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  • Writer's pictureSteve Potter

6/2/23 : Just Sayin 🤷‍♂️

Citing Baseball Reference, attendance was up 7.4% for the first 840 games of the 2023 season compared to the first 840 contests of last season per an article recently written by Travis Sawchik of theScore.  He goes on to say that “nearly 1.6 million more fans attended games through the end of May compared to last year, an average of 1,848 per game.  For a sport that suffered a steady attendance decline since its peak in 2007, this is a positive indicator.  It suggests the pitch clock and other new rules might be working.  MLB attendance was down 18% last year, or 15 million fans, compared to 2007.”

I recently had the privilege of chatting with a well respected former major leaguer about things such as the pitch clock.  He reminded me that back in the day the crispness of play and game length was generally policed by the umpires, they would push players on and off the fields and controlled the contests. Players knew that if they dilly dallied the umpire would penalize them with a called ball or strike regardless of where the pitch was delivered (sending the message of non tolerance).  It made me think that in this era where umpires are seemingly less in control of games, (what with instant replay challenges, the balls and strikes box shown in each and every game on TV with most commentators lamenting missed calls accordingly and the trend towards even more automation), that the pitch clock was the only option to police crispness of play.  While it’s evident that there are plenty of folks who don’t like it (including many players) it was inevitable to get the pace of play back in line to where it stood for years.

I did some research of my own using Baseball Reference’s vast data base. Here’s a look at average length of major league games by decade dating back to the 1960’s.

1960’s - 2 hours 35 minutes

1970’s - 2 hours 30 minutes

1980’s - 2 hours 39 minutes

1990’s - 2 hours 49 minutes

2000’s - 2 hours 50 minutes

2010’s -  2 hours 58 minutes

2020 to 2022 - 3 hours 7 minutes

2023 - 2 hours 39 minutes

MLB average game times eclipsed the three hour mark beginning with the 2012 season, from 2012 to 2022 the average length of a game was 3 hours and 5 minutes with a peak of 3 hours and 11 minutes in 2021.

A further dig into the numbers reflect that the number of pitchers used per team averaged around 2.5 from 1960 to 1980.  During the ‘80’s it jumped to around 2.9.  In the 1990’s that increased to about 3.5 per game and in the 2000’s it approached four. During the 2010’s pitchers used per team per game exceeded four and for the past three years (2020 to 2022) it’s been around 4.3 per game.

Walk up music for batters also began in earnest in the mid nineties and while I don’t believe that necessarily lengthened game times it did play into the notion of players taking time to “prepare” for their AB’s and the fidgeting with batting gloves, stretches, etc. seemingly began more at the dish than the on deck circles, we even have grandiose entrance music for some relievers coming into games.

The lack of crispness of games evolved over time with multiple factors including elongated pitch counts, increased strikeouts and seemingly more frequent mound visits for strategy discussions (another thing some announcers deplore 🤓). To be honest I never really was one to worry about the length of time it took to play games as I’m a baseball junkie but it would be dishonest to state that the sharpness of play over the past few years hasn’t been a detraction to interest.

Last night the Clearwater Threshers and Dunedin Blue Jays played a nine inning game in two hours and one minute.  The Threshers used two pitchers, the Blue Jays four.  There were only five walks issued in the contest between the two teams, the umpire called balls and strikes (with the challenge rule in effect) and controlled the pace of play with the pitch clock, it was crisp, entertaining and well received.  Some remind me that minor league baseball isn’t the same as the major leagues and that’s true, but if a Low A minor league game where pitchers generally struggle throwing strikes can be played in such a sharp manner there’s no excuse for the big leaguers to also execute in the same way.

I genuinely love professional baseball, grew up with it and live my life now with daily reflections of its nuances and imperfections as well as admiring its beauty and the athletes who perform it.  With that said there are far fewer folks as embedded in the fan-dome of the game in a similar manner than it needs to continue to thrive.  The pitch clock was needed to draw those on the edges of fan-dome in and perhaps even to keep some who’ve seen their interest waver.  It’s a good thing.  There’s the argument that an uproar will occur when a batter or pitcher is penalized in an important game for non adherence, maybe so … but it’s no different in this fan’s view for being called for any other rule violation.  Back in the day it was a non concern because there was a knowledge that delays weren’t tolerated, to me the pitch clock brings that knowledge back full circle.  Just sayin.

Happy Day, Happy Baseball ⚾️

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