Hour national pastime: Baseball longs for shorter games Average Orioles game takes more than 3 hours


Here comes the windup and what a -- um, change of pitch. OK, now he's ready. Oops, well, he didn't like that signal, either. Now the catcher and the pitcher will have a little talk. The catcher walks slowly back to the plate. Here goes the windup and what a -- throw to the first baseman.

Now the catcher will join the pitcher on the mound and he's followed by the first baseman and here comes the manager out " of the dugout. And it looks like there will be a pitching change. Stay tuned, we'll return after this commercial break.

Sound familiar? Longer major-league baseball games are becoming as much a tradition as hot dogs and peanuts at the ballpark.

How long does it take these days to play a nine-inning baseball game?

The average length of an nine-inning Orioles game at Memorial Stadium last season was 3 hours, 1 minute, longer than the American League average of 2:51, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. And through the years, National League games have always run shorter than American League games.

But if there were no commercials, no pitching changes, no conferences, no walks to the pitcher's mound and no dawdling on the field, how long does the actual playing time take?

Well, the actual action time of the Orioles-Seattle Mariners game of July 21 (a 6-4 Orioles loss) was 12 minutes, 19 seconds.

Counting the time between batters, pitches, innings and pitching changes, the game took 2 hours and 49 minutes.

It took 17 minutes to play the first inning, even though the actual action time was only 1:24.77.

Why are the games so long? Blame the pitchers, they take too much time. Blame the batters, they step out of the box too much. Blame the managers, they change pitchers too much. Blame television, there are too many commercials.

"It's just a little juggling act out there, who can outwait who," Orioles manager John Oates said. "It's a combination of the hitter, pitcher and catcher not being ready."

Oates also said television is to blame for longer games.

"So many of them are televised, that's going to add time to the game," he said.

CBS receives 2 minutes, 30 seconds and ESPN gets 2:15 of commercial time between each pitching change and half-inning. Local telecasts get 2 minutes.

But in addition to television adding to the total game time, some say that the pitchers take too much time.

Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles said: "Some pitchers do take too long on the mound. They do a lot of walking around."

Oates said: "Pitchers sometimes tend to be a little more deliberate and they take a little more time to think about where they want to throw it."

Pitchers answer by blaming the umpires or the shrinking strike zone.

"I think the strike zone has gotten smaller, which means pitchers are running deeper in the counts," Orioles pitcher Mike Flanagan said. "If they open up the strike zone it would be nice."

Flanagan's recipe for pitching is simple: "Work fast, throw strikes."

But it's not always that easy.

Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks says there are inconsistencies in umpiring pitches between the American and National leagues.

"One time it's a strike, the next time throw it right there and it's a ball," he said.

"In the NL, the umpires call strikes when there are strikes and balls when there are balls," Hendricks said.

The Orioles are also using more pitchers in a game. In 1980, they used an average of 2.18 pitchers. Last season, an average of 3.01 pitched each game.

On July 21, the Orioles used two pitchers and Seattle used four.

Add another three minutes (including nine to 10 warmup pitches) for each of the four pitching changes to the 45 minutes of commercial time, and that's a total of 57 minutes in television time added to actual playing time.

But maybe it's more than just pitchers and television. How about those batters who step in and out of the box after every pitch?

Orioles outfielder Mike Devereaux said he pretty much stays in the batter's box, but admits he will occasionally step out if the pitcher he faces is in a groove.

"There are some times I sit back and take a deep breath and gather all my thoughts," he said. "If they're working too quickly, getting into a rhythm, then I have to slow them down."

But while the batters may be trying to slow the pitchers down, both Hendricks and Oates are trying to get the Orioles pitchers to pick up the pace.

"We're trying to speed all our pitchers up," Oates said. "We realize we play better when our pitchers work fast." But he said speeding up a pitcher will not always give better results.

But for Oates, a win is a win, no matter how long it takes.

"I doesn't matter to me whether it takes three hours or five hours, I enjoy baseball," he said. "I'm in no hurry to get home."

This philosophy is also shared by Hendricks.

"I don't care how long it takes," he said. "Winning keeps fans, losing keeps them away."

Average length of nine-inning games

.. .. National.. American

Year..League.. ..League

'76.. ..2:21.. .. .2:28

'77.. ..2:25.. .. .2:31

'78.. ..2:25.. .. .2:24

'79.. ..2:31.. .. .2:32

'80.. ..2:32.. .. .2:36

'81.. ..2:33.. .. .2:34

'82.. ..2:33.. .. .2:37

'83.. ..2:34.. .. .2:38

'84.. ..2:34.. .. .2:37

'85.. ..2:35.. .. .2:45

'86.. ..2:41.. .. .2:48

'87.. ..2:45.. .. .2:51

'88.. ..2:42.. .. .2:48

'89.. ..2:42.. .. .2:48

'90.. ..2:45.. .. .2:51

(length of time in hours and minutes)

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