Thursday, April 22, 2010

It's not the time of games that pains us, it's the pace of play

Are you one of those people who believes it takes way too long to play a baseball game these days? Me, too. And we have plenty of company. Some umpires, many fans, even the commissioner would like to see things speeded up. The problem is magnified by the fact that games are slowing down at the same time people's attention spans are shrinking.

However, Jim Leyland, a baseball lifer and a member of Bud Selig's on-field advisory committee,  will tell you it is not the time that a game takes that matters, it is how that game is played. Not all three-hour games are necessarily boring and ugly.

I agree.

"When you go to a movie, if it's a good movie, you don't mind if it lasts three hours," Leyland pointed out. "But if it's a bad show, you're walking out in the middle, grumbling.

"You can't put a time on a baseball game," the Tigers' manager insisted.  "I've never figured out why people make such a big deal out of that. It's not really the time of games as much as the pace, keeping it going. 

"I don't think we ever want to get in a situation where we're saying, 'We gotta be out of here in 2 1/2 hours,' " Leyland continued.

"It's a delicate issue. We're here to try to win a ballgame. We're not here to see how quickly we can get out of here. It's a common sense thing. They want managers and pitching coaches to jog when we go to the mound. That's fine and dandy. But sometimes, when you do that, you're messing with the game. Sometimes you want to take your time when you go out to the mound because you want to give the pitcher in the bullpen time to get ready."

Everybody in the ballpark knows what is going on.

Nevertheless, some umpires are now immediately following managers to the mound when a pitching change seems likely, instead of allowing managers to "stall" for a minute or two while they talk to their pitcher. Managers call that "eavesdropping" and they don't like it.

However, the biggest culprit, in Selig's eyes, are those hitters who step out of the batter's box after every pitch. "My gripe is that a guy gets in the batter's box, looks at one pitch, and then has to get out and adjust his equipment -- and he hasn't even swung at anything," Selig groaned.

In an effort to halt that, Selig has given umpires permission to crack down on the constantly preening slow-pokes. During the first few weeks of this season, umpires have sometimes refused to grant hitters timeout once they step into the box. In years past, such requests were almost always automatically granted.

Once such incident occurred this week when umpire Angel Hernandez refused Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford's request for a timeout against fast-working White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle and called the next pitch a strike. When Rays' manager Joe Maddon came out of the dugout to object, Hernandez ignored him, creating a potentially dangerous and comical situation until third base umpire Joe West called time.

The two biggest culprits, of course, are the Yankees and Red Sox. It is no coincidence that the average game in the American League East inexcusably lasted 20 minutes longer last season (3:06) and the average game in the AL West (2:46). 

The Tigers are guilty, too. The average game between the Tigers and Twins, the two best teams in the American League Central last season, took an often-agonizing three hours and 10 minutes to complete.

There is no need, or excuse, for that. 


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