The main reason why baseball games are too long

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One of the most important half innings in the last 50 years of baseball occurred in the first half of the Giants-Dodgers doubleheader on April 28. Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy had typically run through his entire staff in a game that was already lost so he inserted infielder Pablo Sandoval to pitch the top of the ninth-inning against the Dodgers.

Sandoval pitched exactly the way I used to pitch when I played in high school in the ‘50s. He threw a pitch, got the ball back from the catcher, quickly got the sign and threw another pitch. Each pitch was thrown within five seconds of the preceding pitch. He threw 11 pitches. The half inning was completed in two minutes 27 seconds, or 147 seconds. This is an average of less than 14 seconds per pitch, and that includes the fact that there were a couple of foul balls that took up some time and there were three ground ball outs, which also took up some time as the play had been made and then the ball thrown around the infield twice as is typical after a bases empty out.

This happening epitomizes that the main problem with baseball, the slowness of play and the average time of each game at three hours, nine minutes and growing, is pitchers taking too long between pitches. In 1920, the average time of a baseball game was 1 hour 47 minutes (see the accompanying graph of the time of games from 1920-2010). The Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig 1927 New York Yankees were called “5 o’clock lightning,” and the story why was told by Yankees pitcher Myles Thomas, “All our games begin at 3:30 and it seems like all of our late-inning rallies happen right about five o’clock, give or take 15 minutes.” After several late inning victories in a row, “Against the White Sox a week ago, we loaded the bases in the ninth thanks to three Chicago errors — then Gehrig cleared them with a grand slam. In the locker room after the game, (sportswriter) Paul Gallico of the Daily News and I were talking about how the ChiSox had unraveled. That’s when (pitcher Waite) Hoyt interrupted us and said, ‘Those bastards didn’t unravel. They were struck by five o’clock lightning’,”  and a nickname was born. Today if games started at 3:30pm, they’d have to be called “seven o’clock lightning.”

The cause of long games is entirely due to pitchers taking too long to throw each pitch. If the average game has 292 pitches, according to Baseball-Reference, that means that there is one pitch every 37 seconds throughout the entire game. Of course that includes time to change innings and play batted balls and such. But there is absolutely no reason for a pitcher to get the ball from the catcher and take the 25 to 30 seconds before he throws the next pitch today’s pitchers take. Baseball must institute a rule that requires that each pitch be thrown within 15 seconds of receipt of the ball by the pitcher back from the catcher (I would prefer 10 seconds but let’s be flexible here). That would shorten the length of games back to the 2 hours, 20-30 minutes they took back in the ‘50s. If the pitcher does not throw the ball within the allotted 15 seconds, an automatic ball would be called.

Of course of all the professional athletes extant, baseball pitchers are the biggest prima donnas. They wander around on the mound and rub the ball up and stare out into the outfield and kick the dirt and take as much time as they want before they throw the next pitch. The tempo of the game is entirely in the hands of the pitcher and for baseball to become the game it was 50 years ago they must be required to pitch at a quicker pace.

Of course there might be a more diabolical reason why MLB doesn’t take action to shorten the time it takes to play a game. That reason is money from concessions. The shorter the game, the less concessions are sold. So why would any avaricious businessman like the billionaire baseball owners intentionally want to shorten the time his customer spends at the ball park, even if it was for the good of the game?

Tony Medley is the author of three books including “UCLA Basketball: The Real Story,” the first book written on UCLA basketball. Visit



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