The Tampa Bay Rays eked out a 1-0 victory over the New York Yankees on September 15th of this year in a three and a half hour, nine-inning snooze-fest.
There was nothing unusual about this game except it was the longest nine-inning 1-0 game in baseball history. There were no replay challenges, eight total pitchers were used – a perfectly reasonable number, and only three pitching changes were made mid-inning. The only major delay of the game was Yankee third baseman Chase Headley’s ejection in the top of the seventh.
Slow and steady
Major League Baseball realises this game took too long and so do many other games. The problem is chronic and the sport realises games must get shorter as complaints about boredom have grown.
Over the last decade, about twenty minutes has been added to the average length of each game, or more than a 10%, increasing from 2 hours and 51 minutes in 2004 to 3 hours and 9 minutes this year. To shorten each game, the league is installing a series of rules to be tried out in the Arizona Fall League, which just started this week.
Speeding things up
The rules being tested include the equivalent of a shot clock. A pitcher has 20 seconds to throw the ball; otherwise a ball will be called. A strike will be called if a batter is not in the batter’s box in that same time frame. Also, a batter must keep at least one foot inside the batter’s box at all times. So far, there is no penalty for this.
This means fans will not see the likes of retired pitcher Steve Trachsel, who played for the Cubs, Mets, and Orioles and was nicknamed the “Human Rain Delay” for his marathons between pitches as he adjusted and re-adjusted his hat, jersey, pitch selection or anything else. Or retired shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, who played most notably for the Red Sox and Dodgers, and was known for a mind-boggling routine of adjusting and re-adjusting his batting gloves and tapping his toes multiple times per-at-bat.
Another rule being installed is a timer between innings and during pitching changes. There will be 2:05 minutes between innings, with the batter having to be in the batters’ box at 1:45 or risk having a strike called, and a ball will be called if a pitcher is not ready. When a pitching change is made, a pitcher will have 2:30 to get ready from the time he touches the playing field, even if a reliever is coming in as an injury replacement. Previously, an injury replacement received as much time as he wanted to warm up.
One interesting rule change is the zero pitch intentional walk. Instead of going through the motions of a batter having to stand in the box and wait for all four pitches to be thrown, the manager can simply signal to the umpire the batter will be walked.
Sign of things to come?
Each of these changes will provide significant improvements in the speed of the game. Testing them out in the fall league, similar to what MLB did with Instant Replay last season is a good way to test the kinks. Will each rule be perfect? No. But it shows baseball is trying to be proactive.
Because of TV timeouts there is no going back to the 1943 Washington Senators vs Chicago White Sox (the shortest 9 inning 1-0 game at an hour and a half). But the game does need to get faster. These rules will help.