Have you enjoyed watching postseason baseball? Hopefully so. Have you enjoyed watching as much of it as you would have liked? Probably not.
If you live in the Eastern or Central time zones— as most of us do— you probably missed the endings of at least a few postseason games you wanted to watch. Whereas the average regular season game length was 3:10, that has jumped to 3:38 in the postseason. With most games beginning around 8:08 PM Eastern, the expected end time is 11:46. That’s just the average; many of them finished significantly later.
Too Much of a Good Thing
The problem of long-lasting, late-finishing games seems to be getting worse as we get deeper into October.
This was the first time a game lasted 4+ hours, didn't go to extra innings, and had 5 or fewer total runs scored https://t.co/InhtMBDxAF— Baseball Reference (@baseball_ref) October 26, 2019
I’d love to tell you that I can persevere long enough to watch these marathons, but writing about baseball isn’t my main profession. (It’s actually my third job.) Like most other adults, I have to get up early for work. They simply don’t make enough 5-Hour Energy for me to get through the day if I’m regularly watching baseball past midnight.
This is disappointing for me of course, but my kids have it worse. They’re eight and four, and still deciding how much they care about baseball. Unfortunately, they don’t even have a chance to watch at all in the playoffs. We start their bedtime routine around 7:30, and after pajamas, brushing teeth, cleaning up, and reading nighttime stories, it’s lights out around 8:30. Even if we adjust the whole process to be able to catch the beginning of a game, they can’t stay up for more than a half inning (maybe a full inning on the weekends).
This is just my own personal situation. I don’t expect MLB to tailor their schedule around me or my kids, but I believe my family is a pretty good example of what happens in millions of American households.
47.1 percent of the population lives in the Eastern Standard Time Zone, with games ending around midnight. A further 29.0 percent live in the Central Standard Time Zone, where the games end pretty late as well. That’s more than 3⁄4 of all working Americans that have to choose between watching postseason baseball and a good night’s sleep. 3⁄4 of American children probably can’t witness a ninth inning at all (once we get past multiple games in one day).
There are two things that simply have to change. One of them is that games must start earlier. I’m sorry, West Coasters, but a 7 PM EST start time makes October baseball accessible for about 245 million Americans. That would be a 4 PM start in the Pacific Standard Time Zone, so working folks out west would miss the first three or four innings. However, the trade-off is that millions more eyeballs are awake for the last three or four innings, and these innings are the more important, higher-leverage ones.
The second change is that the games must be shorter. Currently, the only time zone where these games fit into a comfortable 6-10 PM time slot is Mountain Standard Time. This is the least populous time zone, with only 6.7 percent of Americans living there. They have only two MLB teams— the Rockies and Diamondbacks— who have made a total of two World Series appearances. With such intolerably long games, 93.3 percent of the population is inconvenienced on either the front or back end.
Commissioner Rob Manfred bemoans pace-of-play and game length in the regular season. He has instituted several high-profile changes to speed games along. In spite of this, the average game length in the regular season has been trending upwards.
The average postseason game length in 2019 has been 218 minutes, which blows the regular season out of the water. Why doesn’t Manfred and MLB don’t seem to care about game length anymore when the games are most important? When MLB is putting its greatest product out there, shouldn’t they want to look their best?
Clearly, these pace-of-play initiatives don’t appear to be working— even in the regular season. Sure, there are other factors :cough: rabbit ball— but Manfred has either failed to address a problem that he seems to care about more than anyone, or perhaps it’s all been just a smokescreen.
Back in May, I proposed an admittedly far-fetched conspiracy theory related to the juiced ball and game length:
“This is the part where Shaggy and Scooby rip off Manfed’s mask to reveal, uh, someone worse than Manfred. Negotiations with the MLBPA regarding pace-of-play bleed into larger economic issues. According to an Associated Press article from February 8:
“Management presented its latest proposal Jan. 14, one that included a requirement that pitchers face at least three batters or finish an inning. Players responded Feb. 1 with a broader plan, renewing their push for the D.H. in all games, an earlier trade deadline aimed at discouraging teams with losing records from trading stars, increasing service time for top young stars called up early in the season, and rewarding and penalizing teams in the draft based on their records.”
“It appears pace-of-play and economics are closely connected, at least with regards to collective bargaining negotiations. We’ve already seen MLB go to extreme lengths to squeeze every possible dollar. It seems plausible that MLB could be increasing offense to make the pace-of-play “problem” worse, just for better negotiating leverage against the MLBPA.”
I know it sounds silly, but MLB does appear to have a habit of acting counter-productively to their own stated interests. With postseason games starting after 8 PM for nearly half the country and frequently lasting until past midnight, they disenfranchise much of their viewing audience from watching the full nine innings. This ought to be a bigger problem than, say, the time it takes to throw four intentional balls, but apparently it isn’t. With their priorities so out of kilter, it begets questions about what their real priorities are in the first place.
Honestly, who really cares? Like most people, I just want to watch a complete nine-inning playoff game and not sleep through my alarm in the morning. I want my kids to be able to see most of the game, too. Is that so much to ask? Furthermore, shouldn’t MLB want those same things?
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. Tweets @depstein1983.