Thursday, September 27, 2018

Here's what's wrong with baseball

As you know, I love baseball. But the game has become too damn slow. In 1958 when the Dodgers first moved to Los Angeles all night games started at 8:00 (allowing commuters to get to the stadium) and were over around 10:30. Today the games start at 7:00 are end close to 11:00. Same game, same number of innings and outs – but almost a 90 minute difference. That’s insane!

Let’s look at some of the reasons.

Today the game is all about strikeouts and home runs. You don’t believe me? Teams today put on infield shifts. In some cases they’ll put all four infielders on one side of the diamond. Let’s say it’s a lefthanded hitter. All four infielders will be on the right side expecting the batter to pull the ball to that side of the field. But that means that the left side of the field is wide open. Just hit the ball ANYWHERE on the left side and you have a single. And yet players STILL just swing away hoping to hit that home run.

And the price for that power is often strikeouts. Cleveland has four pitchers with over 200 strikeouts. If a team used to have one that was a big deal. And these Indian pitchers don’t work more than six or seven innings a game.

“So what’s wrong with that?” you say. It’s boring. Seven fielders are just standing around.

In a Texas Rangers game earlier this year there was one stretch of 22 minutes where the ball was not put in play. 22 minutes of taking pitches, fouling pitches, walks, strikeouts, and a commercial break. Not one ball was hit into fair territory where a fielder could respond. Imagine a football game with a 22-minute huddle between snaps. No wonder young people don’t give a shit.

And there’s very little base stealing. Teams don’t want to risk the outs. So there goes another exciting element of the game, not to mention the intangibles like how speedy runners disrupt pitchers. It used to be a team would pitchout two to four times a game. What that means is the pitcher intentionally throws a ball wide so the catcher is in perfect position to throw down to second base. If you’re a runner trying to steal and you go on a pitchout chances are you’re a dead duck. Teams today have less than ten pitchouts for the entire SEASON. No one’s running.

Pitching changes take forever. And today managers go to their bullpens in the fifth inning even if their starter is pitching well. Every pitching change is close to four minutes. The Dodgers earlier this season used five pitchers in one inning… to get out the lowly New York Mets. We’re not talking game seven of the World Series. Nor are we talking “murderers row” at the plate. And it wasn’t even the ninth inning. So do the math. That half inning was probably forty minutes.

And in September things get worse because teams can expand their rosters. So now each manager has fourteen pitchers in the bullpen. Pack a sleeping bag (even for a day game).

Players now have “Walk-up” music. Each player selects a song to be played over the PA system when it’s his turn to bat. So the players leisurely walk to home plate as their 30 second tribute blares. Players are not allowed to step out of the batter’s box during an at-bat. But they do. The result: They receive a warning letter from Major League Baseball. If they do it again they’re fined – something like $250. If you’re making $10,000,000 a year what do you care if you’re fined $250? It’s a joke. If a batter steps out of the batter’s box the umpire should charge him a strike. There’s a clock on pitchers in the minors. It should extend to the majors. If you take too long to throw a pitch you’re charged with a ball. Believe me, those are better incentives than nickel and dime fines.

Some things rule changes can fix but others they can’t. Only swinging for the fences, not trying to steal bases – that’s up to the players. At one time you’d say that was up to the managers. Managers could order their players to take the free single if given to you or be aggressive on the basepaths. But the current trend is to hire young managers, even ones with zero managerial experience, because they relate better to the players. In other words, they’re more like pals. A manager who orders such things as hit for singles would be unpopular. Can’t have that. Can’t have a manager who isn’t liked by his players. So forget that. Home runs mean money during salary negotiations. Strikouts mean money come contract time or free agent time. Those things aren’t apt to change.

But the result is baseball is mortgaging its future. When I can’t sit through a whole game there’s really something wrong. And add to that the need for really good storytellers and entertainers as announcers since there’s way more time to fill and instead teams are hiring generic boring clones who just spout analytics off their computers.



Ralph C. said...

