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Speeding Up The Baseball Game

You can be forgiven for believing that the only thing more common on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball broadcast than the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are the words of Dan Shulman informing viewers that they “can find Sports Center on ESPN2.” So far this season, only one Sunday Night game has been completed before 11:00 PM.

For as long as I’ve watched baseball there have been people complaining about the length of games. For the most part, I enjoy the lazy pace at which a game of baseball is played, but I certainly understand the disdain for lengthy matches. Anyone who’s ever suffered through a Steve Trachsel start can relate, but what can really be done about it?

Inserting a pitch clock or forcing batters to stay in the box once they’ve stepped in it both seem like measures that would be too harsh, adding an element to the game that would change its makeup too much. Not to mention that it would lead to massive loopholes that might see pitchers and hitters take longer to step on the rubber or enter the batter’s box.

I came across an interesting idea this afternoon from NASCAR, of all places. ESPN announced today that the network will use split screens during broadcasts of the ten races that comprise NASCAR’s championship series to show commercials without forcing its audience to miss any action.

Why can’t something similar be done in baseball?

Currently, regular nine inning games have between 16 and 17 television commercial breaks that last between two minutes and five seconds for regional broadcasts and two minutes and twenty-five seconds for national broadcasts.

That time is normally reserved for players to change positions between offense and defense and hopefully allow the pitchers and fielders a chance to warm up after half an inning of sitting on the bench, but surely it doesn’t take an entire two minutes plus to do this. If the time for this was cut in half, would anyone complain?

Broadcasters could still show two commercials between innings and use split screens to air the two or three other advertisements that would normally be shown at that time during mound conferences, breaks in play and other lulls in the action. Assuming that viewers would be less likely to change the channel or walk away from a television set during a two minute + break versus a one minute break or an in-game ad placement, wouldn’t this work out even better for advertisers?

The modern dugout is a spacious place and I’m sure that any hitter at the plate with two out would forgive teammates for stretching out their arms off to the side, just as they forgive catchers for putting on some of their pads when they’re not due up.

Through stricter time management between innings, 15 to 20 minutes could be shaved off the total length of a game without interrupting or enforcing the flow. And that to me is the most important part of any changes to the rules that are enacted to speed up the game, it can’t mess with the seemingly natural flow to a baseball game.

Oh, and totally ditch the seventh inning stretch. If I wanted a workout, I’d join a gym.