Carroll County Times

Commentary: Length of games now too much of a good thing

I have fond, vivid memories of the 1976 World Series.
Not really for anything that happened on the field. It was a pretty forgettable Cincinnati Reds sweep of the New York Yankees sandwiched between the epic '75 Series and the '77 Series that cemented Reggie Jackson's legacy.
But in 1976, when baseball was the most important thing in my 8-year-old life, and nothing else was a close second, I fought authority and, possibly for the first time, won. Yes, I persuaded my parents to let me stay up and watch the games from start to finish, even on school nights.
This couldn't happen today with my kids, even if they had more than a passing interest in the sport, thanks to the interminable length of the games. No way I'm letting an elementary-schooler stay up until nearly midnight.
The endless parade of pitching changes, the apparent nirvana of taking pitches to get deep into every count, and the ever-lengthening commercial breaks during the postseason make it impossible for young kids getting into the sport to watch from start to finish. Even longtime fans have to debate whether to invest the time it's going to take to see a game through, knowing the alarm clock blares at the same hour regardless of how late sleep comes.
In 1976, the four World Series games were played in an average of two hours, 29 minutes. So, with the 7:30 start utilized in those days, a kid could watch the final out and be in bed by 10 p.m. An adult could be done in time to watch "Charlie's Angels" or "The Streets of San Francisco."
These days, with first pitch at 8:07 or 8:37 p.m., the game is usually in the fourth or fifth inning at 10.
The average 2013 postseason game (through Friday night) has lasted three hours, 22 minutes. That's longer than the running time of "The Godfather: Part II."
In the American League, where managers evidently believe they are paid by the pitching change, the average time is three hours, 33 minutes.
It's not as if this is 1998 and the games are all 13-10. The balance between pitching and power is really good right now. But low-scoring games don't mean quick games.
There have been a pair of wonderful, 1-0 games in the ALCS. One of them lasted 3:20 and the other an unimaginable 3:56. During the division series round, there were a pair of games that ran more than four hours. Neither went to extra innings.
Can someone please explain how the Rays and Red Sox could possibly take four hours and 19 minutes to play a 5-4, nine-inning game? In Game 1 back in '76 the Reds needed half that time (2:10) to win 5-1.
The majority of the 31 postseason games have ended after 11:30 p.m. Is that really the way to build a fan base of young people? Or to hold onto the over-55 fans who are more and more baseball's demographic? Is it possible the extra money grabbed to extend commercial breaks by 30 seconds or a minute might not be worth all the eyelids that shut long before the closer takes the mound?
Major League Baseball isn't the only perpetrator of longer games, of course. A football game used to fit perfectly into a nice three-hour slot.
Today, with the increased passing and replay challenges? Well, if you're planning to tape the game, set your DVR for an extra 30 minutes to be safe.
The average Baltimore Ravens game this season has taken 3:20. And college football is even worse thanks to the clock stopping on every single first down. Basketball? Same deal. There was a time games could be played in two hours.
Game 6 of the NBA finals last spring lasted 3:02.
Readers sometimes complain that we don't get as many night sporting events into the next morning's newspaper as we used to. Our deadlines haven't changed. The games sure have.
Of course, the NFL could stretch past four hours and fans would simply relish the increased gambling and fantasy opportunities. And the NBA seems to be back on the upswing. It's MLB that really needs to worry about its fan base.
With the caveat that I'm sounding more and more like the grumpy old man insisting things were better in the old days, well, baseball was better when starting pitchers were often still on the mound to record the final out, when hitters occasionally swung at the first pitch, and when commercial breaks took less time than it takes to run the Belmont Stakes.
And, anyway, I'm not too old to remember being 8 and watching World Series games to their conclusion on school nights. Good luck to any 8-year-old trying that these days.