I understand your disappointment, Ken. I enjoyed baseball more in the late 1970s to the very early 1990s. There was a bit of everything, to me, in that time frame— Power, stolen bases, pitching, defense, diversity of offensive strategies and philosophies. With the rise of Sabermetrics in the 1980s, baseball teams have slowly adapted and then sat at the altar of deep research, which informs the way Baseball is played today— its the era of Velocity... isn’t it strange that the game is getting slower though based on the speed of fastballs and the exit velocity of a batted ball? As for opposite-field hitting: I would say it’s not so easy to do it, especially if the pitching strategy is to pitch inside more often when the shift is on. Then again, there are hitters who hit into the shift, regardless, because hitting the ball as hard as possible supersedes placement hitting. And I like Bill James and Strat-O-Matic.

Roger Owen Green said...

Yw=eah, but I sent you some minor league stories that are lots of fun: scoring the championship on a balk, a passed ball that scored 3 runs, et al

Dana King said...

Strikeouts are fascist. Throw more gro9und balls. They're more democratic.

Ken, I agree completely. I personally know no bigger fan than myself, and I don;t watch half as many games as I did even a few years ago. The "three true outcomes" may be the way to win games--and I have great respect for sabremetricians--but it's not entertaining. Baserunning is entertaining. Fielding plays are entertaining. Balls in the gap that combine both of those elements are entertaining. Add the three true outcomes to all the dawdling that goes on and I'll follow the games in the morning paper. (Internet.)

First rule change I'd make: a pitcher cannot be changed during an inning if he got the previous batter out.

Terry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Terry said...

If I may add one more comment to this I think part of the problem too is that the season is way too long. It's the end of September and teams are still playing games that have no consequences whatsoever. We should be in the playoffs by now if you ask me, which of course you didn't.

Unknown said...


Elf said...

The reason they're hiring younger managers who relate more to the players is because all of the real managing is being done by the teams' analytic staffs. Each day the computer spits out the optimal lineup to use against the opposing pitcher. The computers tell the team when to use the shift and if the left fielder need to move two feet to his right. The computer tells them which reliever is best suited for any particular situation, even if it's only to get one out. It was very telling when the Dodgers wouldn't let Dave Roberts select his own coaches. Ownership wanted bench coaches who would follow orders from the front office, not the manager, which means the front office is where the real decisions are being made.

VP81955 said...

It's like everything else in our society. The Ivy Leaguers put their mark on baseball given their divine right of kings, then proceed to screw it all up.

i agree with Ralph C. I found baseball at its most exciting from 1976 to the early '90s, thanks to the balance between power and speed (especially in the NL), sort of a nod to Maury Wills and the "go-go" White Sox of earlier times. Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines were terrific players, fun to watch both at bat and on the bases. Mike Trout has many of those aspects in his game. But so much of current baseball philosophy discourages action; while I've long maintained one of the sport's charms is its chess-like pondering of what happens next, to have it become as drawn-out as a chess game defeats its purpose as a spectator sport.

PolyWogg said...

I don't doubt your conclusion that the game is slower, but it is a bit counter-intuitive to leap to strikeouts and HRs as the cause. A strikeout or a failed HR that is a pop fly both result in outs vs. a single to right field that lets them keep playing. In other words, in theory, those attempts to increase strikeouts and HRs should actually shorten games, not lengthen them. It's only when you see that the resulting counts go higher and there are frequent foul balls, combined with slowness to pitch, that you see a single batter at the plate for a lot longer time with no corresponding on-base percentage.

For me, I am not sure the rules change will change anything for me. As you say, it is more exciting when the batters or base runners do something. I watch our local triple A equivalent, CanAm League, and we have low attendance for a city with a million people. The park is great, lots of space, generalized seating cuz it was too bothersome to do it assigned and watch everyone buy cheap seats and move up, open air stadium, decent vendors, and parking isn't a hassle. Our games clock in about 3 hours on average, and that is just a bit long for my 9 yo son, and about an hour too long for my preferences. I won't even consider TV viewing (I fall asleep) or shelling out the big bucks for the big game in Toronto more than once a year. Our local place even does fireworks on Saturday nights once a month which my son loved, so I think I'm on the hook a lot more next year. :)

Unknown said...

The Cardinals were down 2 runs in the 9th on Tuesday. There was a man on first. Matt Carpenter was at bat. There was not a single player on the left side of the infield. He could have dropped a bunt and brought the winning run, the number 2 slot up to bat with no outs. He struck out looking.

