I received a refreshing e-mail note from Houston Astros President Tal Smith yesterday in response to my column about the first May 6, 1888 Houston professional game played by a Houston team in Houston as Houston. Houston lost to Cincinnati, 22-3, in one hour and forty-five minutes that day, prompting Tal Smith to write this comment: “Given the score, it’s interesting that they played this in 1:45. Goes to show pace of the game when you don’t make a lot of pitching changes.”
Thanks for ringing the bell on that whole recycling subject, Tal!
I responded to Tal as follows: “It’s long been my contention that it’s not the playing of the game that makes baseball games run longer, but all the non-playing moments that are given over to mound conferences, pitching changes, and all those photo-op argument moments that some managers seem to feed their egos upon.”
In my short-form reply, I totally left out the big clock killer of all those lengthy and extensive time-out sectors that the networks riddle through the game to show all those television commercials they need to show to pay for all that money they shipped to Major League Baseball for the rights to show games so that teams could then turn around and use gobs of that dough to make multi-millionaires of pillow-heads like Alex Rodriguez!
Today is not like the early days of Yogi Berra’s career when the kid from “The Hill” in St. Louis went home in the off-season and worked as a nuts and bolts salesman at his local Sears store to help compensate his meager (by today’s standards) baseball salary. Today its a rich man’s game that depends upon the pipeline of that media money that has paid for all the changes that have come down upon the baseball culture over the past thirty-five years. If you want to follow the TV Man piper, you have to march to his tune. And that pretty much describes everything that now slows down the game.
A Rod is a pillow head for numerous reasons, but this subject provides a good example: It was TV money in the first place that gave him the bucks he needed to pursue his lifestyle of attraction to dating movie stars, and easily what also attracted the film fatale crowd to him in the first place.
Do you really think that a Kate Hudson or a Cameron Diaz would have been available to A Rod had he been topping out on Babe Ruth’s $80,000 per year? Then Rodriquez gets upset because the same tool that made him rich, the TV camera, catches a candid shot of diva Diaz feeding him pop corn as a spectator at some other sporting venue during the off-season. – Alex, TV is the god that butters your pop corn! Don’t you know that?
So, can the games really be shortened from their near three-hour average, given the fact that all these non-playing issues that lengthen the game are tailor-made for the appetites of TV networks that cover the game?
Pitching changes provide natural commercial breaks. Egoists who play the camera with their arguments on the field provide the kind of drama that TV feeds upon, sort of like those real-life car chases that take up the whole TV news hour. On days we maybe need to be paying more rapt attention to the actions of Congress, the stock market, or the terrorists, we are hooked into watching from a helicopter’s POV while the police chase some guy who simultaneously speeding down Westheimer Road while he tries to eat a few nickel bags of crack that he happened to have with him as he knocked off that convenience store in Pearland.
Putting a clock on the playing of the game itself to me is also tantamount to sacrilege. I would rather have it as is than to see it changed artificially for the sake of today’s shortened attention spans. We could shorten the non-playing delays, but we will not because they are tied in to the needs of great gobbling benefactor – network television.
As for me, I’ll take baseball as it is, however long it runs. When I’m at the ballpark, I’m one of those people in our sport’s anthem throng.
“I don’t care if I never get back!”