MLB Is Out of Touch
Someone described as a “high-ranking MLB executive” has floated the idea that major league games should be shortened to seven innings because the games are too long. To me, that just sounds like a tremendously stupid idea that completely fails to address the real problem with modern major league games.
During the many decades of professional baseball prior to the Second World War, major league games were routinely played out in less than two hours. Since most week-day games were day games that started late in the afternoon (3:00 p.m. or 3:30 p.m.) so that fans didn’t have to miss to much work, MLB had an incentive to play games fast in or risk the game ending in a draw because of darkness.
Two things have extended games times more than anything else. All games are now televised, and broadcasters want long between-half-inning breaks to show commercials. Second, all the pitching changes in today’s game slow the game down tremendously.
It would be simple enough to shorten the between-half-inning breaks, but this is unlikely to happen because broadcasters insist on longer breaks to show more commercials and MLB teams love the TV money too much to take a longer-term view.
With respect to pitching changes, some minor changes could be made to reduce the time consumed by them. For example, a rule could be instituted that a pitching change can only be made at the start of an inning or after the batting team has scored a run. You could also limit the number of pitching changes that can be made in any one half-inning — for example, two pitching changes and only after the batting team scores runs off each of the first two pitchers.
Other things that could be done include limiting the number of times a pitcher can throw to first base during an inning (say three to five throw-overs) and preventing the manager, pitching coach or catcher from going to the mound unless a pitching change is made. Any of these possibilities makes more sense to me than shortening the game from nine to seven innings.
In the short term, fans don’t apparently mind that most games now run at least three hours. Attendance is as good as it has ever been. What MLB is concerned about is the claim that fewer young people are as interested in MLB as they once were.
I don’t see how making the games only seven innings long is going to make the games any more exciting to watch. The main problem now is that there is too little action relative to the total game time. Shortening the number of innings played as a means to address this fundamental problem would result in less action overall and the same (admittedly bad) ratio of action to total game time. Ways need to be found to speed up the in-game action, not simply decrease the number of innings played.