That is the problem with today's game. Geniuses they are not.

Anonymous said...

The St. Louis Cardinals had a nationally broadcast game the other night. After two 20 minute rain delays and all of the things you mentioned, the ESPN broadcasters were making fun of the fact that there were so many empty seats in the stadium of the "Best Fans in Baseball" at 10:30 on a school night. The game didn't end until after 11pm. So for next year, the response from ownership is to start any school night game or "travel day" game 1/2 hour earlier so the fans will stay longer.

FIX THE DAMN GAME. The shift is ruining it, the pitching change after 1 batter as Milwaukee did Monday night, and the stupid things that waste time have got to go. I love baseball...its the only sport I'm fanatical about, but some of this stuff is really ruining things.

Pam, St. Louis

VP81955 said...

Large blame goes to the medium that's given you your livelihood, Ken -- TV. In 1958, the Dodgers' only televised games were those from San Francisco; no home games were telecast (unlike in Brooklyn, where nearly all were -- Walter O'Malley came to believe it discouraged attendance, and he wanted Angelenos to come to the Coliseum), and it cost too much to carry games from the other NL cities (which also had two- or three-hour time zone differences). It wasn't until cable made widespread ballgame coverage possible that the marketers took over and the time between half-innings increased.

Robert Brauer said...

The teams really could take care of this issue if they wanted to. A couple of seasons ago, the Rangers and Yankees were playing in Arlington, and had a unique situation. The game was scheduled to start at 7:00; at 9:30, the weather forecast indicated a massive line of storms was going to move right over the park.

The managers got together before the game and agreed that there would be no dilly-dallying, unnecessary pitching changes, or any of the other nonsense that slows down the game. The result? A game completed in 2 hours and 15 minutes, both teams dry in the clubhouse by the time the rain came. It wasn't even a 1-0 pitching duel, either. I think the Rangers won 6-3.

Football is starting to develop a problem regarding length of the games too, due to the high-scoring offenses prevalent. I'm a Texas Tech alumnus, and our games routinely take 3.5-4 hours to play, because Tech scores a ton (and usually gives up a ton of points too).

Time of game may be the thing that ultimately breaks through soccer. Two hours and your done. Sure, there's the issue of ties, but I think most people would grow use to it.

Robert Brauer said...

If you think baseball is bad, Ken, try watching cricket. Seven hours of play a day for five days straight, and at the end there might not be a winner.

Y. Knott said...

RULE CHANGE 1: Only two pitchers can throw in an inning. You make a pitching change mid-inning? That's it until the side is retired. (An exception can be made if the second pitcher gets injured, but that's it.)

RULE CHANGE 2: A pitch clock shall be instituted, and adhered to.

RULE CLARIFICATION: A batter shall be granted a time out ONLY IF BONE IS SHOWING. Otherwise, if you step out of the batter's box and hold your hand up, it doesn't matter -- the game is still on and the pitcher can groove one right across the plate for a strike. And if you swing and make contact with this pitch while one or both feet are on the ground outside the batter's're out. (Which is in fact the current rule.)

RULE STAYS THE SAME BUT IS ACTUALLY ENFORCED: The strike zone is called as it is in the rule book, not as it is in each individual umpire's fantasy world.

CONTRACT AMENDMENT: Every $$ incentive given in a contract for a home run shall be matched with an equal monetary incentive for a stolen base.


I personally don't mind the shifts. It's amusing when they work ("Wow, they gave him half the field and he STILL got out"), and it's amusing when they don't. ("Hey, way to show 'em you DO know where left field is!")

Theo said...

Thought you would like to know.

Mel Gibson is going to direct the remake of "The Wild Bunch"

Maybe a blog titled "Here's what's wrong with Hollywood".

Tom said...

Ken: You've written several times about how great a young announcer is the White Sox' Jason Benetti. And I can tell you that, this year, even with the White Sox having a borderline historically bad season, Benetti and Steve Stone (whose on-air chemistry together is off the charts) have made Sox games well worth watching. Harry Caray did the same with Jimmy Piersall with the almost-as-bad Sox teams of the 1970s....although I'm pretty sure prescription drugs and Old Style beer assisted them. No doubt Vin Scully made bad Dodgers teams (to the extent there were any...) worth watching. Yes, the game has big problems that must be addressed, but good announcers have a huge impact, at least on the TV watching baseball experience.

thirteen said...

