Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred and baseball owners want to shorten the length of baseball games and they are willing to do it with or without the player’s union backing. They have already started to implement a few things like automatic intentional walks that we saw in the 2017 season.
Part of their strategy is to implement an 18 to 20 second pitch clock when no runners are on base in 2019 if the average length of games in 2018 is not shortened to 2 hours and 55 minutes. This would be expanded in 2020 to 20 second pitch clocks with runners on base if the average length of games in 2019 is not shortened to 2 hours and 50 minutes. As part of the pitch clock they will also implement or enforce a ball-strike penalty on May 1, 2019 that would benefit the pitcher if the batter made the clock eclipse the 20 mark or would benefit the batter if the pitcher made the clock eclipse the 20 second mark.
In 2017 the average time of a game was 3 hours and 5 minutes so these changes are expected to reduce the average game time by just 10 minutes in the 2018 season and five more minutes in 2019. Additionally, they are looking at reducing the number of/setting a limit on mound visits by players and coaches during the game.
They have also been experimenting with putting a runner on second base during extra innings play. A version of this was implemented for the World Baseball classic in 2009 and has been played with in rookie ball. It probably will not stop there either, and could end up shortening the entire season. Commissioner Manfred is also open to reducing the number of games from the current 162 game schedule back down to 154 games. There is precedent for this from the MLBs past in that a regular season of baseball was 154 games until 1961 when the schedule expanded to 162 in the AL with the NL doing the same in 1962.
I for one do not like these ideas. I am one of those fans that like the longer games. I enjoy a good 3.5 to 4 hour game and am ecstatic when games to into extra innings. I would be incredibly excited to see an 18-inning game that goes way beyond those time boundaries. I also very much enjoy a good rain delay during the game. Yea I’m a little weird that way but some of the best games I have ever been to have been games that had rain delays. I know that most of the fans at any given home game are from the local area and probably attend games regularly throughout the season. Many of those fans are also season ticket holders. These fans are the lifeblood of a sports team and are the ones that baseball caters to. So maybe they feel differently about this subject.
However, there are fans like me that only make a handful or fewer games a year because we do not live in the area. We drive several hours one way just to see a game and that is where I fit in and why I hate the idea of shortening the game. For fans like me it is an investment in time and money just to make it to one game and often it turns into a weekend stay that costs even more. It already takes me more time to drive one way to a game than the average length of a game. Trimming down the game time may just make me stay home and watch on TV. I have never seen anyone out in front of an MLB stadium holding signs and shouting “Hell no, we won’t go. The game is too long, you won’t get our dough,” as they picket or protest for shorter games.
Danny Duffy of the Kansas City Royals is one of the players who does not like MLB’s attempt to make games shorter, calling their attempts “nonsensical” and “reckless” in an article by Rustin Dodd. He went on to talk about how on national broadcasts the game comes to a stop while commercials air even if the players are ready to play and how MLB does not seem bothered by that. He also recently tweeted out a poll asking fans how important it is to them that the game be shortened. There are four different answers you can vote for ranging from vital to leave the game alone. At the time of this writing of the more than 7,700 votes cast “Leave the game alone!” is at 46%, “Not important” is at 33%, “Would like to see it” is at 19%, and “Vital” is at 2%. In other words, 79% of those who cast a vote, cast it against shortening the length of the game and 21% voted for shortening the game. Full disclosure, I voted for “Leave the game alone!”
It sounds like MLB is willing to let its advertisers hold up the pace of play and the fans don’t want the changes so why make them? Altogether this is an overwhelming landslide of an indication that MLB executives and owners are trying to fix a problem that does not really exist and in doing so are going against the very wishes of their consumer base. Makes me wonder if they are just trying to make room for more advertising revenue. Cut 10 minutes of game time to add 10 minutes of commercials.
I normally head to a Friday or Saturday game with my son hitting up games with good stadium giveaways or themes; we both prefer the bobbleheads. We will also typically make a weekend out of it and stay in a hotel overnight and go to the game the next day then head home. It easily costs us $300 per trip and we have made the trip 5 to 7 times a season in recent years. That adds up quick and is something that I am not opposed to trimming down especially if the team is not competitive.
Shortening the game time to fit into a predetermined time of 2.5 hours or less makes it like going to see a movie. Most people agree that a 2.5-hour movie is a pretty long movie yet more and more movies that are coming are pushing to that 2 to 2.5 hour time range. I will never pay $150 for me and my son to go see a movie. However, that is exactly what Rob Manfred is trying to push on the baseball fan base. Trying to speed up the pace of play so that the average game takes no longer than a movie. Every year ticket prices go up, concession prices go up, parking fees go up, apparel prices go up, player pay goes up, everything goes up in price. As fans we pay more and more and more and now we will get less and less and less of a game. Baseball has never been more profitable, yet prices still go up. At some point it’s got to stop. At some point the bubble will burst. At some point the fans will stop buying it.
There may be a happy median though. If Rob Manfred and the owners truly want to shorten the length of the game and thereby take away portions of the product that they are offering to us, then prices should come down too. They should work at lowering prices for tickets, concessions, apparel, parking and even player salaries. Don’t get me wrong I hold nothing against them for making money after all it is a business and without a profit then we would no longer have our team. I also don’t hold a grudge against any player for trying to make the most at their job. We all do that, every single one of us wants to make more money and so should the players. I don’t care if they make more money in a year than most of us will in a life time. They were blessed with a talent to do their job just as I was blessed with a talent to do my job.
In the end, it is up to the fans to speak with their wallets. After the 1994 strike fans spoke with their wallets as baseball attendance dropped. Baseball teams had problems selling tickets for years. The MLB started to feel the pinch until the McGwire and Sosa home run record chase brought us back. What we returned to though was not the game of baseball we enjoyed pre-1994. This baseball was filled with hulking steroid fueled rage machines crushing the ball that doped up pitchers were trying to get past them as the MLB executives and owners were looking away pretending not to see. Fans were coming back to the game and MLB did not care why. They just wanted a warm body in the seat who would give them money. What we saw during those years still taints baseball to this day and is now known as the steroid era. That was not the first or the last time that baseball will be tainted. Will the tweaks that Rob Manfred and the owners are trying to implement now lead to the same sort of deal? Will fans speak with their wallets and stop showing up to the games and stop spending money on apparel? If they do, what will MLB turn their backs on to get fans back into the stands again? I’ll still make the trip to the ballpark every now and then. After all, there is nothing like 30,000+ fans on their feet chanting “Let’s Go Royals!” Hopefully Commissioner Manfred doesn’t give me a reason to stay at home more often.