Weatherford Democrat

October 31, 2013

As the World Series ends, let's consider shortening games

by Tom Lindley
CNHI News Service

— Game 2 of the 1958 World Series is one I will never forget, and one I have been thinking about frequently as this year’s Fall Classic unfolded.

For that I can thank my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Ryan.

That year’s series paired the New York Yankees against the Milwaukee Braves. The game, which was played on Oct. 2 at County Stadium in Milwaukee, had Bob Turley on the mound for the Yankees against Milwaukee’s Lew Burdette.

It wasn’t even a tense or drama-filled game. The Braves scored seven runs in the home-half of the first inning and sailed past the Yankees 13-5.

What was so special about that game was that our teacher let us listen to the radio play-by-play the last hour or so of class. The only condition was that we couldn’t talk or scream if there was a big play.

How could life get much better than that? Work on multiplication tables and spelling could be put aside and listening to baseball was the assignment.

The games were televised back then, but by the time I walked home from school they were generally over, except for the post-game recap. Today’s kids will never get to experience a special moment like that, not even close.

World Series games, which once started about the time lunch was served, now begin long after dinner has been finished and the dishes washed and put away. Today’s night games, if you live in the Eastern time zone, can stretch into the next day.

I heard some radio talk show guys discussing the 1926 World Series a few days ago and recalling a game-ending play, somewhat like the obstruction call to end Game 3 in this year’s Boston-St. Louis match-up. In that epic series, the Yankees’ Babe Ruth was caught attempting to steal second with two out in the bottom of the ninth, handling St. Louis a Series-clinching 3-2 victory in Game 7.

It’s difficult to imagine the Great Bambino attempting to steal a base, let alone one in such a crucial moment. But he did, and he failed.

In reviewing box scores from long, long ago I marveled at how much information could be retrieved with just a few key strokes. I also was shocked at how much the National Pastime had changed. In short, today’s games are starting much later and definitely lasting much longer.

In 1926, it took just a grand total of about 15 hours to play seven games – with three finishing between 1 hour, 41 minutes and 1 hour, 48 minutes. The longest in the set was 2:38.  

This year, six games took nearly 20 hours to complete. Five games lasted more than three hours – the two longest being 3:54 and 3:34 – and only one was played in less than three, clocking in at 2:52.

Some would quickly point out the comparison is one of apples and oranges, which would be somewhat true. While television and radio broadcasts make the games available to more fans, the never-ending string of commercials has made them seem interminably long.

Another major time-consuming change involves use of relief pitchers. Back in ’26, the Cardinals recorded five complete games and had only 12 different appearances by its pitching staff in seven games. The Yankees, meanwhile, had two complete games and its staff had a total of 16 appearances.

In 2013, there were no complete games. St. Louis’ staff had a combined 30 appearances, compared to 26 for Boston.

Changing pitchers and allowing them time to warm up gobbles up a lot of time, a trend that is unlikely to be reversed. Today’s starters, if all goes well, get about 100 pitchers and their night is over.

Batters are at fault as well with their extended gyrations – oftentimes displayed after each pitch to the plate. How boring.

Baseball’s brass know they have a problem, but so far they’ve been unable to speed up the game. For instance, baseball initiated a 12-second pitch clock, but it hasn’t been enforced.  What did they expect?

Other unnecessary delays have been discussed and debated for years. Again, no action.

Baseball fans like to sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame and even proclaim "I don’t care if I never get back."

Well, the truth is that they do. It’s time someone took action.

Tom Lindley is a sports writer for the CNHI News Service. Reach him at tlindley@cnhi.com.