The average length of a Major League Baseball game in 2016 was three hours and four minutes, up four minutes from the previous season, when a new emphasis was put on pace of play and generally credited with shaving seven minutes off the average time of games in 2014, a record 3:07.
This is a galactically stupid thing to fixate on.
Twenty years ago, the average major league game took 2:52 to play. While there’s a 15-minute difference between 1997 and that 2014 record, if you ask someone how long a pro baseball game takes to play, the answer will be “about three hours.” And, in fact, that’s true. According to the indispensable baseball-reference.com, the average time for nine innings in 2016 was three hours… and 51 seconds.
The obsession of Rob Manfred’s administration with speeding up the game is ostensibly to make baseball more appealing to young people in today’s hectic society. As if baseball is suddenly going to be much more popular because they’re able to save a few minutes on the margins.
If they want to add pitch clocks, well, fine, that would be enforcing a rule that already exists but is completely ignored. But then along come ideas like the one floated this week to put a runner on second base once you get to extra innings, as if this is college football overtime. It is, on merit as a baseball idea, completely ludicrous and antithetical to the way the game is played.
So, why do this? Why even think about mucking around with the framework of the sport when only 185 out of 2,428 major league games in 2016 even went to extra innings? Keep in mind that 73 of those 185 games were decided in 10 innings, with only 63 needing 12 or more frames. Not to mention, the longest games tend to go viral on social media, creating talking points and good buzz for baseball among that young audience the sport so craves.
The simple answer is that baseball is in the thrall of its television overlords, who so generously fund the sport and want a nice, crisp broadcast, night in and night out, without ever sacrificing a dollar of ad revenue. That’s the reason that these discussions about shortening baseball games never seem to get around to discussing the minutes that could be saved by chopping one commercial out of each break. But there’s a side benefit for baseball in shortening games, and believe it or not, it’s taking advantage of the little guy just as adeptly as the sport does in failing to pay its minor leaguers a living wage.
If you’ve seen the 20th century cinematic classic “Office Space,” or, really, done any kind of work in finance, you know that small transactions, conducted enough times, wind up being big money. So, let’s think about some small transactions.
A union rep for foodservice workers told Dealbreaker that at his ballpark, the majority of cooks and cashiers at concession stands make $10.95 an hour. Their workday begins two hours before first pitch and goes until the game ends. For these workers, time is money, and shorter games mean getting paid less. Now, $10.95 an hour is only 18.3 cents per minute, so over the course of a season, if games were an average of one minute shorter, a worker would lose out on $14.78.
If you worked six months and got $14.78 less for your efforts, you probably wouldn’t notice. But if you were one of hundreds of people at a ballpark getting paid $14.78 less per minute of game action shaved away, your boss would notice it on the bottom line.
Consider Busch Stadium in St. Louis, where the amenities map lists 84 food stands. That’s just food stands, not the beer-only stands that also are plentiful, nor the merchandise stands, nor the various activity stations without which no modern ballpark would be complete. And we’re not even talking about parking attendants, security guards, maintenance staff, or anyone else drawing an hourly wage. Just the food stands.
Most food stands require more than one employee, and you can see where things start to add up. Last year, as baseball supported a congressional measure to keep minor leaguers exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act, agent Rafa Nieves tweeted that he had clients making $3,000 for the season. Some back of the envelope math tells a quick story: If your hourly workers are paid $10.95 an hour, and games are one minute shorter, the money taken out of the pocket of 203 hourly workers would add up to one minor leaguer’s salary.
In extra innings, there’s more at stake. A former “game entertainment team” worker said that she got time and a half when shifts extended beyond eight hours – a rare occurrence, but when your workday starts well before game time, it can happen.
Remember that in 2016, the average time for a game was 3:04, but the average time for nine innings was just shy of 3:01. Even though extra innings happen in only 7.6% of games, it’s enough to goose the average time of a game by three minutes. With the prospect of some of that running into overtime pay, it makes that much more sense for baseball to want to get things over with quickly. After all, there are minor leaguers out there who can be paid peanuts because there’s less money going to the people selling peanuts deep into the night of a 19-inning game that never happens.