How Long is too Long for a Game

In the midst of reformatting and updating my retrosheet database, I got re-interested in the game duration field that Retrosheet tracks. I started digging into comparisons, plotting game duration on one axis and various other variables on the other in order to see if anything struck my fancy. Such posts will come at a later date, but while doing that, another thought struck me: How long of a game does the average person find ideal?

I generally assumed that people overall found baseball games to be too long. But is it actually the duration that’s the problem or is it perhaps more a frustration with too much inaction during that game? I find that too many pitching changes or batters stepping out of the box can grind the pace to a halt and make a two-hour game unendurable while lots of offensive action can make even a three-hour plus game engaging throughout. That is why I support changes to MLB’s rules to cut down on inaction whenever practical- but do others?

Do you have a choice length for a game of baseball to take? Is it dependent on how the game progresses as I described above? Does it even depend on how you are consuming the game? For example, I find myself not minding as much how the game advances when I am passively listening to it on the radio. And even if I am watching it on television, I am less bothered because I have other entertainment options at my fingertips. But if I am at the game in person, slow games drag on and irritate me to no end. Of course, some might adopt the opposite view and want games they attend to take a long time because after all, they’re not paying by the hour for the experience.

We all have other varying and various opinions on how baseball fits as entertainment in our lives. What are yours?




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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.


78 Responses to “How Long is too Long for a Game”

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  1. Allan says:

    One of the things I enjoyed about the Roy Halladay era in Toronto was how fast he got through innings. As long as the Jays spend more time at the plate than the other team, I can deal with any length of game.

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    • tdotsports1 says:

      They just don’t make enough Roy Halladay’s. He used to breeze through most lineups, even Boston or New York who are notoriously patient (and deliberate in the batter’s box).

      What a stud.

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  2. Disco Burritos says:

    How do you balance too many pitching changes with lots of offensive action?

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      Pitching changes at the inning breaks.

      I get really bored with the game when a pitcher enters during an inning and then gets replaced after just one batter.

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  3. dustin says:

    When I’m at a game, the pace seems so much faster than when I watch on television, and the slowdowns don’t bother me.

    When watching on television, pitching changes mean commercials and that definitely adds to the frustration of watching a slow game.

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    • JohnnyComeLately says:

      ^ This

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    • Fergie348 says:

      This is exactly why I love watching games on a DVR. With a TIVO’d game, I skip past the inning changes and pitching changes. I’ve also indentified some pitchers who reliably take 30+ seconds to get ready to throw the next pitch. TIVO forward skip works great for them too..

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    • Matt says:

      Baseball is definitely hard to watch on TV. I don’t know anyone who will actually sit down and watch a complete game on TV. Everyone says they watch games on TV, but when you ask directly, what they mean is “I have the game on TV while I’m doing other stuff.”

      It’s just too slow on TV. Of course, when you’re at the park it’s a totally different experience.

      Contrast with football, where tons of people sit down and watch the whole thing. I can definitely watch a game of college football without getting up off the couch except at halftime. Or to stop my kid from jumping off the furniture.

      So it’s not just the 3 hour time involved.

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      • whatzitmather says:

        While I agree that lots of people probably multi-task during televised baseball games, a good broadcast crew can make the difference. The all too short (but sweet) Boog Sciambi era in Atlanta meant that I could watch all of even the dullest contests. Granted, that was when I was a student and had more free time in the summers, but I’d imagine more people watch entire games than you think.

        (Also agree that the ballpark experience is different)

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  4. Mike says:

    I used to not care about the length of a game and was often rooting for extra innings. As I’ve grown older I’ve started thinking, “Oh no. If this goes long I won’t be able to do these other three things that need to get done today.” Needless to say, I’m not proud of myself.

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    • Josh W says:

      This is pretty much my response. The big problem is not that a game could take three hours, but that there’s no way to know how long it could take. It’s hard to find the time and if it goes late…well, I’m getting old and need sleep and have to get up in the morning.

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  5. Breadbaker says:

    I hate mid-inning pitching changes. More than anything, I hate the pitching change at the start of an inning after the prior pitcher warmed up. I hate seventy-two throws to first base. I hate pitchers who take three years to wind up and throw and I hate everyone who thinks Mike Hargrove is their role model as a batter. It’s not the time of the game, it’s what’s going on. I sat through the famous 19-inning game at Safeco and the whole thing was riveting; that game’s first nine inning flew, and then it was tense during the ten innings of extras. Why? Because two good teams were just playing baseball, not games.

