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What's Taking So Long?
JEFF GREENFIELD
August 01, 2011
Charting the ever increasing timelessness of the National Pastime
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August 01, 2011

What's Taking So Long?

Charting the ever increasing timelessness of the National Pastime

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I don't care if I never get back"—and a good thing too, the way some baseball games are played. Yes, one of the game's charms is that it is played without a clock, but there are times when it occurs to me that baseball could use a calendar.

Even with the marked reduction in scoring in recent years—about 8.4 runs per game this season compared with 9.7 in 2006—the average game today takes 2:50 and runs about 20 minutes longer than 30 years ago.

Why? Here's a lineup of reasons.

• Longer commercial breaks during nationally televised games that add eight minutes or more.

• The shrunken strike zone, which—in a reversal of the courtship rules of the 1950s—allows nothing above the waist, leading to longer at bats.

• The ascendancy of on-base percentage, which has made walks count at contract time and convinced batters that it serves to stand and wait. There are 22 more pitches per game now than there were in '88, the first year the stat was measured.

• Prolonged conferences among pitching coach, pitcher, catcher and infielder, and the increased frequency of pitching changes.

• And most notably, the pas de deux between pitcher and batter: the batter stepping out after each pitch to adjust clothing and equipment, the pitcher seemingly loath to let go of the ball.

If you're any kind of baseball fan, this is familiar ground. But I kept wondering: How did the players of another era finish their games so much faster? I wanted to go back in time, watch a game from start to finish, stopwatch in hand, and find the answer.

I found a DVD of the Oct. 4, 1981, game between the Brewers and the Tigers. It was neither a slugfest nor a pitchers' duel but rather a 3--2 game with plenty of action: 20 hits, 14 runners left on base, six pitchers used. The game ran two hours, 19 minutes—and the reasons why were clear from the first minutes. In the bottom of the first, future Hall of Famer Paul Molitor came to the plate against Detroit's Milt Wilcox. Not once did Molitor step out of the batter's box. He saw seven pitches before grounding out, and the gap between each went like this: 10 seconds, then 8, then 10, then 6, then 7, then 8, then 7.

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