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July 27, 2001

by Bill Hogan



Major League Baseball umpires were chastised last week by "the powers that be" for not keeping the pitch count (total pitches thrown in a ballgame) under 270.

The idea (in the minds of the geniuses that concocted this ludicrous measuring stick) is that if the umpires call more strikes, it will quicken the pace of the game.


What's the hurry? If I'm watching a good ball game, I'm not watching the clock. If I have some where to go, I'll go. Then catch the highlights on Sportscenter, or read the box score in the morning paper.

I don't want to see Sammy Sosa called out on strikes with the bases loaded, down by three, just because an umpire has reached the allotted number of pitches. "Sorry, Sammy, that's number 270 - yer out, game over - let's go home".

When I take my family out to the ball game, we pack a lunch and plan to make a day of it. And, normally, I don't care if we ever get back. If we just want to kill an hour on a Sunday afternoon, we'll go bowling. (With bowling, you're not just killing the hour, you're beating it to death).

On September 28, 1919, the New York Giants and Philadelphia A's played a nine inning game in a record fifty-one minutes (the Giants won 6-1). Is this what the commissioner's office is looking for in 2001? Can you imagine?

It would certainly bring a new urgency to getting to the ballpark early. Spend an extra half-hour trying to find a parking space and, instead of getting to your seat by the bottom of the first, you miss half the game!

Any fan that's ever been on line for a beer and a hot dog at a concession stand knows that it can be an inconvenience. With games lasting less than an hour, it would be a major commitment. Better pack a lunch (make that a snack pack).

And forget about going to the bathroom! (That's alright for you and me - but what do you tell a recently potty trained three-year-old just breaking in his first pair of underoos? "It's the seventh inning, if we go now, the stadium will be empty by the time we get back to our seats. HOLD IT!).

My old friend Lenny is notorious for leaving sporting events early in order to "beat the traffic". With fifty-one minute games, do I need to elaborate on the significance of this strategic maneuver?

On the other hand, getting in and out in under an hour has its upside. It'll eliminate a lot of iwanna's from the kids. Bobble head dolls…not if you want to see your team bat. Big foam fingers… maybe next time - we'll try and catch a double header. It usually takes the kids a good hour before the excitement of the game wears off and the souvenir stand becomes the main attraction. Before they know what hit them, they're back in the car and on the way home.

"I can't buy you some peanuts AND crackerjacks, sport, there's no time. You'll have to settle for peanuts OR crackerjacks today."

* * * * *

The ever-growing length of the average baseball game cannot be attributed to pitch counts or speed of play. It doesn't take a VCR clock-setter to realize it's the 'tween inning productions that create these marathons.

Television networks pay Major League Baseball big bucks for broadcasting rights. Really big bucks. So, lets squeeze a few more thirty-second spots in between innings to generate more revenue. Tell the players to take their time getting into position. Let the pitchers warm up a little longer. Heck, the guy in the upper deck just took his kid to the bathroom, we don't want him to miss the action (another new pair of underoos saved)!

Those watching at home already have the clicker in hand when the third out is recorded. Two hundred channels to choose from while the game is in an endorsement hiatus. Alas, it seems every other television program has also gone to commercial. (Now that's a conspiracy theory worth investigating).

Baseball executives can't reduce the amount of commercial time during a game, that may result in a loss of revenue. So, they try to speed up play. By minimizing pitch counts. Why stop there?

Since they can't cut to a commercial between pitches, put in a pitch clock. Like the shot clock in basketball. The batter has ten seconds to get set in the box, the pitcher has ten seconds to get rid of the ball. A violation by the batter results in a strike, by the pitcher, a ball. Let's go, MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!!

We've got to get this inning over with and break for a commercial, otherwise, we'll be here all night.

"Hey, Dad, I got an hour to kill, why not take me out to the ballgame. No time to 'root, root, root' for the home team, one 'root' will suffice.

And if they don't win (in under an hour) it's a shame.



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