In Praise Of “Peculiarly Hypnotic Tedium”

Good news, baseball fans!

All your griping about long and slow baseball games has paid off.

Games are shorter!

Last year the length of the average baseball game dropped – dropped! – to 3 hours and 4 minutes. That’s a savings of 4 minutes per game over 2017.

I hate math, but check out this wizardry …

With a 162-game season, there were 2,430 regular season games scheduled in 2018. At 4 minutes saved per game, that comes out to 9,720 free minutes or – and this is going to blow your mind – 162 hours saved!

Pulitizer-winning novelist Philip Roth once called baseball’s pace “peculiarly hypnotic tedium” and, just to be clear, he meant that in a good way.

I’m sure you put your 4-minute-per-game savings to good use last season.

Maybe you used your free minutes to watch Bongo Cat play Africa

 

The average American shower takes 8 minutes – so you could have had half a shower, which is time enough to soap, but maybe not enough to rinse.

Fun Fact: The 3 hour, 4 minute average baseball game is almost identical to the length of an average NFL football game, but without all the brain-damaging concussions.

(It’s odd that some people who complain about baseball games being too long and slow are the same ones who complain that the off-season – without baseball – is also too long and slow. I watched the Orioles lose 115 games last season. What’s your hurry?)

You’re not the first person to complain about the pace of the game.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1924

In 1924, Thomas Hickey, President of the American Association, a Midwestern minor league, complained about the speed of the game which was then a languid 1 hour and 54 minutes.

“The public prefers shorter ball games,” he declared.

Apparently Americans didn’t want to sit around watching Babe Ruth for two hours when there were so many other things they could be doing. Like, oh, I don’t know, waiting for bread slicers to be invented. (1927, since you were probably wondering.)

Modern Mechanix magazine, 1929

The best thing since …

Average life expectancy in 1924 was just 58 years, so clearly there was a lot of life-cramming that had to be squeezed in before your neighbor ran you over with the new touring car he didn’t know how to drive.

(I’ve waited nearly seven years to put Buster Keaton on here.)

Hickey offered no plan for speeding up the game, but suggested giving a trophy or flag to the team that had lowest average play time.

Because the promise of a flag would be all the incentive a team would need to hurry things up a bit. Right?

It wasn’t until 30-some years later that a local parks department actually tried to speed up the game.

In 1955, the Parks and Rec Department of Louisville, Kentucky, didn’t just complain about long games (2 hours and 31 minutes in the big leagues by then), they determined to do something about it.

The Des Moines Register, 4/19/1955

They outfitted some of their teen teams with new rules to speed up the game. Teams would play by baseball’s regular rules for half of their weekly games and with new “speed-up” rules for the rest.

They widened home plate to create a larger strike zone. Two strikes for an out, three balls for a walk. Foul off a second strike? Out. There would be no tossing the ball around the infield after an out. And, no dawdling to find your glove between innings – gloves would be left along the baselines.

There were strict time limits between pitches and limits on mound visits.

Pinch hitters batted for pitchers.

And, intentional walks were signaled with a wave.

Sound familiar?

I doubt if anyone in Louisville remembers their “Experimental League” season or realizes that many of their rules are used in the majors today.

Over that summer, the rules were mixed and matched, and slowly whittled down by umpires who were tasked with deciding which worked best.

The Louisville Courier-Journal, 6/26/1955

By August, just a few rules remained – including limits on mound visits and warm-up pitches, and time limits between pitches (15 seconds) and innings (60 seconds). And, still no tossing the ball around the infield after an out.

The Louisville Courier-Journal, 8/7/1955

The rules worked. Innings went from an average of 17 minutes to about 10 minutes.

But, ultimately, the rules were abandoned. As The Louisville Courier-Journal reported: “Records compiled by the four officials who directed the seven-week experiment show that the length of a game cannot be cut, without detracting from the color and tradition of the game.”

Best I can tell, Louisville’s speed-up rules were never mentioned again.

Here’s my “speed-up” idea for you. If you really want a shorter, faster game, why not go all in? Why not just have a one-inning game? Three outs per team. Game over. There. A 20-minute game. Happy now?

Funny that it was Louisville that tried to speed up baseball.

Because, I have a one-second game to tell you about.

Embed from Getty Images

 

And, it happened in Louisville, where a single second — actually 9/10ths of a second — became a surreal moment in college basketball last season.

Virginia was down by two with less than one second left in a game against Louisville on March 1, 2018. Oh, and Louisville had the ball.

I know your time is valuable, so here’s a quick recap of the game’s other 2,399 seconds — Virginia struggled; late in the game, Louisville led by 10. Now, let’s drop in with just seconds left and Louisville leading 64 to 59 and on the verge of upsetting Virginia.

