The Umpires Union claimed that the Powers that Be in MLB strongly urged the umpires to call more strikes in order to lower the total number of pitches in a game from an average of 285 to an average of 270.
The umpires protested that this was too much of an intrusion in to their affairs and was compromising the game.
MLB’s aims in lowering the pitch counts were to shorten the games and decrease the amount of runs scored.
I did hear Commissioner Selig say that the problem with baseball games isn’t the time, it’s the pace. He said that repeatedly. I’m not quite sure what he was gettin at.
That being said, MLB umpires are still doing an absolutely deplorable job of calling balls and strikes. Remember that this is a union that actually complained when the league asked them to make calls according to the rulebook.
I am no fan of Bud Selig, and stopped following the game when they went to that abominable wild-card format. But I think the gist of his message is fairly clear.
Baseball is alone among our major team sports in that the game is not finished – cut off, if you will – by some arbitrary, pre-set time limit. Rather, the game is over only when a pre-set number of acts is completed: 9 innings. (Yes, there are exceptions, but we needn’t get into those here.)
These 9 innings can take any amount of “clock time” – from under two hours to over four. The average time of a game has been steadily increasing – from about two-and-a-half hours back when I was a lad in the '70s, to I believe a shade over three hours today. The increase is not due to increasing the number of innings, but rather increasing the amount of time each inning takes.
(There are a number of factors involved – more walks, to be sure. More pitcher changes. Those damnable pick-off throws to first. Batters taking forever and a day to settle in. Pitchers taking their own sweet time between pitches. What was it they used to say about Bob Gibson? He pitches like he was double parked. And a Gibson-Fergie Jenkins match up meant a two-hour game, tops.)
So what Selig was getting at is that a set amount of action – 9 innings worth of pithces, hits, runs, etc. – spread out over three hours is less exciting to watch than that same amount of activity compressed into two and a half. Makes sense to me. Keeping his eye on the bottom line, I’d wager he’s worried about losing fans to the lesser sports if baseball is perceived as “too slow”.