SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Monday, February 29, 2016

Baseball Needs Clocks

The most horrifying stat I have heard in a while in the sports world is that the median age of a baseball fan is 56 years old.  That's something.  On the one hand, many 56 year-olds have more free time and more disposable cash.  On the other, they might not be as likely to eat or drink as much at the park, and, well, the crowd is pretty old, which doesn't bode well for the future.

I have had frequent conversations with my sixteen year-old about this.  He is not a fan, although he'll go if I get good seats or if the hometown nine is interesting, which it has not been for about four years.  And, as much as teenaged boys engage with their dads in conversation, he offers a few keen observations:

1.  Kids do not follow baseball today, at least his friends.
2.  Supplanting baseball is international soccer, in part because the game always moves, in part because it's a global game, and in no small part because EA's FIFA Soccer is hugely popular and much more fun to play than any baseball game on a PlayStation or Xbox.
3.  Baseball is the game that his and his friends' dads went to with their fathers.
4.  It is hard to play and there is way too much standing around (isn't, he asks, the ball in play for only about 10-15 minutes of any 3 hour game?).
5.  The games are way too long.
6.  Some games are played in very hot weather, too.

Ouch for baseball.  That's for sure.  I loved going with my dad, found the game hard to play but with seven TV stations only (and really three if you did not count PBS or the UHF channels in town) there wasn't much to watch on TV.  We liked watching the MLB Game of the Week broadcast by Joe
Garagiola and Tony Kubek, because that was a chance to see a team that we didn't get to see often if ever. 

But the world changed.  The NFL took off.  Boxing died.  Basketball got Magic and Bird and then Jordan.  And baseball cancelled the 1994 World Series because of labor strife.  And then steroids took over.  And specialization among pitchers did too.  And the games got longer and longer.  Ads between innings, mound visits, batters stepping out of the box frequently. 

All combine to be taxing and boring.  (I recall, years ago, when Phillies' reliever Al Holland got so infuriated with the Mets' George Foster, who was notorious for fidgeting and stepping out of the box, that Holland walked halfway to the batters box from the mound and yelled at Foster, "Get in there and hit.").  That said, this summer, a friend and I drove up to see the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs.  In-between inning clocks.  Pitch clocks.  Interesting. . .

It was 95 degrees out.  Our seats started out in the sun, but then the shade took over in the third inning.  But the game moved.  The pitchers never took the allotted 15 seconds between pitches, and the innings began precisely when they were supposed to.  It was an enjoyable game -- and it was over in two hours and fifteen minutes.  Say what?  That's right.  2:15. 

The Majors should check that out.  That doesn't mean that the median age of a fan will morph suddenly to 35, but what it does mean is that those who are put off by how long a game takes might do a double take and return if they learn that the average game's length will be cut by one-third. 

Pitch clocks.  In-between inning clocks.

It's about time. 

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