I know, I know. You've heard a lot on this topic from me before. If you're not interested, pass this on by, please.
But the pace of major-league games is something that is of interest not only to me, but to Major League Baseball itself; as you know, they have formed a committee to study this issue and are experimenting with some changes at Arizona Fall League games.
ESPN.com's Jayson Stark has written about this and says players are "concerned" that they're being left out of the discussion:
"Players are very interested in being involved in these discussions," veteran pitcher Kevin Slowey said. "We just want to be part of a collaborative effort to address these issues. And we want to have a voice. We don't want to overpower any other voices. We'd just like to have our voice heard." "It's just important for us to have a say," Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson said. "It doesn't need to be all 750 of us. It's just important to have three or four players who can say, 'Hey, we've noticed this, and we feel this way.'"
I can't disagree with this, since the changes being studied in the AFL would definitely affect the way some players play the game. MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark is a former player -- the first to hold that position -- and he played as recently as 2009, so it appears the commissioner's office thought he could represent current players well. However, incoming Commissioner Rob Manfred stated that current players will be involved:
Manfred told ESPN.com, in an email, that Clark "represents all major-league players and was included on the committee to give players a voice. Tony and I have discussed the fact that it is important for players to interact directly with the committee as the process moves forward. Tony is in the best position to select representative players that should be involved." Manfred also said his "expectation" is that, at some point in the process, the committee "will hear directly from players."
That's a good thing. In the past, players have often been left out of decisions made that affect them. It sounds as if Manfred wants to be more inclusive.
What are players concerned about?
• That too much of the blame for slowing the game -- and most of the responsibility for fixing it -- seems to have been placed on players. Players complained that Selig has made a number of comments about how "aggravated" he is with hitters who step out of the box after every pitch and start "adjusting all the crap [they] have on." That tone, said one player, "isn't helping." • That almost none of the talk so far has been about other ways to speed up games, particularly shortening commercial breaks between innings. • That there has been very little discussion about how modern analytics may be slowing games, such as the emphasis on hitters taking more pitches to run up pitch counts and extensive matchup information that encourages more pitching changes and substitutions. • That while players are generally in favor of shorter games, they haven't been shown survey data documenting exactly what fans are telling baseball it needs to change and what those changes would accomplish.
This is strictly anecdotal, and I need to do more research once I can find more video of past games. I recently found a couple of videos of games from the 1960s and 1970s -- including the last couple of innings of Jim Maloney's no-hitter against the Cubs -- that either included commercials or were intact on-site video that had everything in real time, including the between-innings time. I timed the gap between the last out of an inning and the first pitch of the next inning.
In all cases that time was about two minutes. That jibes with my memory of watching between-inning warmups at ballparks in those days. Fielders threw the ball around the infield and outfield, and pitchers made warmup pitches, almost exactly as they do now. In modern baseball, inning breaks are supposed to be about two and a half minutes. In those old videos, the commercial time was one minute -- and then the broadcast returned to live action, but the announcers would blather on for another minute or so before actual play began.
So, at least based on the handful of games I've watched from decades ago, it's not the commercial time that's dragging out games.
The players might have a point regarding analytics and higher pitch counts. We don't have reliable pitch counts from more than about 20-25 years ago. It might be that players are taking more pitches, or fouling off more pitches; I'd like to see a study done on this at some point. But it doesn't seem to me as if this would add as much time as has been added to the average game length.
In the quote above, Selig's "tone" might not be helping -- but in reality, the constant stepping out has to be one of the major factors in lengthening the game. I'll be interested in seeing data from the AFL games on whether not allowing that is actually speeding up game times. One final quote from Granderson that I found fascinating:
"The interesting thing is, what if fans in the stadium start counting down all at once?" he asked. "You could have a situation where there are 10 seconds on the clock, and fans are yelling, '3-2-1,' and messing the pitcher up. ... And the next thing you know, the hitter and the pitcher are both rushing to the clock because they don't want a violation."
Fans counting down a clock at a ballpark? That might actually be fun. And maybe it would have the desired result -- pitchers and hitters playing the game instead of the constant stepping out, or in a pitcher's case, stepping off.
In general, though, the players are right. Give them a voice in all of this. The end result would likely be something that everyone would be happy with.