Does MLB even want to speed up the game?

Keith Olbermann

Keith Olbermann took on the outgoing Bud Selig on his show last night. In this segment, he points out that Major League Baseball has the power to speed up games with two rules that are already on the books. So, what gives?

Keith Olbermann is on to something, and I think it’s a problem. Baseball has little incentive to fix the length of games because they make so much money selling advertising on the “increased inventory” of longer baseball games.

Baseball is far from the only pro sport with this issue. NFL games are the butt of jokes every year when fans are blasted with the touchdown – commercial – kickoff – commercial TV break after scores.

Ultimately though, these are the kinds of things you wonder if the sports leagues will pay for. When pro sports are making money at the rate they currently do, there’s no incentive. Also as pro sports is the last of a dying breed of live programming that they can count on viewers not to DVR, it seems even logical to not mess with it.

I can’t predict the future, but to me it sounds all too much like Tower Records charging $18.99 for a CD until they could no longer afford to keep their stores open. We’ll see if the new commissioner prefers to try to change or lean on the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philospophy.

  • ClemJax

    I heard this on Mike and Mike this morning, and I was basically screaming at the radio that Olbermann’s premise doesn’t pass the smell test on the most basic of examinations. I read his premise to be “The rules are in place to go faster, but not being enforced. Thus it makes sense to conclude they don’t want to enforce the rules.” Which may make sense…except the two rules he cited do NOT demonstrate that point. In fact, it’s almost inarguable that the rules are being enforced EXACTLY as written.

    Rule 8.04 – “When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call “Ball.” The 12-second timing starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher. The timing stops when the pitcher releases the ball.”

    Rule 6.02b (with comment) – “6.02 The batter shall take his position in the batter’s box promptly when it is his time at bat.
    (b) The batter shall not leave his position in the batter’s box after the pitcher comes to Set Position, or starts his windup.
    PENALTY: If the pitcher pitches, the umpire shall call “Ball” or “Strike,” as the case may be.
    Rule 6.02(b) Comment: The batter leaves the batter’s box at the risk of having a strike delivered and called, unless he requests the umpire to call “Time.” The batter is not at liberty to step in and out of the batter’s box at will.”

    There is a clear attempt to read only the parts of the rules that we want to see. Note that the 12 second rule is only based upon when the batter is ready. And nothing about 6.02b says the batter must be ready when the pitcher is ready. “Promptly” is an untimed number, and the requirement that the batter not leave the box is only in play when the pitcher is in set position or winding up. That’s it. There’s no rule ANYWHERE governing the in between, which is where the delay actually occurs. This doesn’t say the Jeter hand-out time maneuver is illegal, it is simply the discretion of the umpire to allow it. The umps allowing this to happen is completely within the boundaries of enforcing the rule. And how many times do we see when a batter calls time and the ump doesn’t allow it, with the resulting pitch counting?

    At best here, you could claim that the umps should just be told “don’t allow time as much,” which accomplishes…not much. You’d trim a handful of seconds off of each at bat, and that’s about it. Nothing says the batter must stay in the box when the pitcher isn’t set – the requirement of being in the box is only written around the pitcher being ready. And then notice that the pitcher behavior mentioned here is only around a bases-empty scenario, so the timer rule becomes crazy when runners are on base. Anything else is by definition a rule change, which Olbermann’s position of “the rules already exist” falls flat. The rest of his argument about advertising dollars may have some validity, the supporting argumentation just doesn’t work.

  • mgbode

    I agree with your interpretation. And, batters call time when they step out, which starts the whole thing over again.

    Now, I do think there should be an effort to speed up the games, but it’s hard to determine how best to do it fairly. It cannot be a purely umpire discretion thing, it’s hard to have a limited number of T/Os by the batter (what if he has a 12 pitch AB?), et cetera. It’s an easy problem to visualize a possible solution, but a hard problem to find one that works really well logistically.

    I also remember Greg Maddux. That guy thought he had an advantage of pitching quickly. He knew what he wanted to do and the less time the batter had to think about what he might be doing the better. Wish we had more guys like that today.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Earlier in the year I was discussing a few factors with a couple friends on how various sports leagues (particularly MLB and NFL) hurt the game and particularly lose/miss out on the interest of younger fans who later on will not put money toward the sport. One argued that it doesn’t matter – the lost potential future revenues are basically immaterial vs. maximizing profits right now for the owners, who often won’t even be the owners in 10, 15, 25 years when those chickens come to roost. And even then, it doesn’t appear like the value will be nothing, and they can always make a change way down the road and ‘win back’ plenty of fans.

    As an investment, maximizing profits now > a “better game” which may lead to some additional revenues down the road. The Indians are a great example of this – why not knock out 10K seats and make the game a higher priced “experience” for the fans who have the money to come rather than trying to fill it, especially when you’re 5th in TV viewers and that pays the bills a lot more?

    Ultimately sports are going to have a few types of fans: Rich ones who come when they feel like it; diehards; and non-rich casual+ fans. The first two will come to the games anyway and pay whatever price it is, especially if you enhance the ‘experience’ for the first group. The latter majority will watch on TV, and come when there’s a promo of some sort.

  • Harv 21

    Olbermann is dead on as to cause, but I’m not sure that Bud spouts hypocrisy because he won’t reduce sponsorship messages.

