Watching a baseball game has become a marathon
As life got faster, baseball got slower; the further back, the speedier the game
It used to be impossible to play a baseball game in 4 hours, 15 minutes
Sunday night's game might have been shown over several weeks on PBS
On Sunday, you could have flown from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., and watched all of Gone With the Wind and quite a bit of Gandhi en route, while simultaneously undergoing -- start to finish -- an in-flight sex-change operation before landing, 4 hours and 15 minutes after takeoff, in an altogether different climate, as an altogether different gender.
Or, in the same 4 hours and 15 minutes, you could have watched the Red Sox and Yankees complete a single game of major league baseball.
True, the game in question was a 10-inning affair, and a thrilling spectacle in one of sport's great rivalries, the immovable object of Mariano Rivera finally yielding to the unstoppable force of the Sox offense. But it took 4 hours and 15 minutes to play, at a pace that called to mind two other unstoppable forces -- rust and erosion -- and so I took the kids instead to see The Smurfs, which was also endless but only 40 percent as long as Sox-Yankees.
After the movie, with the 2 hours and 26 minutes remaining of my self-allotted 4 hours and 15 minutes of leisure time, I could have watched the entire Blue Jays-Orioles game (in 2:25) and still had a full minute to use the bathroom or to featherdust my framed photo of umpire Joe West.
Of course, the Sox and Yankees weren't contesting a baseball game so much as performing Wagner's Ring Cycle, minus the horned helmets, breastplates and relative brevity of German opera. But they didn't have to, and they didn't always. When the same two teams played at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 7, 1941, the home team prevailed 8-5 in two hours and 7 minutes, or less than half the time of Sunday's game.
Which highlights a strange conundrum. We read every day about the increasing speed of modern life, how Wi-Fi has produced a paradoxical anxiety: The more wireless we are, the more wired we've become. But baseball has done precisely the opposite of nearly every other human undertaking of the last century: As life got faster, baseball got slower, so that the further one goes back in baseball history, the speedier the whole enterprise becomes.
There aren't many other industries in which this is true, with the conspicuous exceptions of cable-TV repair and customer-service hotlines.
There was a time when it was nearly impossible to play a baseball game in 4 hours and 15 minutes, try as teams might. When the Red Sox hosted Cleveland on July 28, 1951 -- Boston beating Bob Feller and the Tribe on a walk-off grand slam by Clyde Vollmer -- the teams played 16 innings in 4 hours and 12 minutes.
On July 2, 1963, Juan Marichal and Warren Spahn squared off in a pitcher's duel that didn't end until Willie Mays had homered in the bottom of the 16th, giving the Giants a victory in 4 hours and 10 minutes, the longest time two teams could possibly milk a 1-0 game.
Empires rose and fell, and generations lived and died, in the time it took the Philadelphia Athletics and Cleveland Indians to combine for 35 runs and 58 hits on July 10, 1932, before the A's finally prevailed, 18-17. That contest was not resolved for 18 innings, the equivalent of a doubleheader, through which the two teams labored, in wool flannel beneath a hot sun, for a full 4 hours and 5 minutes, figures that defied belief for their near-biblical time span.
And still, that game was 10 minutes shorter than the last, entirely typical Sox-Yankees game, which aired on Sunday Night Baseball but might better have been parceled out over several weeks on PBS.
The running time of that single baseball game was longer than the whole first season of Fawlty Towers. It takes less time to watch the entire series of Fawlty Towers -- every episode ever made -- than it takes to watch Saturday and Sunday's Sox-Yankees games played back-to-back.
All of which is neither here nor there if you have an infinite amount of leisure time, and quite enjoy ossifying in an armchair, eyes unblinking, in the manner of Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial.
But chances are your leisure time is finite, and so is the patience of your family, and you might be forced to choose between watching a four-hour Sox-Yankees game or doing something that doesn't take nearly as long, like writing She Loves You (as Lennon and McCartney did in three hours) or performing a kidney transplant (which can be done in two to three hours).
Yes, you and I are unlikely to save a life -- or create an enduring work of art -- in lieu of watching a baseball game. But we might just save a marriage. The singular beauty of baseball is that it has no clocks, but the singular deficiency of my house is that it has several, all in view of my wife and children, and those clocks tick louder during Hour Four of a Yankee-Red Sox game. (Ask not for whom the clock ticks: It ticks for thee.)
Which is why I'm grateful for "Sox in 2," on NESN, the team's cable channel, which reruns games in two hours, omitting the other two hours of scratching, tugging, dipping, spitting, staring, squinting and "conferring" on the mound as if it were the site of the G-8 Summit.
What becomes of that excised footage? I like to think that somewhere, in a parallel universe, viewers are getting another version of "Sox in 2," in which the game is reduced to two hours of nothing but the scratching, tugging, dipping, spitting, staring, squinting and "conferring" on the mound. It could be strangely compelling TV, and a happy alternative to "Sox in 4."
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