Postseason baseball games too slow to keep interest

Sunday, October 28, 2007, 06:19 PM
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Mark Bradley

Denver ó I love postseason baseball ó in theory. The reality is rather different. I donít love nine-inning games that begin at 8:36 p.m. EDT and end 4 hours and 19 minutes later. Saturday nightís Game 3 had a lot of things to keep you interested ó a big Red Sox surge, a big Colorado comeback, a clinching Boston countermove ó but how many in the Eastern Time Zone (outside New England, that is) stayed up to watch?

The first World Series game I ever saw in person was Game 1 in 1972 at Cincinnatiís Riverfront Stadium. The Oakland Aís beat the Reds 3-2. Gene Tenace hit home runs his first two times up. Vida Blue worked 2 1/3 innings in relief and earned the save. Jackie Robinson, who would die 10 days later, threw out the first ball. Time of that game: 2 hours and 18 minutes.

I ask myself: If I were 17 years old today, would I have the patience to watch ó or, to use a more pejorative word, endure ó postseason baseball? Would games that never run less than three hours and often run past midnight hold my interest the way the games did in my formative years?

My answer: No way.

USA Today ran a story last week on the glacial pace of October baseball, and it noted that, contrary to what many of us believe, the overlords of MLB and Fox TV donít mind if games last until tomorrow. ďUp to midnight with a close game,Ē consultant Neal Pilson was quoted as saying, ďthat makes network executives sleep well.Ē

Why? Because, according to USA Today, research indicates viewers often turn to baseball after watching prime-time shows, which end at 11 p.m. in the East. But letís think about that: The target audience for baseballís showcase event has become the audience that doesnít really care much for baseball? Is that how far Americaís former pastime has fallen?

Clearly the game has changed from the days of Gene Tenace and Vida Blue, to say nothing of Joe DiMaggio and Al Gionfriddo. The ability to take pitches has become, to many organizations, as great a skill as the ability to hit pitches.

There were 339 pitches thrown in Game 3, and when you added all that to Foxís 35-minute pregame show and its three-minute commercial breaks between half-innings, you wound up with the longest nine-inning game in World Series history.

And thatís too much for the casual viewer, too much for even the truly interested viewer. When the NFL saw its games running ever longer, it moved to have its 40-second clock start on the whistle that ends a play and to let the game clock restart after a player runs out of bounds (except in the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second). The NFL, which has long been the gold standard for sports as a product, was smart enough to grasp that in a world where everything moves faster, it made no sense to go slower.

Baseball being baseball, it hasnít gotten the memo. It hasnít demanded that Fox start games earlier or cut pregame shows in half. It canít do anything to keep batters from taking pitches, but it could do more to keep the games moving. It could preclude batters from stepping out and readjusting each article of clothing after every pitch. It could put pitchers on a pitch clock. (The idea has been floated in years past, but it needs to be more than floated now.)

The first World Series game I ever attended took 2 hours and 1 minute less than the one I witnessed here Saturday night.

Think about that. Iíve been thinking about it all day, and I have to confess: If I hadnít been getting paid, I wouldnít have watched Game 3 to the end. Lifeís too short. As Lenny Megliola of the Metro West Daily Post said when the official time of 4:19 was announced, ďMy first marriage didnít last that long.Ē