Baseball games are too long. I never thought I’d say that, but even a baseball lover like me is growing impatient with the pace of the games. And I can’t be the only one.
The length of major league games is growing at a time when America’s collective attention span is contracting. According to an article by James Wagner in The Washington Post this past week, the average game 40 years ago was 2 hours 30 minutes. Even Jordan Zimmermann would be hard-pressed to hit that mark in 2013, when games are taking an average of 2 hours 57 minutes. That’s perilously close to three hours, something baseball should hope to avoid.
The Capitals, Wizards, D.C. United — all can play a regulation game in less than three hours. The Caps have two very active periods and then you have two nice, long intermissions. (If you’re at home watching on TV, you can use that time to unload the dishwasher or bring in the dog and put out the cat.) Only the Redskins run over the three-hour mark, but they can get away with it because the season is far shorter than 162 games, and it’s the NFL. However, even the new national pastime is losing attendance because of the time commitment involved in schlepping to and from stadiums, the traffic, ticket prices and a lot of other reasons.
Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche told Wagner he doesn’t think games should be rushed, and he’s right: Changes shouldn’t impact the quality of the product. But the number of GAAB (glove adjustments per at-bat) is on the rise, and there is nothing baseball can do to make that more interesting. The twitching, the digging in, the stepping off the mound, the last-minute timeout call . . . I love a long at-bat in which a hitter fouls off a dozen pitches. I don’t want to lose that. I just want to lose all the folderol in between pitches. And innings.
The theory is, buying tickets to a game is a commitment (financial and otherwise), and fans should be prepared to hunker down and wait it out. Yet from the press box it’s easy to see, in the late innings of every Nats game, day or night, weekday or weekend, the stream of fans leaving early and heading to the Navy Yard station.
Why? Lots of reasons. On a Friday or Saturday night, when most folks don’t have to be up for work the next day, the kids don’t have to be dragged out of bed for school, traffic doesn’t have to be battled the next morning and the Metro is open late, there is no reason not to stick. But on school nights, weeknights . . . those are tougher to argue. We live in one of the most highly traveled regions in the country. People are getting up earlier and earlier just to make their commute with their sanity still intact. It’s tough to argue that those people should stay put.
And of course those watching on TV have the same issues. Using the DVR is one solution, but then there’s the problem of finding time to watch one game before the next one ends. The NFL and MLB offer condensed games that you can watch online. Those will make you realize how much time is wasted during a real-time game, but some people don’t want to watch once they know who won the game. And then we’re back to Square One.
According to Wagner’s article, the independent Atlantic League is trying to speed up its games and sending its results to MLB. Hopefully, league officials are paying attention. Baseball has long depended on the loyalty of its longtime fans, in much the same way newspapers did. The sport will not attract younger viewers if the games continue to expand in length. Baseball used to be — and still is — a great escape from the fast-paced world. But there seems to be a limit to how much we really can — or want to — slow down.
For more by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.