Since the 1919 Black Sox scandal, two events have shaken baseball to its very core.
The first, of course, was the steroid era, which left a permanent stain, making a mockery of the game’s beloved records and bringing the sport’s integrity into question.
The second is much more subtle but I’d argue even more damaging. The snail’s pace of the game is ruining it. And the scary thing is Commissioner Bud Selig and Co., just like with PEDs, are much too late to the party.
A couple months ago when asked about the speed of the game, Selig said, “I’m satisfied we’re doing well.”
Yeah, about as well as I used to do in calculus.
You don’t have to look hard to find examples that illustrate baseball is whistling past the graveyard.
That jerk Yankees fan (sorry for the redundancy) who is suing for $10 million because the cameras captured him nodding off at the game is a perfect metaphor for the sport.
These games can, and do, put you to sleep.
Last Sunday the Red Sox played a 12-inning game which lasted 5:05. Four days before, the Cubs beat the Sox 16-9 in a game which lasted 4:19.
It’s outrageous. Even Jake from State Farm is in bed when a lot of these games end.
Check out the crowds at the end of the game. They are a fraction of what was there for the first pitch.
According to Baseball Prospectus, Major League games this year are lasting nearly 3:09. That’s 44 minutes longer than in 1963.
The slowest team in the sport? Boston.
“Last year, Boston’s fourth straight season as the slowest team in baseball, its average game took three hours and 15 minutes,” wrote Carl Bialik of FiveThirtyEight.com.
Blue Jays pitcher Mark Buehrle said earlier in the year, “When you’re sitting there in between your start(s), looking at the scoreboard, looking at the clock, saying, ‘Holy (expletive), this is ridiculous.’ I know how fans feel.”
For decades, the purists would romanticize how baseball was the only game without a clock and without a set time. As society has changed, that perceived great strength is becoming an insurmountable weakness.
People used to gather around the dinner table for leisurely family meals. They’d spend an hour or more reading the newspaper. Nobody was in a rush and baseball was the sport of choice.
But not too, too long ago the other sports of choice were boxing and horse racing. Hello, MMA and casinos, good-bye boxing and horse racing as major players on the national scene.
Baseball may still be No. 2 in America, but football has lapped the former national pastime. Down the line, the huge impact of the lacrosse explosion will become evident. If you don’t grow up playing the game, you won’t watch it much as an adult.
Soccer, MMA, golf and NASCAR are also taking their toll in addition to football, basketball and hockey.
Other sports adapt, baseball buries its head. The NFL and college football powers are spending millions to make their sports more fan-friendly. One example is making their stadiums Wi-Fi accessible. Because fans, especially young ones, were staying away if they couldn’t use their Smartphones and tablets.
Baseball is, was and always will be a great game. Playing catch with dad. Seeing your first Sox games, eyes bulging at the beauty of the park. The goosebumps when you hit it on the sweet spot. Nothing like it.
But it should be a great 2.5-hour game. African-American kids rarely play and more as evidenced by major league rosters. Even the suburban kids seem to be quickly tiring of the sport.
I do a Sunday Q and A column called Around the Horn. Every lacrosse player I ask how they got into the sport.
Invariably, the answer is, “Baseball was just too boring.”
More and more middle-aged fans are saying the same thing.
It’s time to speed up the game and eliminate the batters’ and pitchers’ obsessive-compulsive routines. Mike Hargrove was famously nicknamed “The Human Rain Delay” in the 1970s for his overly deliberate approach at the plate. He wouldn’t even stand out these days.
It’s time to aggressively promote a culture where you don’t step out after every pitch, rearrange your helmet, batting gloves and private parts after every pitch. Let’s take the Nomar out of the game.
Don’t move like a registry of motor vehicles worker to the plate or to the mound. And let’s cut down on all these meetings on the mound to discuss where they are going to eat after the game.
Widen the strike zone, speed up the replay process and enforce the 12-second rule for pitchers between pitches with nobody on base.
When Selig, who will be 80, finally retires in January, priority No. 1 for the new commissioner has to be speed up the game.
It can be done. Unlike during the Selig era, MLB just has to want to do it.
E-mail Michael Muldoon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @MullyET.