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    • Eddie says:

      LaRussa must be stopped.

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      • shoewizard says:

        In television broadcast circles, it’s well known that everyones worst nightmare is a St. Louis getaway day game in September when Larussa has 35-40 guys to play with.

        And forget trying to keep up with position changes. Thats a struggle even for the professional scorekeepers.

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  6. DrEasy says:

    I hate mound visits. Can’t they just use signs from the dugout to communicate? Also, there’s too many coaches on the field. Let the players make their own decisions.

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    • reillocity says:

      I suspect that eventually the in-helmet/in-cap communication systems will work their way into baseball and potentially help with this. But then again, the coaches and players might then spend way more time talking with each other than they should.

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    • Cidron says:

      they dont have a set of signs that say …
      1. Hey, did ya see the hot blond over the 3b dugout
      2. Hey, where are we going to eat after the game
      3. Hey, gonna beat ya on Call of Duty, Black ops after the game
      4. I think they are registered at Macy;s
      5. Pedro wants a chicken for a sacrifice.

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  7. Stevesy says:

    I’m a bit biased as I live in Britain and have to watch most games recorded on MLB.tv, meaning I can skip the 2-3 minutes breaks. But I agree that pitching changes/mound meetings are the worst offenders, as they stall the game almost mid-pitch.

    I am particularly miserable every time some manager leaves a starter in for one batter, replaces with a LOOGY for the next, and then changes again for the third out.

    Batters stepping out? Not that big of a deal to me, but wouldn’t mind seeing them cut down a bit.

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  8. MikeS says:

    How long should a game take? Let me put it this way, Mark Buehrle is my favorite player.

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  9. Joel says:

    Having been at games pitched by Steve Tracschel and Jeff Suppan I can honestly say I have prayed for a rain delay just to get a pitching change. A 30 minute rain delay and the game would still be over sooner.

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  10. Schu says:

    I get bored rather quickly watching games on tv but I can’t remember a single time at the stadium where I didn’t say “That’s it? Over already?”. The pace seems to be much quicker when you aren’t zoomed in and the commercials put more emphasis on all the breaks in the action.

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  11. Tom says:

    I like the game to go quickly, but to me the fact that there are no time restrictions in baseball is what really sets it apart from other sports. The end of the game is never going to come on a quarterback taking a knee or a boring free throw fest. The winning team has to earn every last out. With that said, however, I would also support an effort to speed the game along a bit.

    My favorite game I ever attended has a 2 hour, 8 minute 1-0 contest with a grand total of four hits. It looked like Freddy Garcia was going to pitch a no-hitter until Jacque Jones led off the eighth inning with a homer, the team’s only hit of the game. Johan Santana pitched eight innings and Joe Nathan got the save. A Twins fan couldn’t have asked for more.

    Here’s the url to the box score: http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/MIN/MIN200508230.shtml

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  12. Mile says:

    I’m a Yankee fan, but I absolutely hate how long their games with the Red Sox take. A four plus hour game starting at 8 on a Sunday? Some people have work in the morning.

    The prime time is around three hours, preferrably under that mark. Blow outs on either side are tedious and the last few innings are especially boring.

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    • RC says:

      Most of the Red Sox – Yankees games are long for one reason:

      Game time strongly correlates to team OBP, and both teams have great offenses.

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      • Mike says:

        I don’t have the link, but Sox/Yanks games also have much higher average seconds in between pitches, and longer commercial breaks.

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  13. Mile says:

    Also, down time between innings and pitching changed is useful at the game. You can’t pause it and get food or go to the bathroom like at home.

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  14. GTStD says:

    I think I may be an exception in general, though not from the previous commenter. I’ve never cared. One of the things I love about baseball is that it doesn’t depend on time. The teams go out there, and there are 27 or more outs to get. If it takes 2 hrs, I’ve seen a great pitchers duel. If it takes 6, I’ll probably end up pissed off at Kyle Farnsworth and Joey Devine at the end of it, but I’ll enjoy it either way.