“This could be Louisville’s crowning achievement of the season.”

Yeh, hold that thought.

 

“Can you believe it?” (Editor/Husband still can’t.)

OK, that one second of a college basketball game has nothing to do with the pace of baseball or Louisville’s 1955 experiment. Or, sliced bread or Buster Keaton.

I just thought you might be in a hurry and would appreciate an exciting one-second game.

But, I will tell you, that one second was way more exciting if you watched the 2,399 other seconds before it. Sometimes your patience is rewarded.

And, maybe that’s the point.

Sometimes the best part of a game comes in the blink of an eye.

But, it sure is a lot sweeter if you aren’t in such a hurry to get it over with.

As Gandhi once said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”

Maybe he was a baseball fan, too.

 

 

 

17 thoughts on “In Praise Of “Peculiarly Hypnotic Tedium”

  1. I wasn’t all that worried about speeding up games… until Jerry DiPoto started “rebuilding” the Mariners… now I just can’t wait for the season to start! It’s gonna be great1 No, really… it is! Plus they raised ticket prices!

  2. Well done as always, and with particularly excellent graphics as well! One note: If I remember correctly the American League began in 1901. The AA was major league until 1891 and then spent the rest of its life as a minor league until 1997 when disbanded. It revived in 2006 as an Independent League.

  3. In my opinion, there’s not enough “peculiarly hypnotic tedium “ to counteract the (I believe) life diminishing pace, and accompanying stress of modern life. I recall the comments of my Airbnb host in Cooperstown this past fall about the locals approvingly referring to the town as “Mayberry”. Implied, of course, was the comfort of a slower pace, which allowed a reflection upon and appreciation for the history and meaning of the locale, the contest, and life in general. I don’t recall being upset by the pace of baseball. To me, it’s like the gliding of waterfowl- lots of unseen activity beneath the surface, as well as an opportunity to activate one’s imagination. I gotta go with Gandhi on this one. Of course, I’m also ready for Spring Training to begin ⚾️👏🏻

  4. I am a firm believer that living always at high speed is not healthy. If one loves baseball, why want less of it? Of course, sitting on a wooden bench seat for 3+ hours requires real devotion in my book.

    • Long Virginia baseball games have gotten much more comfortable with the introduction last season of comfy blue “major-league style” seats down the first-base line (and a brand new nearby bathroom that keeps the heat on full blast during cold February games)!

  5. Bongo cat rocks!
    So the old idea to shorten a game only bought us 4 min on the 2nd go of it? Oh, just sit back, chill and enjoy the game. Let the world swirl and stay out of the fray for 4 less minutes!
    Thanks for a fun blog!

  6. Fantastic article. Well done as usual!

    I see both sides of the “shorter games” philosophy. On one hand, for people like us that watch hundreds of games per season it would be nice to have more time on our hands to handle the tedious “work” in life rather than spending all our time debating the merits of bunts and hit-n-runs.

    On the other hand, I find it odd that people complain about the game times when they are the ones buying tickets for the games they attend. Do they like “shortchanging” themselves? Do people pay full price for movie “shorts”? How about a “matinee” price for day games, or games that Mark Buehrle starts?

    I may have written this on your site before, but I will again. I attended the shortest game in Mariners history at Comiskey Park. I believe it was in April 2005. Mark Buehrle pitched and he was known for working quickly. I believe he pitched 8 or 9 shutout innings. The game took 1 hour 39 minutes. They cut off beer sales in the 7th inning as usual, which was about an hour and 10 or 15 minutes after first pitch. I felt cheated. I could barely finish a beer or two before they extinguished sales. Can I get a 50% refund on my tickets? From that moment on, I was ok avoiding attendance on Mark Buehrle days, which is a shame really, considering what a stud he was.

    Anyway, that was an outlier of course but the point is, why are we in such a rush? People need to slow down and relax.

    • I’m 3+ hours from Camden Yards … if I’m going to spend 6 hours in a car, I want the longest game possible to make the drive worthwhile. That said, I really think most of the “games are too long” grumblers are either a) watching on TV where the focus is primarily with two cameras — one on the pitcher and one on the batter — making the game seem so much smaller and longer, and b) sportswriters who just want to file their stories and go home.

      • Yes! I agree. The writers are often not even sports fans anymore. Somewhere along the line, it became their “job” and so they don’t even appreciate the way we do as fans. It’s a shame.

  7. I love how I can get a solid baseball history education from you and also snort with laughter at a one-liner or an image you toss in (What’s your hurry?). You’re magical, Jackie. How long til opening day??

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