Despite New Rules, Baseball Won’t Speed Up Until Fans Start Booing
New pace of play rule changes will encourage pitchers to throw the damn ball, be largely ignored.
The average length of a baseball game last season was 182 minutes. Not only is that an insane amount of time to watch a sport, it marks a significant increase in game length over the last several decades, which have not – it’s fair to say – seen the average attention span increase at the same rate. Why is the game so slow? Because pitchers take an average of 23 seconds to throw the ball, 11 more than the league’s stated goal. But don’t worry about it, the MLB is on the case: Starting this season, pace-of-play rule changes will force batters to keep one foot in the batter’s box and see players slowing down the action fined $500. There won’t be pitch clocks – not yet.
Also, nothing will change.
This development will strike anyone familiar with Major League salaries (Clayton Kershaw, who is relatively efficient, will make $32.5 million this year) as economically laughable. The league is clearly stalling for time before dealing with its stalling for time problem. Here’s the thing: Sports fans love to hate on commissioners and league officials for being ineffectual, but there is very little the suits can do about how boring baseball has become. The speed of play is a cultural issue, a product of all the rituals that players in the league have accepted as routine. Today’s baseball players play the game on their own terms, which means that they don’t really play it for the audience.
What baseball currently lacks, is a culture of showmanship. There is nothing wrong with athletes being athletes, but they also need to be entertainers. Victor Cruz knows this. LeBron James knows this. Hell, P.K. Subban knows this. There are people in the stadium watching and people in front of TVs connected to thos cameras watching and all that fussing about before getting in the box (thanks Nomar) is just rude.
Mark Buehrle is the quickest pitcher in baseball – in terms of delivery, not foot speed – and crowds love him. You better believe that’s the reason his mound work has never slowed. Fining a player $500 isn’t going to accomplish anything. Booing him will. This is a fan problem and it will be up to the fans to solve it.