    I’m fine with most things people try to do to speed up the game, but I’m fine with it staying mostly the way it is. When I’m there, I’d actually it rather go slower because I like keeping score, and I prefer to do so leisurely. It’s not a game meant to be quick… it’s a game meant to be savored.

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      “a game meant to be savored.” So… baseball is the steak of sports? Basketball is obviously the on-the-bone chicken. Its messy, you eat it quickly, and then nibble for way too long for that last little bit.

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  15. Shane says:

    I’m more bothered by a slow plodding pace than the actual length of time. Though it is situation dependent. I don’t mind slow paced games on the radio, since I’m usually listening to gameday audio while at my desk doing work. Also, since I’ve normally go to games with people, I don’t mind a slower pace in person. As long as my team isn’t losing badly.

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  16. Derek says:

    Baseball is such an amazing game that I feel like the game flies by whether it’s a 1-0 2 hour pitcher’s duel or a 10-9 4 hour marathon.

    Now, when I’m there I want the game (or at least the first 7 innings) to go as slow as possible. The longer the game, the more beer I get to drink. Of course, that also means I leave the game broke as a joke.

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  17. Nik says:

    The mound visits are the worst and they need a rule to curb them. The Yankees are the worst offenders in this, as usual.

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      They are already limited to one non-pitcher-change per pitcher/inning. Why not just limit them to two such visits per game? That gives them a chance to go talk to a pitcher about how the arm is doing without allowing the abusive interrupt-the-other-teams-momentum mound visit.

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  18. db says:

    A game should take under 3 hours. I find watching the Yankees and playoff baseball unbearable with the constant commercials, delays, changes. I went to a game once where Mark Clark beat Greg Maddux 4-0, and the game time was under 2 hours. It was a thing of beauty.

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  19. I don’t care. Honestly, I don’t know why so many people complain about how long games are. I’d just like to see a game run its course, no matter how long it takes.

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  20. designated quitter says:

    The most objectionable thing to me is pitchers who throw 3 pitches in 2 minutes. Everyone knows who they are. I get most games by listening on the radio, and it is extremely frustrating. There’s really no reason for a 9 inning game to clock in over 2:45. Game times during the 1960s and before routinely came in around 2:00 even.

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  21. Tate Donovan says:

    I was at a college baseball game recently sitting in the outfield and enjoying myself. I looked up and it was the bottom of the 7th. I couldn’t believe how fast the game went. The new bats really make a difference. In that instance, I was actually disappointed at how fast the game was going. That was a first.

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  22. sgolder06 says:

    2:45 is perfect for me, but as long as Rafael Betancourt isn’t taking the hill at any point, I’m generally happy.

    Except for Sox/Yankees. As a Bostonian, I’ve grown to loathe those matchups, especially since they always get national billing, and take the spotlight from other teams that should be getting publicity.

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  23. Graham Montgomery says:

    The closer to 2 hours, the better. I don’t mind the in-between innings time, as for the most part is totally necessary, from both the players’ (warming up) and fans’ perspective (bathroom, beer, peanuts, etc.). The constant stepping out, throwing over, mound meetings, 4 pitching changes in an inning, ad nauseum, is what really detracts from the whole experience. I enjoy the game of baseball, not the accoutrements to the game of baseball. Finally, if I have to watch another inning start delayed because the tools, foodstuffs, or other items being sold need to finish their race around the outfield wall, I might run onto the field and tackle them all myself.

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  24. Raff says:

    I agree with Matthew and several of the commentors: I don’t mind a long game, but I mind a SLOW game.

    I would like rule changes that force players and managers to make tactical decisions. For example, “sure, you can step out of the box to get a new sign from the third base coach, but it’ll cost you an automatic strike.” Or, “sure, you can wear body armor at the plate, but you have to take it with you on the basepaths.” Don’t ban behaviors that delay the game, but impose a cost on them.

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    • ChicagoStyle says:

      @ Raff,

      Yes! more of this please!

      additional thoughts on improving pace:

      unsuccessful pickoff throws count as a ball
      30 second pitch clock (go over, counts as a ball)
      just GIVE the base on an intentional walk, but every runner advances a base

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      • notsellingjeans says:

        What about 3 balls for a walk, 2 strikes for a K?

