First Pitch: Why Are MLB Games So Slow?

If there’s one thing I’ve never understood about sports, it’s this: Why is baseball considered a slow sport, but football is considered fast and exciting?

I’ve been getting back into football over the last two years, after I stopped watching the sport for several years. And I’ve noticed the same thing that I’ve noticed in the past, that the games last over three hours (3:12 average according to a 2013 study, and it hasn’t changed much). The NFL even times this out in a lot of cases, starting their games at 1:00 and 4:25, presumably to avoid as much overlap as possible.

So why does baseball get so much criticism for the length of game and pace of play when their average game is 3 hours, 5 minutes, and 35 seconds — aka, shorter than an NFL game by six and a half minutes?

During a football game, you’ll watch a play, then watch both teams take a break for up to 40 seconds and decide their next play.

During a baseball game, you’ll watch a pitch, then watch the pitcher, catcher, and batter plan for the next pitch. Typically this process takes 10-20 seconds, depending on the speed of the pitcher and how often the batter steps out of the box.

During a football game, a typical score expectation is between 40-50 combined points. Broken down by touchdowns, that could be 6-7 scores, or more if you’ve got some field goals involved.

A typical baseball game is going to be expected to have 7-8 combined runs. Note that I’m going with the over/under lines here, as these are the ranges you’ll find most games.

Football has had instant replay longer than MLB, and they’ve even expanded it over the years. There are the dumb “human element” arguments against replay in both sports, but I don’t hear much concern from the NFL about how replay slows down the game.

The difference here is probably due to a few factors:

**Football is once a week, while baseball is six nights a week. There’s a difference between spending 3+ hours watching a game on a Sunday afternoon versus spending 3+ hours watching a game on a Wednesday night, when you might only have 4-5 hours of time being awake at home before you go to bed to prepare for work the next day.

**Football plays are very defined, yet what is a play in baseball? I’ve always seen it as the individual pitch, but then again, I love that chess match between the pitcher and batter. I feel that it’s more common to view an at-bat as a play, which means each “play” would last a minute or two.

To me, that’s like viewing each set of downs as a different play. Yeah, that’s the ultimate goal of the drive, but there are a lot of smaller plays that make up the bigger goal. The same goes for each at-bat. The ultimate goal is for the pitcher to record an out, or the batter to get on base and avoid any outs in the process. But there are a lot of smaller plays that lead to the results.

**Finally, I think the biggest issue lies with MLB. You just don’t hear NFL fans complaining about the length of game, and you don’t hear the league stressing every year about how they have to fix this problem. They don’t even acknowledge the length of game as a problem.

Meanwhile, MLB shoots themselves in the foot by viewing the length of game as a problem, and works to change the way the sport is played in order to fix this problem. You hear the same things from baseball writers and broadcasters. There’s almost a disdain of the sport of baseball coming from within the sport of baseball.

**Ultimately, it’s easier watching football. It’s easier to plan for 3-4 hours of time on a weekend to watch every game of your favorite football team each week, versus 18+ hours spread throughout the week to watch every game of your favorite baseball team. But this only really applies to the casual fan, and not the people who enjoy the sport and would watch regardless. Baseball would probably be better served spending their time getting people used to their game, rather than changing their game and focusing on shortening the game to possibly bring in more casual fans.

Thoughts on the subject? Leave them in the comments.


I didn’t realize until yesterday that Jimmy Eat World came out with a new album. I’ll be listening to that a lot this week. Here’s the first single.



By John Dreker

On this date in 1969 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded catcher Carl Taylor and minor league outfielder Frank Vanzin to the St Louis Cardinals in exchange for catcher Dave Ricketts and pitcher Dave Giusti. While three of the players in this deal did very little for their new teams, Giusti made this a one-sided deal for the Pirates. While with the Pirates he pitched 618 innings over 410 games with 47 wins and a 2.94 ERA, to go along with his 133 saves. He led the NL in saves in 1971 with 30 and the following year he posted a career low 1.93 ERA. He helped the Pirates to five NL East pennants and during the 1971 World Series he made three appearances for a total of 5.1 scoreless innings leading the Pirates to their fifth WS title.

Three former Pirates born on this date, starting with the most recent first:

Marc Wilkins, relief pitcher for the 1996-2001 Pirates. He made a total of 245 appearances with the Pirates, which was his entire big league career. Wilkins had a 4.28 ERA in 294.2 innings. His best season was 1997, when he won nine games, picked up two of his three career saves, and posted a 3.69 ERA, which setting career highs with 70 appearances and 75.2 innings.

Ron Davis, outfielder for the 1969 Pirates. He played five years in the majors, finishing his career with the Pirates, where he hit .234 in 62 games and played all three outfield spots.

Frank Papish, pitcher for the 1950 Pirates. He played six years in the majors, finishing his career with the Pirates, where he made four appearances and allowed seven runs in 2.1 innings.