Four games left, and Baltimore is 60-1/2 games out of first, which isn't a record but is damn close. And they say baseball isn't exciting!

Mike Bloodworth said...

I've stated this before and I might as well state it again. I've ALWAYS hated baseball because it's always been a boring game. Any sport that is so slow that you can "keep score at home" is too slow for me. That's one of the main reasons why I miss the great Vin Scully so much. He almost made watching games tolerable. I will watch the Dodgers during the playoffs. (i.e. if they make it) The fact that there's something at stake makes it a little more exciting. I do admit to a certain hypocrisy, however. Ever since the Dodgers made their exclusive deal with "Spectrum," formally Time Warner cable, a great many people in Los Angeles, including myself, can't watch the games anymore. Why should I care you ask? In the sports desert between the end of basketball season and the beginning of football season the ONLY thing to watch is baseball...or maybe golf. So, I'd put on the game. It would be on in the background. I'd watch five minutes here and there depending on what was happening on the field. But at least I had the option. I guess its the old, I only want it because I can't have it. I've also said this before. As much as I dislike baseball I would still chose it over cricket or the WNBA.

Cap'n Bob said...

I believe you could knock an hour off each game by forbidding players from retightening their batting gloves after every pitch.

Anonymous said...

Runs are the same, Walks are roughly the same as always, SBs and bunts are down; triples and double plays roughly the same...the single big change in baseball is strikeouts. An all-time high. But still, only 3-4 more a game than say 20 years ago! One more every three innings! The game has not changed as much on the field as people say. One more whiff every 3 innings or so.

The problem for many people is 3 1/2 hour games. I'd guess that if you brought it back down to 2 1/2 hours, nobody would be complaining about too many Ks. Games are 60-90 minutes longer than 100 years ago. (Arent movies longer as well?)

Well clearly a reason, if not the reason is something that didn’t exist 100 years ago and existed to a far lesser degree 50 years ago - commercials between innings.
You get two and a half minutes between half innings - that’s what 40 minutes more than a game 100 years ago. Bang - right there you’re down to 2:50
Compared to 50 years ago, it's maybe 20 minutes of commercials. So you’re down to 3;10.
throw in more pitching changes, which I think are another 15 minutes on average and you’re back to 2:35 from 100 years ago and 2:55 from 50 years ago.
I think umpires control may be another 10 minutes. Speed up mound conferences and enforce pitching intervals. 2:25 from 100 years ago and 2:45 from 50 years ago. Probably mostly the difference in pitches per batter
most of the other stuff is at the margins and couldn’t be changed without changing the essence of the game.

Restrict rosters on the number of pitchers to cut down on pitching changes. Start post-season games an hour to two hours earlier.

Blair Ivey said...

The Sunday Night Baseball color guy suggested last season that organists play walk-up music for pitching coaches during mound visits. But don't tell them and see how long it takes them to figure it out. It wouldn't shorten the game, but it would poke fun at one thing that does slow the game.

MattP said...

Totally off topic but are you impressed by the routine Trump delivered at the UN, he got some good laughs! Who would've guessed he was also a genius at comedy?!

Jeff Boice said...

One of the best games I ever attended was Twins at Yankees in June of 1991. Twins won 5-0- Scott Erickson pitched a complete game 2 hitter. Jeff Johnson pitched for the Yankees, and he matched Erickson until the 7th inning. Johnson wound up pitching 8 innings. Game took 2:03 to play (yeah I looked it up) It was still light out when I got back to my hotel on the MTA.

I grew up in the late 60's/early 70's when pitching and defense dominated (remember 1968- the year of the pitcher?) so I am partial to those types of games. A guy getting on first usually started a debate- what should they do-send the runner, attempt a hit and run, bunt, or what? The high scoring games of the steroid era bored me.

You would think they could incorporate new in-game technology to replace the need to run all those commercials between innings.

Colin Stratton said...

