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Some candidates love the idea of bringing the team to Worcester. Others feel that Worcester is being played by the team in order to get more money to build new a stadium in Rhode Island. Whatever the opinion, it is worth noting that all this discussion surrounds the future of a team in a sport that is losing popularity by the day … or maybe we should say by the hour.
The owners in Major League Baseball may sometimes crow about attendance, but the fact is baseball is losing popularity. According to a Forbes article from just this past week, the 2017 MLB regular season marks the third consecutive season of total attendance declines, and five out of the last six that saw drops.
Baseball officials can frame those stats in all sorts of ways, blaming attendance drops on such things as the extreme weather conditions or the cyclical nature of what teams are performing well in any given season, but we have no time for those arguments. In fact, it's time that is killing the sport.
Major league baseball games are ridiculously long, and they are getting longer. According to The Associated Press, the average length of a nine-inning game in the major leagues rose 4½ minutes this season to a record 3 hours, 5 minutes, 11 seconds, according to the commissioner's office. Not to be left out, minor league games suffer from the same issue as well.
Baseball games have hovered around the 3-hour mark for quite some time. Games in the early 90s were routinely played in about 2 hours and 50 minutes. But go back to the late 70s and early 80s and games averaged only about 2½ hours. The games of Boston's "Impossible Dream Season" of 1967 that catapulted the Red Sox to their current popularity were played in that short a time back 50 years ago. Baseball has always been a long game, but we've now gone past the breaking point.
It's just no fun to watch a baseball game anymore. Baseball was never about continuous action, but with pitchers now taking a walk around the mound after every pitch and batters adjusting every piece of their uniforms after each swing, it's become interminable.
The website fivethirtyeight.com, which is all about analyzing statistics, posted an excellent piece during the 2016 postseason about how playoff games take even longer than regular season games. Included was a discussion about relief pitching (and its greater usage nowadays) slowing the game even more in October. In fact, according to 538, the Los Angeles Dodgers' bullpen was taking 25.9 seconds per pitch in the 2016 playoffs. Think about that. That's one minute for every two pitches. Of course, our beloved Red Sox weren't far behind. In their only three postseason games last year, Boston relievers waited 25.6 seconds between pitches. We're sure that those post season stats didn't get better in Boston's post season this year, which came to an end in four games with the Red Sox loss to the Houston Astros yesterday in the MLB Division Series.
This is a not a recipe for success - we're speaking time-wise. Much has been written about young people - with their short attention spans, and their love of their immediate-gratification cellphones - abandoning baseball for other sports. Who can blame them? It takes real patience, and we'd argue, a strong will, to sit through a Red Sox-Yankees contest that routinely approaches the four-hour mark.
For comparison sake, most movie buffs would argue that sitting through "Gone with the Wind" is quite an accomplishment. But that movie is continuously entertaining, even at three hours and 58 minutes. That said, imagine if Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh paused 25.9 seconds between every utterance?
This should give Worcester officials pause. We're not going to argue that baseball is going away anytime soon, but it's clearly been eclipsed by other sports. Football is our country's national pastime now, albeit under fire over player anthem protests. Basketball is probably the younger generation's go-to game. And baseball?
This year, the intentional walk was changed so that we didn't have to watch a pitcher throw four balls out of the strike zone. We're told that next year, baseball will employ a 20-second pitch clock and catchers will be restricted to one trip to the mound per inning. Who knows, maybe these changes will shorten the game and raise excitement levels.
We say it's a long shot. Postseason games that start at 8 p.m. routinely go well past any fan's bedtime - particularly the bedtime of young fans who constitute the next generation of fandom. Baseball, it would seem, is trapped in its slow-paced past.
Frankly … my … dear …, baseball may well be gone with the wind unless it shortens up its act. It's a case of less being more - except, of course, in seeing yet another all-too-early playoff exit.
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