July 30, 2010

MEANWHILE, THE EPL'S PITCHERS AND CATCHERS HAVE ALREADY REPORTED:

Slicing up the Red Sox's boring pie (Bill Simmons, 7/30/10, ESPN.com)

THE TIME OF THE GAMES: 55 PERCENT

The biggie. The hammer. The killer.

There are two separate issues here. The first: Nobody wants to spend 3½ hours watching anything on television. Not even porn. The second: It's not that fun to spend 30-45 minutes driving to a game, paying for parking, parking, waiting in line to get in, finding your seat ... and then, spend the next three-plus hours watching people play baseball ... and then, leave, find your car and drive home. That's potentially a five-hour commitment. Ludicrous.

By the way, have you ever looked around during a baseball game these days? It's 35,000 people texting or writing/reading e-mails while they wait for something to happen. BlackBerrys and cell phones were either the best or the worst thing that ever happened to baseball. I can't decide. When an incoming text is more exciting than a baseball at-bat, something has gone horribly wrong.

Back in 2002, I wrote a column worrying about baseball and that games were too long. It's much worse now. I tried to tell my father this, and he didn't believe me. Fortunately, baseballreference.com has the times of every baseball game played. I went back and examined the times of games of my most memorable Red Sox seasons (1975, 1978, 1986, 1999, 2004, 2007) along with 2002 (when we first worried that games were becoming too slow) and 2010 (through 101 games). Check this out; it's incredible.

1975 Red Sox
2 hours or less -- 12 games
2:01-2:30 -- 62
2:31-3:00 -- 63
3:01-4:00 -- 18 (4 extra innings)
More than 4 -- 2 (both extras)

(Note: Twelve games that ended in less than two hours!!!!!! Are you kidding me? And 137 of the 162 games ended in less than three hours.)

1978 Red Sox
2 or less -- 1
2:01-2:30 -- 57
2:31-3:00 -- 72
3:01-4:00 -- 27 (11 extras)
More than 4 -- 5 (all extras)

(Note: Still a steady concentration of games between two and three hours -- 129 of the 162. Totally acceptable.)

1986 Red Sox
2 or less -- 1 (6 IP)
2:01-2:30 -- 30
2:31-3:00 -- 71
3:01-4:00 -- 58 (9 extra innings)
More than 4 -- 2 (2 extras)

(Note: A subtle shift. Sixty games creeped over three hours, although it's possible Wade Boggs -- who took about 28 pitches every at-bat -- was singlehandedly responsible.)

1999 Red Sox
2 or less -- 1
2:01-2:30 -- 18
2:31-3:00 -- 92
3:01-4:00 -- 49 (6 extra)
More than 4 -- 2 (both extra)

(Note: Not much different than 1986; 102 games ended in three hours or less. By the way, it's flawed to say these numbers reflect baseball as a whole. The DH slows things down in the American League, you might have more hitters who milk pitch counts in a specific year and some pitchers work faster or slower than others. The slowest Red Sox pitcher ever was Jeff Gray. He made Jonathan Papelbon look like a quicker draw than Rick Pitino. If you had an entire bullpen of Papelbons and Grays, that's skewing your number obviously.)

2002 Red Sox
2 or less -- 1
2:01-2:30 -- 29
2:31-3:00 -- 82
3:01-4:00 -- 45 (6 extra)
More than 4 -- 5 (5 extra)

(Note: Our best pace since 1975 ... and this was the year we were complaining that games were too long! I'd like to thank Tim Wakefield, the fastest Red Sox pitcher of my lifetime other than Reggie Cleveland, for spiking the fast numbers. He always pitched like he had a 9:30 dinner reservation and didn't want to be late. God bless him.)

2004 Red Sox
2 or less -- 0
2:01-2:30 -- 14
2:31-3:00 -- 81
3:01-4:00 -- 61 (6 extra)
More than 4 -- 5 (5 extra)

(Note: Still cruising along. Nothing really changed from 1978 to 2004, in case you didn't notice.)

2007 Red Sox
2 or less -- 0
2:01-2:30 -- 11
2:31-3:00 -- 48
3:01-4:00 -- 97 (5 extra)
More than 4 -- 6 (2 extra)

(Note: Uh-oh. One-hundred three of 162 games dragging past three hours??? Call it the Tipping Point ... as in, "I'm tipping over because I just fell asleep." I blame the recent frenzy of milking pitch counts, the constant preening between pitches and more frequent pitching changes. Yes, I look forward to those arguments being struck down by an angry blogger within the next 48 hours.)

2010 Red Sox (101 games)
2 or less -- 0
2:01-2:30 -- 1
2:31-3:00 -- 41
3:01-4:00 -- 53 (7 extra)
More than 4 -- 6 (4 extra)

(Shaking my head.)

What a nightmare. I'm the same guy who once created the 150-Minute Rule for all movies, sporting events, concerts, even sex -- if you edge past 150 minutes for anything, you better have a really good reason. The 2010 Boston Red Sox have played one game in four months that ended in less than 150 minutes.

I'll write that again: The 2010 Boston Red Sox have played one game in four months that ended in less than 150 minutes.

Nearly 60 percent of the Red Sox's games have dragged past three hours. Twenty-four of their games have gone 3:30 or longer (nearly 25 percent). And no, it's not just them: Fifty-eight percent of 2010 Yankees games have extended past three hours. When these two meandering monoliths collide, look out: This year's snoozefests clocked in at 3:46, 3:48, 3:21, 3:01, 3:56, 3:05, 3:47 and 4:09 (a nine-inning game!). Are those baseball games or Boston Marathon times?

Meanwhile, National League games move significantly faster: Every NL team has played at least 50 percent of its 2010 games in less than three hours, led by St. Louis, who cranked out 71 of its 102 games in less than three hours. That tells me the following things:

1. We need to dump the DH. Like, right now. It's stupid, anyway.

2. We're only a few other tweaks away from getting these games to a manageable time. What about giving managers six timeouts during a game in which they can cross the baseline, and that's it? What about a 15-second pitch-clock? What about giving hitters three seconds to leave the batter's box, or it's another strike? (Unless you've tipped a ball off your foot, caught something in your eye or desperately need to adjust your boys.) What about two minutes between half-innings for commercials, then the next hitter has to be standing in the batter's box at 2:01?

Look, we could throw out unrealistic suggestions like "no baserunner can take a lead past a defined line within 7 feet of the base" (to eliminate pickoff throws); "every batter needs to bring a second bat to the on-deck circle" (in case he breaks the first one); "relievers don't get to warm up;" "catchers can visit the mound only once per inning;" "we wire the area around the home plate and electrocute batters any time they step out to adjust their elbow pads or their crotch;" and even "let's eliminate the ninth inning all together and just play eight." But really, just the four tweaks from the previous paragraph would save 30-35 minutes per game. Easily.

The most damning fact about these interminably long games? They pushed some die-hard fans toward English Premier League and World Cup games mainly because we knew those games would end in less than two hours.


Ideally, baseball's popularity would completely collapse so that you could afford to go to a game with your kids again and there wouldn't be enough ad time to fill three hours.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 30, 2010 6:15 AM
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