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Posted: Wednesday March 4, 2009 12:20PM; Updated: Wednesday March 4, 2009 12:20PM
Frank Deford Frank Deford >

Working against the clock

Story Highlights

Baseball fans sometimes believe that no clock means there's an always a chance

But every sport, baseball included, has some sort of time-keeping

Among them all, the best part of the clocks are the buzzers

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Danny Biasone
Danny Biasone, the former owner of the NBA's Syracuse Nationals, created the 24-second shot-clock.
Frank Deford's Mailbag
Frank Deford will periodically answer questions from users in his mailbag.

Baseball romantics always make such a fuss about how there is no clock in the sport, so the game is eternal or something, and the team behind always has a chance. This is literally true, of course, but, hey, if you're behind 11 runs with two out in the ninth, you haven't got any more chance than if you're down three touchdowns with 28 seconds left. But it sounds good in baseball Shangri-Li.

Maybe this anti-clock phobia is why umpires never punish a pitcher when he takes too long to throw the bloody ball. There is, you know, that one clock in baseball: a pitcher has to pitch the ball in 20 seconds. Of course, he seldom does. But baseball umpires don't know that from clocks.

The sports that have clocks are all different, too. I've never understood why they stop the clock in football after an incomplete pass, but not a complete one or a run. What's the logic in that? Maybe it started long ago when, if you threw an incomplete pass, somebody had to chase the ball down. That's my best guess. Anyway, it's a stupid clock rule. In the last minutes of both halves, the clock should be stopped after every play.

Basketball was saved by the 24-second clock, which was dreamed up in 1954 by Danny Biasone, who owned the Syracuse Nationals of the NBA. Danny also owned a bowling alley, where you can't make any money if the bowlers hang onto the ball. Pro basketball was being destroyed because teams froze the ball. One game ended 19-18. You know how Danny decided on 24 seconds? He just took the average total number of shots in a game and divided it into the total number of seconds. Today, they'd spend four years testing stuff out with computers, and at the end of the day, it wouldn't work as well as what Danny dreamed up on a scratch pad.

If a team in any sport, in the vernacular, "sits on the clock," it's a bad game, bad for the game. I hate it when somebody says that some football coach exhibits good "clock management." Basically that means he knows how to waste time.

Soccer, of course, has the goofiest clock. Well, at least from our American point of view. The soccer clock rarely stops, but the soccer referee keeps the official tally to himself and calculates what's called "stoppage" time. Then he adds this onto the end of the game. Only, nobody but the referee knows how much extra time there is, so you miss all that wonderful suspense about there only being 38 seconds or 5.9 seconds or whatever left.

Of course, nobody ever scores in soccer, so it really doesn't much matter.

And ties are very common in soccer. We have created overtimes in sports because we Americans hate ties. As someone said, snarling, "A tie is like kissing your sister." There used to be lots of ties in football and hockey, but they added overtimes to the clocks so there would be no sister-kissing in the United States of America!

And you know what I like best about clocks in sports? When time runs out, there's a buzzer. Buzzers really sound great, don't they? It's a sound like no other.


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