    A few years ago saw some of a Classic Game, I think the ’69 Baltimore/Mets world series. What blew me away was how in a tense game no batter – not even star like Brooks Robinson – left the box between any pitches without cause. They’d keep the back foot planted, step with the front toward the coach giving the sign, and dig back in with the front. That’s it. And even a world series game moved briskly. This week I saw our rookie back-up catcher Perez take a leisurely stroll between his first and second pitches. A rookie, a nothing, sets himself for 20+ seconds. I’m not absolving the pitchers for what they do. A few decades ago the league did claim they would enforce a 20 second rule against pitchers specifically. The umps kind of blew it off and the league kind of dropped the whole thing.

    But this biz about Bud not enforcing to keep the plugs in? That’s garbage. The broadcast people will give plugs right over the game action, just like they place eye-catching ads right in the viewers line of sight during pitches. For most of his tenure Bud has been pretty feckless and weak. That’s the problem. That’s why the owners canned Fay Vincent and hired him.

  • Hopwin

    After watching World Cup all summer, I am going to DVR any football game I intend to watch and not start viewing it until halftime so I can zip through the excessive commercials and catch up to “real-time” by the end. If the most popular sport in the world (soccer) can make money hand over fist with just two commercial breaks there is no excuse for the NFL to cut to commercials every time a different player touches the ball.

  • TNB

    I’ll never forget watching a segment on a Baseball Tonight back when Cliff Lee won the Cy Young. They were analyzing what made him work so well that season, and part of it was the fact tat he was averaging only 5-6 seconds in between pitches that year.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    If you want to start seeing ads on the field as well as the players then ok but personally even though I hate the excessive commercials, especially while attending a game, I’d hate seeing ads on the field as well as player uniforms. Run a friggin’ scroll at the bottom of the screen or something.

  • mgbode

    I don’t agree with your conclusion. The Indians creating a better gameday experience is focused with efforts of getting more fans to enjoy the experience and thus create a better long-term stability for the team, while getting more fans to show up (and hopefully bring the whole family — look at the expanded kid’s section).

    The Indians don’t make nearly as much as other clubs on their TV contract. Maybe that will change, but the population isn’t the same as it is for some teams, so they are a bit stuck on some points there. They have to create an advantage in the ballpark and they are at least trying.

  • mgbode

    that’s how I usually watch football. it’s great.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    I’m not criticizing the ballpark moves, I think they’re brilliant for everyone. I was emphasizing that they are trying to create a better experience to come to *at the expense of 10,000 seats* rather than figuring out ways to fill those seats as well, because ultimately their goal is to maximize the revenues they think they can get at less expense. The expanded clubhouse is great for people who can afford tickets already to enjoy the game more. It’s not going to help the lower-middle class fan afford tickets. The two-story bar is meant to attract the booming number of young professionals (like me) who are moving to CLE to choose being in the ballpark vs. some other area of downtown.

    They’re not going to shorten the game, because it hurts their TV revenues and it shortens the amount of time the people at games will have to buy stuff (food, drink, or other). I wouldn’t be shocked to see more activities pop up that they charge for as well, whether in the kids’ area or for teens.

  • Harv 21

    me too. But then I often defeat the viewing time reduction by looking at a replay 4 times. At least I’m not stuck watching the same 3 car commercials 8 times each.

  • Lunch

    Let me take a whack at it. Off the top of my head, I have a few ideas to speed up the game.

    Enforce the existing rules mention above, plus:
    1. Reduce the amount of balls for a walk from 4 to 3
    2. Allow up to 5 foul balls per batter. Once a batter hits 5 foul balls, it’s considered an out. Foul balls still count as a strike until the batter has 2 strikes against him.
    (combine 1 and 2 together, and a pitcher’s pitch count should be between 3 and 7 pitches per batter.)
    3. The batter can call TIME only once per AB. Any more and the umpire would call delay of game against the batter, resulting in a called strike.

    Other suggestions:
    Reduce the amount of innings down to, say 7 or 6.
    Reduce the amount of outs from 3 to 2.
    Add a “shot”(throw) clock to alert the umpire when the 12 second timer expires.
    That’s all I got. Back to drinking.

  • tsm

    Great comments about how to reduce the length of games. As one of the elders on this site, I remember when I was a kid in the 60’s the games usually took about 2 hours. The batters stayed in the box, and the pitchers pitched. We need to get back to this system. Amend and enforce the rules to require the batter to stay in the box, with exceptions, at the umpires discretion, for unusual situations. Also, eliminate the visits to the mound. Let’s play ball, just like it was always played during our youth. You think these players were constantly stepping out in little league or high school? No way. One of my boys played 4 years in high school and the games were brisk.
    With regard to fans, revenue and the like, I am concerned that after the baby boomers are gone, there will be far fewer fans attending or watching on t.v. I have always advocated providing free tickets to youngsters, as long as an adult is with them and pays for his ticket. I don’t know all of the details, but the point is to encourage youngsters to become rabid fans by attending many games during the season. Once you get them as fans, they will then buy their own tickets as adults and your fan base will not wither and die. It is ridiculous that we have an empty upper deck, when we could fill it with kids.

  • mgbode

    I know the Indians have had buy-adult, get-kid-free tickets in the past.

  • tsm

    Yes, and they need to go further, and let in 3-4 kids with each adult. No reason not to expand it given all the empty seats.