ESPN.com reported Thursday that umpire Joe West believes Red Sox and Yankees games take too long to play. He called the games “embarrassing” and “a disgrace to baseball.” These comments came in response to Tuesday night’s game, in which umpire Angel Hernandez refused on several occasions to grant extra time to batters during their at-bats. Player responses to these comments were almost unilaterally negative, citing that if someone has something better to do, let he or she go and do that. The consensus is that no one is forcing people to stay through the entire game, so what right do the umpires have to criticize the pace?
The Downside of Slow Games
The fact is, Red Sox-Yankees games are too slow. There are too many visits to the mound. Too many step-outs during at-bats. Too many pitching changes. Every Boston-New York game is played as if it’s the end of the world. Both teams are stocked with good, patient hitters, so walks and full-count at-bats are inevitable. But more SHOULD be done by both teams and the umpires to speed up the game where it’s possible. There are a number of reasons why, including but not limited to:
1) Advertisement revenue. When a game starts to go long, viewers go to bed. Although there are many viewers who will stay up until the wee hours to watch a full game, more viewers will go to bed if the game runs too long. That means advertisements between later innings are getting less viewers. This devalues the advertising space. A brisker game ensures a full complement of commercials viewed by the maximum number of people possible.
2) Risk of incident. Whenever you have a rivalry as fierce as Red Sox-Yankees, you’re going to get a fair contingency of people at the ballpark drinking throughout the game. Sometimes this is to enhance the enjoyment of the game. Sometimes this is to mitigate the boredom (such as the middle innings of Wednesday’s 3-1, 10-inning game). And sometimes this is help ease the tension that fills the air whenever you get rivalry games like this. But the bottom line is that longer games mean more drinking in the stands. And the more drinking their is, the more likely an incident is to occur. This could vary from a fight in the stands to throwing things onto the field or at players. But no good comes from excessive drinking at the ballpark, and you run the risk of it the longer a game goes on.
3) Decrease in overall enjoyment. Let’s face it: baseball can be kind of boring. When teams are scoring (like in the season opener), that’s exciting. When the pitchers are dominating (like during a no-hitter), that can be exciting too. But your standard low-scoring baseball game where there are lots of base-runners but no runs (like Wednesday night’s game) can be kind of boring. It’s not entertaining to watch mediocrity. Baseball games cost a lot of money; it’s fair for fans to expect to be entertained if they’re going to pay for it. And while the players are right that no one is forcing the vfans to stay, as the entertainers the players are complicit in making sure they are entertaining. And sports is entertainment, first and foremost. Players should not intentionally diminish the entertainment value of the game they play. While they should still play to win, certain acts such as meaningless trips to the mound and excessive stepping out of the batter’s box could be reduced to help speed the game along and keep the fans happy.
The Umpire’s Place
Joe West was the perfect person to come out and indict both teams for their slow play. Since he’s not a player, he has no stake in who wins or loses, so he can remain neutral. And since he isn’t a fan either, he has no emotions or money invested in the game. He is there simply to observe. And what he observed is that the games take too long to play. He’s not the first to make such a comment, but he IS the first with the authority and credibility to act on something we’ve all been aware of for a long time. So he came out against both teams equally and fairly. The Red Sox and Yankees are two of the biggest teams in baseball from a fan and media perspective. They are the models by which the other teams are judged, both by their fans and themselves. Seeing the Red Sox and Yankees grinding games into boring nothingness could convince these other teams to follow suit. So before a league wide increase in game-times occurs, the one man who could speak dispassionately about the subject came out and said something. And he was right to do so.