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Scoggins: Baseball games taking so much longer these days

The length of games and pace of play in Major League Baseball remains a teeth-gnashing subject for many fans, media and, yes, even some players.

Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune

Updated: July 15, 2014 - 12:44 AM

Mark Buehrle pitches like he’s parked at a two-hour meter. He works faster than someone at a speed-dating party.

Unfortunately, he’s more the exception than rule in Major League Baseball these days. And that drives him bonkers.

“It’s annoying how long some of these games are,” he said.

The length of games and pace of play in Major League Baseball remains a teeth-gnashing subject for many fans, media and, yes, even some players. Go to any ballpark in any MLB city on a typical night and you’ll likely hear someone complain about HOW LONG THIS STINKING GAME IS TAKING!

The average time of game this season is 3:02, according to MLB. That’s roughly 15 minutes longer than the average game time in 2004.

Sports Illustrated dug deeper and found that games have added more than 29 minutes of “dead time” in the past 10 years, based on a calculation of time in between balls put in play.

Pitchers stroll around the mound between pitches. Batters step out of the box after every pitch. Catchers visit the mound like it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet. Managers use their bullpens freely.

A 3½-hour baseball game can feel like an eternity, especially during the school year.

“I hear it from our own team,” said Buehrle, one of MLB’s fastest workers. “Obviously media and fans are like guys on our team saying these games are too long.”

Not everyone shares Buehrle’s perspective, even among his peers. In fact, a poll of 27 all-stars from both leagues on Monday revealed a wide spectrum of opinions on this subject. In particular, three themes emerged:

A. Games take too long.

B: The pace of games is perfect.

C: What’s the big deal?

A sampling of responses:

“Three-hour games kind of drive you crazy, let’s be honest,” San Francisco pitcher Tim Hudson said. “A pretty good clip for a big-league game should be around 2½ hours.”

“Let’s not be in a rush,” San Diego pitcher Huston Street said. “You don’t go to the park or zoo and say, ‘Let’s get out of here as quick as we can.’ You’re coming to be entertained. The longer the entertainment lasts, I would think that’s better.”

“Nothing you can do about it,” Pittsburgh’s MVP Andrew McCutchen said. “I think people are still going to watch if they’re baseball fans.”

He’s right there. Baseball’s popularity remains strong, attendance figures healthy. Yet a few all-stars offered suggestions that might speed up games and make them even more palatable for all fans.

Detroit starter Max Scherzer believes pitchers shouldn’t be allowed to leave the dirt between pitches. And he doesn’t think batters should be allowed to call time unless they have a physical issue.

“If I’m holding the ball too long, you can’t call time,” he said. “That drives me nuts.”

Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson naturally isn’t in favor of that idea, but he mentioned something similar to a “shot clock” for pitchers.

Instant replay now adds delays, too. Numerous players say they hope baseball tweaks the system to make reviews quicker and less clunky. The current format is goofy with the manager having to buy time next to the umpire until he gets a signal from the dugout.

Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman isn’t a fan of any replay system.

“I’m old school, I love human error,” he said. “We’re having 2-1 ballgames and they’re going 3½ hours. Sometimes fans get turned off by it. They might not stay the whole game and the most exciting part is the eighth and ninth inning, but it’s 10:30 [p.m.] and the kids have to go to school the next day.”

This isn’t a new issue for baseball, of course. The length of games has been talked about for years. But this in-game dillydallying has caused even die-hard fans and some prominent national baseball scribes to cry uncle.

Will that lead to dramatic changes? Doubtful. Baseball players are creatures of habit and routine so it’s hard to imagine many of them would accept changes that might shave 10 minutes off an average game.

“I don’t think you ever want to speed up games,” Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. “I think you should leave the game the way it is. It’s been like that for 100 years. No reason to change it.

“Any time you try and speed up the game, I think you’re going to run into some more issues,” he continued. “Guys are going to be getting hurt. They’re not going to be getting loose enough. You can’t just say, ‘Hey, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.’ You’ve got to let guys take their time. I don’t want to be rushed when I’m getting ready or in between innings or at-bat.”

Mike Trout, the new face of baseball, basically shrugged when asked about three-hour games.

“It’s baseball,” he said. “I don’t think it’s an issue.”

 

Chip Scoggins •chip.scoggins@startribune.com

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