April 26, 2002
The Daily Prospectus
The Daily Prospectus: Tick, Tock
The Pirates won again yesterday afternoon, beating the Dodgers 3-2 to go to 13-7 and stay atop the NL Central.
In doing so, however, they annoyed some people. Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon used six relievers to get the final ten outs, including three in the eighth inning alone. The pitching changes stretched the time of the game to just over three hours, and set off alarm bells among some people for whom length of games is a pet issue.
Now, I agree that one of the things that baseball could work on is the length, or more specifically, the pace of games. However, the one factor that has increased said length the most is greater time between innings and during pitching changes to accommodate television commercials. The fixes currently in place do nothing to address the extra ten to 15 minutes of dead time added over the past 15 years as a way to generate more revenue. Blaming the players or managers for the added length of games is silly when they would probably be just as happy with tightening up that break, especially in the postseason when it can stretch past three minutes.
What really angers me is the idea that baseball should implement rule changes to speed up the game. I'm not talking about the "have an extra bat in the on-deck circle" or "stay in the batter's box" ideas, which are generally harmless and will help, albeit slightly. No, I'm talking about the suggestions that baseball should limit throws to first base to hold runners, or put a cap on mid-inning pitching changes. These ideas would not only impact the game on the field, but by favoring the team at the plate--by hindering the defense's ability to control the running game or garner platoon advantages--they would contribute to run scoring and lengthen games.
These suggested changes are just another example of the "NFL-ization" of baseball thought. A few years back, the NFL found that its games were running long, which was anathema to a league whose entire being is dedicated to being a good television product. So what did the league do? It changed the rules governing the game clock, so that it would run more often during times when the ball was not in play. This would help the game more easily fit the three-hour window without sacrificing any commercial time.
The effect was that game times were shortened--but what was lost wasn't dead time, but actual football. Fewer plays were run, because the clock was now starting more quickly after out-of-bounds plays and incomplete passes. The league was happy, TV networks were happy, and if they were providing less product for the same amount of ticket money, well, so what?
That's what rules that affect the play of a baseball game are designed to do: change the game on the field as a counter to increased commercial time. It stinks, and the fact that the powers that be are letting the players take the brunt of the blame for long games when they're just as culpable stinks, too.
Look, I know pitching changes aren't the most exciting form of entertainment, but they are a fact of life. If you want to debate whether using six pitchers to get ten outs is a win-maximizing strategy, that's one thing. But to criticize McClendon for doing everything he can to win a game, even if it takes a bit longer to do so, is ridiculous. What, would it make more sense for McClendon to say, "You know, I didn't want to let Joe Beimel face Brian Jordan, but I'd already been out there once, and it was almost 3:30, and I figured, what the hell, let's save us all some time."?
Baseball isn't the NFL. The more people want to make it so, the more the game gets away from what it is, and what makes it great.