        I think average game time would go down about 30 minutes.

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  25. RonB says:

    How about a crowd-source on this? Maybe on the minutes?

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    • bluejaysstatsgeek says:

      I think a majority of the comments refer to the pace, not the time. Get rid of the time-wasting like batters stepping out and taking 20 seconds to get set up in the box between every pitch. I’d also limit the number of mound visits by either the catcher or manager/coach with the bases empty. When there are base runners, mound visits, pitching changes, throws over, whatever, give my buddies and me more time to debate strategy, so I’m fine with these.

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  26. I think the question isn’t specifically the length of the game versus what is elongating it. Personally, I am one of a dying-breed who enjoy 1-0, 2-1 games. I hate offensive 11-9 games but I realize that these days (and particularly with casual fans) I am in the minority with this opinion. But to me if it is a 1-0 game that just has deep counts, lots of pitching changes that isn’t going to be particularly fun. I like games that have few balls, fewer weak groundouts and fewer pitchers. I went to see a game in Detroit once between the Tigers and Yankees. It was in July and that game went into extra innings and every batter it seemed went to 3-2 and then fouled of 8 pitches, then weakly grounded out to Jeter or Carlos Guillen or whoever the hell covered the middle infield that day. That probably was maybe 4 hours that felt like 16. Meanwhile I saw a Twins-A’s game in Oakland that went 10 innings but everyone seemed to swing first pitch and it zipped right along where it was like “eighth inning already?”

    No rhyme or reason to it, but if it is captivating baseball the length doesn’t matter.

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  27. bill says:

    The total length does matter, but much less than the inaction. I still remember the 2009 World Series and Posada visiting the mound something like 3-4 times during one at bat. Even during a game as exciting as the World Series, the delay was excruciating.

    Mound visits aside my two major problems are this –

    1) Hitters should not get out of the box between pitches when they don’t swing or move their feet. I understand getting out of the box after a high hard one, or getting out after missing badly on a pitch, but if you just watched a ball go by, stay in the damn box.

    2) Pitchers who stare interminably in at at the batter to be “intimidating.” (Ahem, Jonathon Papelbon) There’s nothing more annoying than everyone being ready, just waiting on a pitcher staring in (not even waiting for the catcher’s call, just staring).

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    • B N says:

      Hahaha. Combine those two and you’ll have some short length outings by Pap. He’s a good pitcher, but I can’t COUNT the number of times he’s stared a batter down, only to uncork a ball away, then have the batter step off the plate to adjust his gloves for no good reason.

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  28. Will says:

    I would rather the game be long instead of polluted with time restrictions.

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  29. adohaj says:

    I don’t mind games being long or slow paced at all. Since like you said if I am listening or watching on TV I can always find something else to keep me busy. If I am at the park longer is always better since I like to sit outside in the sun and drink beers.

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  30. GrandpaFratastic says:

    Maybe they should just do a better job of enforcing the rules they already have in the MLB rulebook. I believe it says that pitchers are supposed to take no longer than 12-15 seconds to deliver each pitch. Start enforcing this and all the other stuff will go away.

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  31. christopher miller says:

    It’s not length, it’s pace. A fast-paced game makes the objective time seem shorter. That’s why people like Buehrle and Halladay, and us Brewers fans used to love Ben Sheets (oh, 2004, you hidden gem of a season). If it takes 15 innings stuffed into 3 hours to decide the better team, I’m all for it. But the 4 hour 9 inning games are just intolerable because not only are they long, but the pace is bad.

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  32. FairweatherFan says:

    I watch baseball because I enjoy baseball, and the more of it, the better.

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  33. Rick says:

    The primary problem is downtime. The ratio of action to inaction is just too low to sustain attention. Too many pitching changes. Too much time between pitches.

    I still think stricter enforcement of a larger strikezone would be the easiest way to speed things up.

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  34. miffleball says:

    I hate pitchers stepping off and batters stepping out. i hate catchers visiting the mound. i’d love to see one non-coach visit + one coach-visit as inning maximums before a pitcher is removed. if the pitcher can’t remember the signs, that sucks. if he has to talk out a game plan with the catcher before the game or between innings instead of at a 1-1 count for every batter, that’s a shame.
    I recognize that pitching changes are part of the game now and i like the rules in place to minimize warmup and change time ( i don’t know if there’s a clock from when the coach signals to when the first real pitch is thrown, but if there isn’t, there should be and if the reliever can’t stroll from the bullpen, that would be unfortunate too)

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  35. deadpool says:

    Outlaw batting gloves. The third time you’ve unstrapped and restrapped your gloves it’s just a nervous habit.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      This.