Now, is the guy in the pic asleep from boredom, or passed out drunk? My theory is there is collusion with the ballparks to slow down the game so theu can sell more over priced beer. From my experiences, most people in the stands were drinking and socializing. They could hace cared less about the game.

Scott said...


You should really read this article from the beginning of last season (2017). As the article shows,the biggest problem is the time between the pitches.

In general, I agree, so look as there is action, I like the games, but when there is a lot of in action, I find myself changing the channel. I don't care if the action is strikeouts and home runs or singles and stolen bases.

sanford said...

I didn't read through all the comments. Terry said they should be in the playoffs by now. Yes there are teams out of contention. But the Yankees and Oakland are still in a fight as to who would host the wild card game. The Brewers and Cubs could end up in a tie and have to play a game Monday to decide who will be the wild card team. The Dodgers could still fall out of first place. As to the person who is wondering why walks and strikeouts add time, they do. If you go back in time very few players walked 100 times. Babe Ruth was considered a strike out king but never struck out 100 times in a season. He did strike out 96 times one year. No doubt batters working the pitchers to throw more to get to the bull pens. Tony LaRussa is one person to blame for all the pitching changes. I think pitchers probably take more time with runners on base than they did years ago. As for the amount of times there are pitch outs in games, I have a feeling Ken might be wrong about that. It would be fun to see more hit and running, but batters swing and miss to often. I think I am a few years older than Ken. I remember when Braves games also started at 8. No doubt most games in that era were close to a 2:30 average. I went to the 4th game of the 57 series. Ten innings 7-5 final. 2:36. Like Ken I have also noticed fewer ground balls in games. Mainly due to all the strike outs. Of course pitchers throw much harder than they did 60 or 70 years ago. If you watch some older games, batters rarely stepped out of the batters box. Pitchers did not seem to take much time throwing even with men on base. Probably one of the main reasons games take so long now. I don't think they should change the shift rules. The hitters should figure it out. I was at a game last week and one batter did try and go the other way and did get a hit. It is not the easiest thing to do of course. Not easy to lay down bunts either as most hitters are so inept. Plus it has been shown it is not beneficial to give up an out.

Andy Rose said...

The Braves have played above their potential this year just by being well-rounded and exploiting some of the problems you're talking about. They routinely find the hole in the shift, steal, sacrifice, constantly go for extra bases, and play strong defense to boot.

I've mentioned before that outfielders these days don't seem to be good at much but running after a fly. Throws to the infield are not only late, but often wildly errant. Atlanta's picked up a ton of extra bases and runs simply by surprising an outfielder who's not expecting to have to make a play and overthrows. And infielders who were shifted and have to rush to get back in position. Yes, the Braves have the likely Rookie of the Year, but for a team that's been "rebuilding" with a skipper who was originally considered a caretaker manager, clinching the division is a remarkable feat, and it's been fun to watch.

Margo Guryan said...

I'm a big Dodger fan, Ken, and am sending this article to my baseball-buddy...another musician (of course) who knows ALL the team scores and stats. He'll really finding this interesting...and appropriate. What gets me is the bland, uninteresting patter of the commentators...and you can drop the organ music, too. I realize there has to be sound...but they COULD make it interesting.

Margo Guryan

Kaleberg said...

Do they still have double headers?

Frank Beans said...

I don't want to sound like George Will here, but I guess I "will"... [groan]

A large part of the charm of baseball is the very fact that it is overlong, often boring, and basically pointless. That is, you need to get into the zen of the game. I guess it's a sport that you either understand or you don't, which I suppose can be said about pretty much anything.

That said, I agree that the emphasis on home runs is ruining the sport. I would refer you to the home run king himself for context:

Leilani’s Dad said...

Frankly all this just has me missing Ernie Harwell and trying to pick out plays through lightning crashes on my AM radio in the summertime.

You’ve pretty much nailed it here, Ken.

Anonymous said...

Could they do what Cricket has done with 20:20 and have a shorter version?

DwWashburn said...

The owners and players' union don't take pace of game seriously. Their solutions in the past several years? Intentional walks now do not have to be pitched. Mound visits are limited to six per game plus visits to remove pitchers plus injury visits. Even when proposed the intentional walk run was estimated to "shave" two minutes off the game. Now, come on, do you think a young person looks at baseball, sees that games last 3:10 and says "Nope, not for me" but getting them down to 3:08 makes him go "Now I'm on board".

