The best part of baseball always was that it moves at its own pace. All the other major sports were a battle against the clock — who can score the most points in an hour, or 48 minutes, or 90 minutes, or 40 minutes — but not baseball. If you can avoid making the third out, the game can go on forever.
Not anymore. As the baseball season begins today, a shot clock is in place, or more precisely a pitch clock. The pitcher has 15 seconds to throw a pitch, or 20 seconds if there’s a runner on base. No more mind games between the pitcher and the batter, no more stepping out of the box, no more taking the foot off the rubber, no more throwing to first base once, twice, three times. Nope. Fifteen seconds, buddy, throw the damn ball.
The idea is to speed up the game. They say the average spring training game was 26 minutes shorter with the shot clock.
I’ll tell you how to speed up the game.
For my birthday one year, my brother gave me a set of cassettes that preserved the actual radio broadcast of a 1963 Mets game. Growing up in New Jersey just after the Dodgers and Giants betrayed their New York fans, I was a Mets fan from opening day of 1962, so sending me a ’63 game was great nostalgia.
The top half of the first inning ended, and Lindsey Nelson started reading a commercial for Viceroy cigarettes. It was a 60-second commercial.
By the time Nelson finished reading the ad, the first pitches of the bottom of the first inning had already happened, and he had to catch up. “There’s a strike, and the count is one and one.”
Do you see my point? If you want to speed up the game, don’t pause for three, four, or five minutes between half-innings. Let the game flow: One team leaves the field, the other team takes the field, a process that takes less than 30 seconds, and batter up!
I would bet the actual time it takes to play a baseball game hasn’t changed much over the years, but the frequent stoppages of play for interminable commercial breaks has extended the distance between the first pitch and the last out.
Reduce the number of ads by 26 minutes, and you accomplish the same effect as chaining pitchers to a clock. Change the rules of the broadcast, not the game.
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball,” James Earl Jones said as the character Terence Mann in Field of Dreams. “America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game — it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.”
It could be again, that is, if everyone would just take a breath, sit back and pay no attention to the clock.