Even baseball’s fiercest defenders will admit the sport went in the wrong direction in 2016: The games ran too long, managers called on too many relievers who took forever. Sitting through nine innings, especially in the postseason, was a test of patience, if not one’s sanity.
Even the historic postseason came at a steep price. Game 2 of the World Series lasted four hours, four minutes without even going into extra innings. America fell in love with the Cubs, but the process was interminable. The average game in October took nearly 3½ hours, which means you had to stick with the pitching changes and commercial breaks and instant replay huddles until almost midnight.
Rob Manfred isn’t blind to the trend line; he knows baseball’s pace-of-game initiative is failing and will continue to backslide unless radical measures are adopted. As the commissioner told ESPN earlier in the year: “This topic is like dandelions. The minute you look the other way, you’ve got them all over your lawn.”
To this point, baseball’s attempts to streamline have been too modest and ineffective. Batters were forced to keep one foot in the box starting in 2015, but the work-arounds soon became obvious. Ask for time or step back to avoid a close pitch or question a borderline strike. Umpires eventually grew weary of enforcement.
The result? The average regular season game, which was trimmed to two hours, 56 minutes in 2015, crept back to three hours, four minutes last year. Manfred is right. The dandelions are winning.
We’re here to help, though with a warning for purists: Our changes are cataclysmic. We’re talking about pitch clocks, banning mound visits, reining in those dreadfully slow replay conferences.
The idea is to shake the game’s very foundation and bring it into the new millennium. The makeover would likely be too severe for Manfred, but he should learn why soccer is growing in popularity in the U.S.
It’s the running clock.
With no breaks in the action, soccer enjoys constant tension, not to mention an identifiable starting and end point. You can practically set your watch to the two-hour match. Baseball, beautiful and subtle, can’t install the same time-boundaries, but there’s still a way to make the pace faster. Here’s how:
PHOTO: Cubs manager Joe Maddon questions a call during Game 7 of the World Series. (AP Photo)