Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Slow Pace of Baseball

Exhibition game at Denver's Mile High Stadium, 1987

Friday's WSJ had a point-counterpoint on the slow pace of baseball, determining that during a 178-minute game, only 18 minutes are devoted to actual action. But the second article, the counterpoint, was much more inspired and resonant to a true baseball fan, especially as it accurately attributes excitement to the inherent tension of the game:

All that waiting, though, is caused by and allows for the two best things about baseball: It is a game of incredible precision, and it is the one game you really don't have to pay any more attention to than you would like.

The first is just a matter of distances. The spaces where the actions take place in baseball—the strike zone, the few feet on either side of a fielder—are so constricted, and laid on such a large and sparsely populated field, that it is miraculous anyone can do anything in them at all. Asking a ballplayer to hurry up is like tapping a safecracker on the shoulder and pointing at your watch.

The second, though, is more important, and really what makes baseball so rewarding.

If you watch a lot of different sports, you know that the tension in an event is directly proportionate to how often it happens. A good boxing match with a couple of fighters you care about is totally absorbing partly because they only fight a few times per year; football is so captivating partly because it is played once a week for a few months in the fall and early winter.

The tension and release in that kind of sport is exhilarating, and exhausting. It demands total concentration, and it works your nerves. It can leave you a wreck, if you care enough.

Baseball, because of all its much-decried dead time, isn't like that at all. You get your ticket, and you take your seat. You spend a half inning making out your scorecard and chatting with your neighbors. You watch for a bit and think you would like a beer. The line is probably long, but you are also probably not going to miss much. And if it seems as though you might, you will be able to tell from the sound of the crowd.

When you get back to your seat, you talk to a friend. You get caught up in what you are talking about, and notice there are runners on second and third and one out. The pitcher is laboring. Is he tipping his pitches? No, you note, suddenly seized with the kind of concentration a boxing fan brings to a big title fight, but his curve isn't working. He knows it; he has gone to his slider, and the inning is over. Back to the conversation. Soon it is time for another beer.

It can be a slow game, but it doesn't demand anything more of you than you want to give. It doesn't need your fixation, and often doesn't need your attention, though it will reward as much as you want to pay it. It doesn't lose much if you ignore it. It is what you watch while life is going on. All that time when nothing happens is what makes it everything a sport should be.

photo: Denver Post / Getty Images


Dusty Baker said...

Just pulling this from the cobwebs in the corner of my so-called brain, but wasn't there a similar analysis done of NFL where there were precious few moments of live play that occur in the average pro football game?

Dusty Baker said...

Oh yeah.

Steve Sax said...

Wow, and it's only 11 minutes of play in a football game, relative to a baseball game's 18 minutes.

Now let's figure out the cost of a ticket per minute of action. Hmmmmmmm?

Fred's Brim said...

"It can leave you a wreck, if you care enough."
Even though it's baseball, the Dodgers have left me in a wreck on numerous occasions, and not just during playoff failures. Maybe I care too much

Dusty Baker said...

And look at average game time for each, divided by actual playing time.

Either's all about the adverts with a little bread and circus thrown in.