In his Monday morning column (sadly, an ESPN Insider Only article), Buster Olney talks with an unnamed baseball executive who has a radical idea for shortening games and keeping pitchers healthy.
Shorten the games to seven innings.
This executive, who understandably doesn't want his name published for fear that the ghost of Ty Cobb shows up at his house to beat him to within an inch of his life, thinks that shortening games to seven innings would have two beneficial effects. The first would be to shorten the time of games. Most games would be finished in two to two and a half hours. Shorter games would presumably have more appeal to young people.The second is that pitchers would throw fewer innings and put less stress on their arms, thus preventing injuries.
Of course, this is never going to happen, at least not anytime soon and probably not in our lifetimes. Beyond the fear of the ghosts of baseball past, such a move would wreak havoc on the record books. Barry Bonds' single-season and career home run records would be out of reach. In fact, pretty much any counting record would be harder to reach. Conversely, it would be easier to hit .400. Anyone who managed the feat would be discounted with a "yeah, but" to his achievement. The baseball traditionalists, and I consider myself one of them, would howl.
But should we? There's definitely something appealing about shorter games. With fewer innings to throw, teams might not carry so many pitchers. There would likely be fewer pitching changes, which is probably the dullest part of the game. There would be many more complete games. Benches might be filled with more hitters. That might allow managers to platoon a lot more, a strategy that is close to dead because teams only carry five bench players these days and it's hard to carry someone who only hits from one side of the plate.
Shorter games mean that the East Coast games would actually be over by the time the West Coast games started, and people on the East Coast might actually be able to stay up long enough to watch a full game from California.
There would be a ton more no-hitters, and everyone finds a no-hitter exciting. There would also be more extra-inning games, and everyone finds extra-innings games exciting. Except when they go into the 14th or 15th inning. Then everyone just wants the thing to end, which is another point in favor of seven-inning games.
There is, of course, one place where they already play seven-inning games, and that's in the minor leagues during a doubleheader. From my personal experience, I find seven-inning games to be dull, but that might be more of a function of the minor leagues than the length of the game. The best players usually sit out and players are often trying to get the game finished as soon as possible so that they have more time before a seven-hour bus trip.
That might actually be an added benefit of seven-inning games. From the fan's point of view, it might actually make doubleheaders attractive again. Scheduled doubleheaders have gone out of fashion because fans don't want to sit for seven to eight hours of baseball. But if doubleheaders only took 4½ or 5 hours? That might be a much easier sell.
The biggest argument against this, of course, is tradition. Baseball is a game steeped in a tradition born of symmetry. Nine players, nine innings, three outs in an inning. It's why some people oppose the designated hitter rule. As I mentioned earlier, it would make the old record book antiquated.
Also, we don't really know what causes pitcher injuries. We think if pitchers throw fewer innings they will stay healthier, and it certainly makes sense intrinsically. But we don't really know if it would make a difference and evidence is hard to come by.
Another objection would come from the broadcasters. While seven-inning games might gather higher ratings and young people might find a faster game more exciting, it would mean at least four fewer commercial breaks in every game. More if there are fewer pitching changes. I suppose MLB could lengthen the time between innings to insert more advertising, but that would work against the purpose of playing shorter games.
I'm not a supporter of seven-inning games, at least not yet. It might be interesting to try them on an experimental basis in doubleheaders, but I don't even support the DH. If I can't support a slap to the face of baseball tradition that is now over 40 years old, how can I support something as radical as this?
It's going to take some convincing to get me to think this is a good idea. But I would keep an open mind. And I really applaud the outside-the-box thinking going on here.