If speed is your ONLY concern in the game there are a lot of aggressive things you can do.
--- Computerized ball/strike counts. I despise the fact that each umpire is allowed his own strike zone and that it can change during the game based on his whim. Now many times have you heard an announcer say "If he had been hitting the plate more, he might have gotten that call there"? Computerized counts take away arguments, eliminate intimidation stares from the pitcher and conferences with the ump and catcher.
--- Mercy rule. In Little League if a team trails by ten or more runs at the end of a full inning the game is stopped and declared official. These are professionals (although that's questionable with 10 teams in the AL and 7 in the NL). Lower the mercy rule to 5 and enact. Do you really think that the Orioles are coming back from those 9 runs scored against them in the first inning?
--- Change number of innings, balls and strikes (remember I said these were aggressive). To paraphrase Groucho Marx "Nine innings was OK for your grandmother but who wants to marry your grandmother. Nobody. Not even your grandfather." Shorten games to seven innings, play extras to nine innings and if it's still tied, award a tie to each team. Instead of four balls and three strikes, make it three and two. Or five and two. Or (you get the picture)
--- Limit instant replay review times. When first proposed we were told that review of replay would add about two minutes per instance. Not anymore. The guys in the ump room in NY have everything they need and their meticulousness should not be at the expense of game speed. Start a clock when the umps put the headphones on. If no resolution can be drawn in two minutes the play stands.

There are other ways to improve the game. These ideas (held til another time) would not affect pace of play but would affect quality and integrity of the game.

Baseball needs help.

Tim B. said...

I was at the Brewers game a couple weeks back, and they literally had a pitcher pitch to just one batter. Strange, it didn't look overly tiring. (And then later, the Pirates catcher got ejected for vociferously contesting his called strikeout. That was exciting.)

I'm a long-time fan, albeit one that doesn't necessarily follow overly closely. Three games to go and a change to knock the Cubs into the wild card slot! We still have a World Series pennant to earn...

Jack Leyhane said...

Agree with most of what you said -- just not the clock. No clocks in baseball.

The umpires can control pace of play by insisting that pitchers pitch and batters stay in the box. Umpires need to do their jobs.

It is possible to get a 2:00 game -- even with TV timeouts (at least the shorter ones in the regular season). Ask Mark Buehrle. Ask Chris Sale (at least when he was with the White Sox -- everything slows down in Boston for some reason).

To your list I would add one thing: Umpires must call high strikes. The strike zone in the rule book is from the letters to the knees -- not the belt buckle to the top of the knees. In the short term, I realize, that would produce even more strikeouts... but the modern strikeout kings are really trying to milk at-bats for walks. This will immediately cut down on the walks.

The shifting will correct itself. Some guy will shorten up on two strikes and put the ball in play the opposite way. Or a left-handed batter facing the shift will lay a bunt down the third base line... for a double. Some career .225 hitter will flirt with .400 by hitting 'em where they ain't -- and you better believe a trend will start. It's a copycat sport; soon they'll all be doing it.

Matt said...

They should cut down the roster so you can’t have 10 pitchers on a team. If you only have 7 pitchers how many pitching changes can you make?

ScarletNumber said...


Your classification of the CanAm League as AAA in level is extremely generous. I live within a 1 hour drive of three different CanAm teams, and I wouldn't go even if you paid me. It is the epitome of meaningless baseball. At least if I drive to Trenton I will see future major leaguers, like I did at the Eastern League All-star game.

In my younger days I was a fill-in PA announcer so I would attend some games that way, and Kevin Burkhardt is the former radio voice of the New Jersey Jackals, so he is the most successful CanAm alumnus.

@Jeff Boice

I was certain you had erred, but it turns out that Jeff Johnson was once a Yankee pitcher, going 8-16 in his three-year career

Steve Edmans said...

It is all to do with money. Pitchers get paid based on their WAR and the only way to increase this with strikeouts.

It used to be that if a punch and judy hitter came up to bat then the pitcher would throw strikes trying to get the hitter to make any easy out. Now pitchers see a way to increase their WAR and nibble the edges of the strikezone.