      If pitchers were going to the bag and/or cleaning their spikes after every pitch (or undoing and refastening their belt), it would be more obvious.

      I would say, without question, that the manager calling pitches has increased the length of the game as well. There are time when the pitcher is on the mound, batter is mostly ready, and the catcher is looking to the dugout.

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  36. Llewdor says:

    I have no problem with long games. I enjoy watching baseball, and baseball is marked by inaction actually being part of the gameplay (unlike football, where the gameplay is starkly divided from the inaction).

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  37. Ethan says:

    I love long games. More baseball the better. Also if you limit the times a Manager can come out, or how many times and for how long a batter can step out of the box or a pitcher off the mound you’re take part of the mental aspect out of the game.

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  38. Jay says:

    Any game is too long if Joe Buck is doing the play-by-play.

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  39. Fergie348 says:

    I’m with chris miller. Pace is the issue, and most of the problem is the super deliberate pitching styles of some, especially wnen runners are on base and the nervous habits of batters between pitches. If you’re pitching, get the ball, get up on the hill and get ready to throw. If you’re hitting, have your gloves adjusted when you get to the on deck circle. Get in the box. Everything else is a rounding error, or affects strategy too much.

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  40. CircleChange11 says:

    At the stadium, there have only been two times that I thought the game was too long. Both events were weather related. Busch Stadium, end of July, the humidity. God, the humidity. And then 2009 at Wrigly. 35-degrees in April, throw in drizzle for added discomfort.

    On TV, almost all of the games are too long. I don;t watch many/any regular season games from start to finish. I try to watch the playoff games, but sometimes don’t, if I’m not IM’ing or chatting with buddies.

    With the emphasis on “maximum effort” (pitchers) and “disrupting rythum” (batters) there does seem to be quite a bit of unnecessary time in between events.

    I understand that baseball does not have a clock, but that does not mean there needs to be maximum dead time.

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  41. B N says:

    Q: “How long is too long for a game?”
    A: “Cricket”

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    • B N says:

      But more seriously, I don’t feel like I’ve ever been to a baseball game that was too long. 3 hours is fine for me, and the ones that ran 4 due to extra innings were generally very exciting. In particular, I had a great time going to some back to back extra innings games at Citizen’s Bank a couple years ago. Show up on time, enjoy the game til it finished around midnight, stop at Pats or Tony Luke’s to grab a cheese steak on the way home. Doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all for spending a summer night.

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  42. Dan says:

    I think once it’s over 3:15 it’s gotten too long.

    Perfect is 2:30-2:45

    I agree that “pace” not “time” is the issue, but how can you really take the two apart. If the pace is slower, then more time elapses between events, whether they be pitches, innings, or some other unit of measurement.

    It is crazy to me to say “just make every pick off throw a ball if it’s unsuccessful” – everytime guys like Gardner and Ellsbury got to first, they’d be on third base at the second pitch if that were rule. Same with a batter stepping out – that can’t be ruled a strike against him if he does it. These suggestions fundamentally alter the game; despite their good intentions, they would be much more harm than good, i believe.

    I think 60 seconds between innings is sufficient. get on the field, stretch it out, throw a ball once or twice, and let’s get moving. maybe medical science will tell me I’m all wet in terms of player health and injuries, but 4 minutes for a Budweiser and Ford commercial bloc seems excessive. Maybe 90 seconds for pitching changes.

    18 half innings, reduce a commercial break from 3 or 4 minutes to 1 minute, and voila, there’s 36-54 minutes shaved off right there. Batter in the box, ready to hack.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Dan,

      Honestly just having the pitcher “hold the ball” is often the most effective action for pitchers looking to freeze the running game.

      Few pitchers have good moves. Throwing to first tjust gives the runner a better read on your motion.

      Holding the ball and letting the runner’s legs “tighten up” or “settle in” seems to work as well, or better than most other things.

