Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My further descent into being an old man

Game 1 of the World Series starts Wednesday at 7:57 p.m. EST. Game 1 of the World Series will end sometime on Thursday, probably around 12:30 a.m. EST. At around 11 p.m., I'll let out a cry, "Jesus, another pitching change?" And at 11:45 p.m., I'll wonder, "Why's he worrying about that guy on first so much when he has a five-run lead? Just pitch the ball!"

FOX has actually trumpeted the fact games are scheduled to begin before 8. People complain about late starting-times? Fine, we're starting 'em earlier. Three minutes. Happy?

I don't have a problem with when games begin, just with when they end. I realize we're never returning to the days when a World Series game started at 1 p.m. We're 40, 50 years past a time when kids snuck radios into classrooms in order to listen to the early innings of a game. The World Series is played at night now and that battle is finished.

I remain a huge baseball fan and that will never change. But watching an entire playoff game has become a war of attrition, one I often lose. It's a battle between me, my television, pitchers who take 15 seconds before every pitch and step off the rubber three times an at-bat when a guy's on base, and managers who trot out to the mound so often, it appears they have contract clauses that pay them per pitching change.

Complaining about it makes me feel old, although younger people with short attention spans probably have a bigger problem with it than any old-timers. If you were raised on baseball, the maddening length of playoff games is an annoyance, but we keep watching, the memories of crisp, two-and-a-half hour games placating us. I don't know if forcing someone new to the game to watch Terry Francona jog out to the mound eight times a night is the best way to introduce the wonders of baseball.

I won't say it was better back in the day, but at least some playoff games used to be completed on the day they began. Baseball doesn't have a clock and it's one of the beauties of the game, the poets tell us. But being taunted by your clock at home isn't any fun.

"Yes, it's 10:30 p.m. The game's been going on for more than two hours. And it's only in the fourth inning. Deal with it. No, it's not a 9-6 game. It's 1-0, which makes it even more incredible that it's taken 150 minutes to play four innings."

There are numerous reasons for this, of course. The countless pitching changes. Another is the battle between pitcher and hitter, with each staring at the other, waiting, waiting, waiting...and stepping out of the box. Or off the pitching rubber. All the while, the gentle voice of Tim McCarver reminds us why the pitcher shook off his catcher seven times.

Plate discipline by most hitters ensures that they'll take one, two, three pitches per at-bat, driving up the pitch count. And when the pitch count gets too high, here comes the manger for a pitching change. And when the new pitcher arrives, he tries to get settled in and stares at the hitter, waiting, waiting, waiting...and stepping off of the rubber. You can see the cycle.

Whatever complaints I have about the length of games are unrelated to my feelings about instant replay in baseball. One of the arguments I've seen from people who remain against expanding instant replay is that it would make the games longer. Uh, too late. They're already four hours long, without replay. If you're okay with games taking that long, would the fact it might now take four hours and five minutes really set you off? And if the games are now the length of the Oscars, shouldn't we at least have some guarantee that the crucial calls will be correct? No one wants to play for four hours and then have the game decided on a ball down the line that lands two feet fair but is called foul, a call that might have been blown simply because the umpire was exhausted from standing from so long.

Give us more replay. This type of time commitment shouldn't ultimately be tarnished by incompetence and fear of technology.

I don't see this trend ever changing. Or, more accurately, it won't change back to shorter games. Managers aren't going to suddenly channel the spirit of Billy Martin and leave their starters in for nine innings and 178 pitches, refusing to take them out even if blood is coming out of the rotator cuff. Relax, settle in and get ready to watch Charlie Manuel and Joe Girardi lumber out to the pitcher's mound six times a game. And hitters will continue to work the count. Playoff pressure will slow the pitchers down. Throw in some lengthy commercial breaks and it's clear we're now living in a time when three hour games are the norm, and four-hour games are anything but rare.

All we can hope for is that it doesn't get much worse. Otherwise, in 15 years, we'll fondly be saying, "Remember when games ended at midnight, instead of 3 a.m.?"


Jerry said...

Some of the great World Series games of all time weren't lengthy and they went extra innings. Game 6 of both the 1975 and 1986 World Series were played in 4 hours and both games went extra innings! Even the epic 16 inning game between Spahn and Marichal only took 4:10 to play. That gets to about the 7th inning stretch nowadays. But baseball doesn't have to change. But if they wonder why the ratings are down and they can't figure it out for themselves then that is a problem of their own creation.

Dad said...

Last night I watched a sport with the best time management of all--volleyball. When a team is really bad it ends very quickly as it did last night. Even when 2 very good teams play it will seldom go 2 hours and if it does it is exciting. With side-out scoring it has the best pace of any sport.

Brock said...

we could be fans of cricket...

Jerry said...

The difference between the World Series and volleyball is that you don't have the coach/manager going out to talk to the server before every other serve. It also doesn't help that FOX thinks they need to have their talking heads on for half an hour before EVERY game. The first game maybe but after that what are they going to say that we don't know from watching ESPN and THEIR talking heads?