What’s with the movement led by MLB to speed up the game? Seriously. A time clock to start innings? Sure, baseball games can be a tedious occasion even for the most enthusiastic fans but messing with the most fundamental aspect of the game — mind vs. mind, pitcher vs. batter vs. the entire defense, forever adversaries — requires patience. And it should be reintroduced, not shunned by MLB, to the “younger faces” they are so eager to please just as it was introduced long ago to us “old fans.”
Tyler Kepner wrote an article for the New York Times that declares, attention spans are getting shorter while baseball games are getting longer.
Really? Since when?
This isn’t about attention spans getting shorter. In fact I argue, attention spans haven’t changed a bit; it’s the processing of an exorbitant and constant amount of information that has changed.
Which brings to mind the adages cum hoc ergo propter hoc (with this, therefore because of this) and correlation does not imply causation… Perhaps it is envy that which blinds the league.
Back in the day we relied on the local news and morning paper for the previous evening’s results. There’d be one big story on the game most relevant to the market, for example a story about the Orioles would run on the front page of the sports section in The Frederick Post, which was published 60 miles from Memorial Stadium, while the rest of the league relied on a different kind of coverage. Their stories would be told using funny numbers, that is, the box score on the back page complete with HRs, Batting Averages, and current league standings. I don’t recall complaining about the speed of the game then.
Then ESPN began running a live sports ticker during pool tournaments. You know, the scrolling words that ribbon across the bottom of your TV screen. It was fascinating to me that I could see, in real-time, scores from around the league and briefings on how some of the league’s star players were doing. For instance, Texas 3 Baltimore 4 would come innocently rolling across the bottom followed by Ripken 3-3 HR (15) — the number 15 in parenthesis signifying he’d hit his 15th home run of the year at some point in the game and the former numbers meaning he batted safely on three tries out of three attempts. Still, I didn’t complain about the speed of the game. And I certainly didn’t mind my hero garnering a little attention.
Then the social media craze took over. I’d log onto MySpace, and low and behold, the first post I’d see would read Go Mariners! or something like that. It was intriguing. So I’d do a quick Internet search — MLB hadn’t caught up to this yet — and a rogue page advertising live baseball scores would display proudly a small one-liner that read, M’s beat Angels in 10 thanks to so-and-so’s 9th-inning bomb. I didn’t complain about the speed of the game then either.
Neither did I complain about the sudden urge to catch up on Randy Johnson’s fireball.
Enter social media.
Tweets and Facebook posts, and I’m referring to fan posts and not the annoying ‘click me’ ad-copy garbage, made live look-ins a little more accessible and a little more intriguing. The information quickly overwhelmed me, but I was hooked nevertheless.
Finally, and probably after a large expensive committee proffered their expensive expert opinion, I’m assuming, MLB and every other sports network and media outlet under the sun began bombarding us with baseball information. Sabermetrics weren’t reserved for super baseball nerds anymore. I mean, who in the world knew about Bill James, before Moneyball, and the resulting exploitation by ESPN, and the terms he coined?
To me, the average fanatic, WAR was waged between Randy Johnson and Mark McGuire. WHIP was something Eddie Murray did to a poor baseballs’ physiognomy before sending each one hurling toward 33rd Street. And Sam Horn, well he’s another story though his name does sound like a Sabermetric.
Seriously, I still wasn’t thinking about how long a game took to complete. But I was being exposed to players and teams I didn’t care about before.
So where is the evidence that MLB uses to justify speeding up the game? Please, don’t tell me they’re collecting data from tweets and social media posts and handing off their discoveries to Sabermetricians for further deciphering.
Perhaps a bunt would suffice…
Maybe that’s where some of the $6-billion in total revenue from last year went.
You see, MLB lusts for something they cannot have: The fervent hyperbole and ever juiced fanbase enjoyed by the likes of NFL teams. Baseball on the other hand is just, to put it bluntly, not that kind of game. Baseball is patience and poetry, the showdown; it’s the tedium, the aria, and the epiphany all wrapped into one tiny package; it’s the outburst we wait for. The hit, the sacrifice bunt, the heart-stopping HR and the walk-off walk.
Baseball is patience. And the new commissioner should spend more time embracing that.