      If you’re going to throw over, then do so with the intent to pick the runner off (namely catch him with his feet together or leaning).

      Common sense would say the longer the game goes, the more money the team makes (commercials, sales, etc), so I douby anyone is in a real hurry to shorten games.

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  43. reillocity says:

    My real fear is the potential expansion of pre-September rosters to 26 players. You can be certain that that 26th player will be a pitcher, and that will make managers even more likely to make mid-inning lefty-on-lefty and righty-on-righty moves, and that will ultimately cause the end of games to drag on even longer.

    A simple way to shorten MLB game times is to eliminate all regular season games between the Yankees and Red Sox.

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  44. Just watch a game from the 1970s. You don’t need to change the rules in some artificial manner — just call the strike zone correctly.

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  45. pft says:

    The only time game length becomes an issue is those games that start at 8 or later, especially on Sunday-Thursday since most folks have to go to work early.

    If a game is long because there are lots of hits and runs, most people don’t complain. For low scoring games that take too long because you have pitchers who take forever to throw a pitch to go along with several pitching changes during an inning and so many lengthy commercials, those are tough. However, not too bad if watching on TV since you can change channels.

    Long games are great for the broadcasters, as they can run the ads more times. In fact, if MLB ever found a way to shorten games, they most likely will end at the same time as the broadcasters will just fill the games with more commercials.

    My recommendation to shorten games would be to not allow the catcher or pitching coach to visit the mound (except for a pitching change), and to have relievers come into a game ready to throw from the mound without any warmup pitches which would eliminate the commercials run during every pitching change. Umpires should call a ball whenever a pitcher takes too long (say 50% over the legal limit) Of course, we may end up with more commercials between innings, but that leaves more time to make a sandwich, answer natures call, read a book, do some work, etc.

    The more I think of it though, best leave things the way they are. Too bad for Joe West, but he seems to be the only one complaining.

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    • MintyRoadkill says:

      Commercial breaks are only as long as it takes for the new pitcher to warm up. Baseball games stay live.

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  46. cs3 says:

    Maybe its just me, but i have always equated longer games with more beer.

    And that’s not a bad thing!

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  47. AJ says:

    The pace could always be improved, but if we’re talking about actual play time, the longer the better

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  48. Anthony says:

    I think there should be a required amount of batter’s faced by a pitcher. Like a manager can take a guy out after one batter, but only once a game. You might say that takes away strategy, but not really, it adds to it because you have to be more careful.

    Living in Missouri, LaRussa kills me. Some games, even as a Cards fan, if he makes too many one batter changes, I want the next batter to drill the ball 550 feet so LaRussa looks like a moron. It’s the only way I feel good about the game.

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  49. The announcers absolutely make a huge difference. I’m a Phillies fan, and their broadcasters now are so terrible that I use the other team’s announcers on Gameday (no longer in Philly). When Kalas and Ashburn ruled the roost, I never wanted games to end.

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  50. West says:

    It is the pitchers taking too long between pitches, every pitcher should pitch like Mark Buehrle. It also doesn’t help that FOX drags out the game so horribly and shows tense faces on players and fans, its a painful watch, let the game breathe.

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  51. Michael says:

    Does anyone remember the April engagement between the Cards and the Mets….

    It was 6 hours and I enjoyed it thouroughly, from Garcia’s no hit first 6 innings to both sides using almost their entire rosters to play the 20 inning game 2-1 Mets won

    0-0 through 18 innings

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  52. mike wants wins says:

    1. Pace is more important than length for most seriousl baseball fans.

    2. Length is probably more important to those with families, and those with other interests or that use baseball as “just another entertainment option”. I can’t take my kids to weeknight games that go super late. You have to get out of the stadium, get home, get them unwound…..games that last 3+ hours just last too long for bedtimes.

    3. I agree with an earlier poster – call the real strike zone. Don’t automatically give the 3-0 count pitch a strike call. Call all strikes strikes. Call all balls balls. That would help a ton.

    4. If you step out to adjust your gloves between every pitch, call an automatic strike. There is no reason for this activity. Stepping out to take a sign, when no one is on base, and you are a power hitter, ugh. There are a million little things that players do, that slow the pace. Not sure they are all fixable by time limits though.

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