunner, or the manager comes out to chat with the fielders. These things are not only uninteresting, but they also lengthen the game.
There are some steps the MLB could take that would speed up the game significantly. One option might be to introduce a pitch clock — some college baseball conferences and minor leagues have experimented with these and have seen positive results. The MLB has also considered starting extra innings with a runner on base, causing runs to occur more often in extra innings. The number of pitching changes a manager makes, or at least the number of warm-up pitches allowed when a new pitcher enters the game, could be limited.
Baseball nostalgists might oppose these changes. The sport, more than any other, is beholden to its history, and it will be difficult to convince oldtimers to embrace change. Many also think that the changes, especially the extra innings, would confuse traditional baseball statistics. But stats wonks are smart enough to figure it out.
Despite the MLB’s pace issues, it is still very successful. The sheer volume of games and star players allows it to be extremely popular, despite its aging fan base. But the game needs to start appealing more to a younger age group that doesn’t have five hours and 17 minutes on a Sunday night to spend watching a game.