Yesterday on NPR’s Morning Edition, sports commentator Frank Deford weighed in on a growing concern of MLB authorities (Bug Selig, et al): the length of regular season ballgames. Apparently, from 1999-2009 the Yankees led the league in the longest games played; the Red Sox stand a close second (in 2008 the two teams tied with an average 3 hours and 8 minutes per game). This morning The New York Times reported on this very issue, anticipating the Yankees and Red Sox series this weekend. Their previous three game series, in early April, combined for a cumulative 10 hours and 55 minutes (3.46, 3.48, and 3.21 each – and game three was 10 innings!). Upon the close of game 2, seasoned umpire Joe West, who eventually worked all three games, described the first two games as “pathetic and embarrassing.”
Frank Deford’s piece on the longue durée of contemporary MLB is worth a listen (plus, there’s shout out to the Cubbies of yore, which Peashoot’s lone reader might enjoy). The game has slowed down, I’m told (I can’t recall a time when it was much faster, frankly). And it’s interesting to consider what might be at work in the play of America’s pastime today: We’ve come a long way in this country from the days when cricket was once a game of the land (really, it was, look here), when folks (mostly men) played games that lasted days, included breaks for tea and lunch, and often ended with astronomically high scores. Is American sport returning to its source? Is the one-time rival to cricket in British North America, namely baseball, slowing down, taking its time, becoming a leisurely activity for colonial-type élites? Who can afford to go to the ballgame, cost or time-wise, these days? Is it true that Miller Park in Milwaukee now serves Earl Grey tea after shuddering the beer taps in bottom of the eight? Something limey is afoot! But seriously, it may be worthwhile to heed the historical method of the Annales School, for it appears that Deford’s point, also reflected in Sandomir’s NY Times piece, is that the state of MLB today–its painstakingly slow at-bats, numerous pitching changes, visits to the mound by catchers and coaches, commercial breaks, and the like–is a product of multiple structural developments over (at least) a century of development of the game. The media is a large part of the slowdown, accompanied by the wild fanaticism of baseball’s fan base. This all means revenue. Competition naturally emerges, on and off the ballfield. The consequences of winning and losing have grown for all involved. And well aware of that, all involved have withdrawn into their heads and cerebralized their games, so to speak. I can’t help but think of the Naked Gun and it’s parody of baseball coaches and their ridiculously excessive and at times puerile signaling codes. It’s not sport but a battle of wits. And we are even told as much on some broadcasts. Take the incredible exchanges between Joe Buck and Tim McCarver week after week on Fox about what players are thinking when they’re on the mound or at bat. These sportscasters speak as though they truly know such unknowable things and we, the audience, should believe that they know. The game takes time today for the players’ and coaches’ ornamentation–signs, rituals, warm ups and cool downs, cup checks, dust offs, and so on–and the media’s attempts to draw viewers into the on-field pageantry because, supposedly, it matters for the outcome of the game.