Here's a suggestion for baseball's committee on speeding up the pace of games: Please hurry yourself up and take action ASAP so that postseason games can end before midnight. In Hawaii.
Don't get me wrong. This has been a very dramatic and gripping postseason. The Royals have sent four games into extra innings and have won five of their six games in their final at-bat. The Cardinals have electrified their fans with big home runs.
As entertaining as they are though, the games simply are lasting far longer than necessary. The nine American League playoff games so far have averaged four hours. Sure, there have been four extra-inning games, but even so. Four hours? Heck, Saturday's Game 2 lasted 4 hours and 17 minutes despite going just nine innings. The shortest AL game has been 3 hours and 38 minutes.
"They're really slow," Baltimore reliever Darren O'Day said after Game 2. "They're tough to watch. I understand it's the postseason. But these are taking too long."
He is right. Local and passionate national baseball fans will watch from beginning to end. But casual fans will not set aside four to five hours for a game. Even devoted fans wouldn't mind being able to watch an occasional game in less than 3½ hours. This is nothing new. People complain about postseason games lasting too long year after year. Yet year after year, postseason games just last longer and longer. And the reasons why are obvious.
Long commercials: Commercial breaks last three minutes during the postseason. With at least 17 breaks in a game, that's 51 minutes, or nearly an hour devoted strictly to advertising. The GEICO gecko is already threatening Derek Jeter's career record for postseason air time.
Pitching changes: The mounting number of pitching changes means there are even more commercial breaks. The Angels used seven relievers in their Game 3 division series loss to the Royals. The Orioles used six relievers in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. I guess we can just be grateful the networks don't take an additional commercial break after a reliever's first batter the way they often do right before and immediately after a kickoff in football.
Stalling: This is how a typical pitch sequence went with Baltimore's Bud Norris in Game 2 of the ALCS. Stand behind the mound for many seconds while staring at the ground. Walk to the mound and stare at the rubber. Look up and stare at the catcher and wait for him to give the sign. Shake him off or nod and get ready to deliver the pitch. Then start the whole process over when the hitter suddenly steps out of the box to fiddle with his batting gloves. It's like watching "Waiting for Godot," only with less action.
ESTRAGON: What are we waiting for? Godot?
VLADIMIR: No, he came and left. We're waiting for Norris to pitch. Still.
Norris is one of the slowest workers in the majors, but he's not alone. Almost everyone takes too long these days, whether it's the pitcher or the batter waiting for his walk-up music to end.
Baltimore reliever Andrew Miller says that postseason games are compelling and that "shaving off five or six minutes won't create a change in viewership." He's right. Five or six minutes won't matter. But 30 minutes would.
What can be done? I don't see commercial breaks getting shorter because doing so would decrease ad revenue, which neither the players nor the league wants. And as teams increasingly rely on the bullpen -- one ex-big leaguer told me he expects that teams will soon remove their starters after one three-inning trip through the lineup -- we're going to see even more pitching changes.
One idea being discussed that could work, however, is to enforce a 20-second pitch limit when no runner is on base and also require that a batter keep at least one foot in the box at all times.
The problem with that, Miller says, is it would lead to opposing crowds distracting pitchers with inaccurate countdowns. I definitely see his point, but pitchers could avoid that by just throwing the damn ball (and having the catcher give the sign right away). Besides, they already know how to deal with opposing crowds heckling them: Ignore them.
Miller also says that it can take so long between pitches in the postseason because the games matter more and thus more thought is put into each pitch. It's another valid point. But postseason games were every bit as important decades ago and Bob Gibson still was able to fire the ball quickly.
Baseball is a game of routine and the current routines developed over years and years. Reversing, or at least altering those routines without disrupting performance will also take years. But the important thing is to start taking action now so games begin getting shorter each year rather than continue getting longer and longer and longer and longer ...