Friday, April 05, 2002

Game times going long

But Watson plan could speed them up

By Gary Estwick,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If a game is competitive, Reds right-hander Danny Graves doesn't mind the extra time at the ballpark. Even Monday's game of three hours, 23 minutes was OK.

        And Wednesday's, at three hours, 40 minutes.

        And Thursday's at three hours, 19 minutes.

        “As long as it's a good game,” Graves said.

        Major League Baseball, though, is trying to streamline games — keeping them under three hours in the interest of fans — by decreasing “dead time.”

        Supporters and opposition to the new league rules have debated the issue since commissioner Bud Selig made it an issue in the mid-1990s.

        The Reds were one of several teams that complained about the league's plan during a spring training meeting, said Bob Watson, vice president of the league's on-field operations.

        Watson would not say who complained from the Reds nor name the other teams. League representatives met with all clubs during spring training.

        Watson said the league is responding to numerous e-mails and letters sent to the league office in recent years.

        “The fans are the ones we're listening to,” he said. “We're trying to answer to the people who are paying the paychecks.”

        The average big-league game was cut from a record of two hours, 58 minutes in 2000 to two hours, 54 minutes last season. Watson's goal is two hours, 50 minutes in the American League and two hours, 40 minutes in the National League.

        Graves said he doesn't think ending the game earlier will make a difference.

        “That's part of baseball,” he said. “We don't have a time clock like football, basketball and hockey does. And that's why baseball's so great.”

        Cubs first baseman Fred McGriff said cutting back on “dead time” hasn't changed the game much from a player's perspective.

        “I think as long as fans see a nicely played game, I don't think they care about the time,” McGriff said. “If they see a lot of guys swinging the bats, it won't be a problem.”

        The league sees it differently.

        Here's Watson's plan:

        • Pitchers must throw the ball within 12 seconds of a hitter standing in the batter's box when there isn't anyone on base. If not, a ball can be awarded by the umpire.

        • Batters must bring a spare bat to the on-deck circle.

        • Games must start on time.

        • Breaks between half innings can be a maximum of two minutes, five seconds for most games and 2:25 for nationally televised contests.

        • Pitching changes should be made within 2:30. Watson said the average number of pitchers used per game has climbed from three to seven in two decades.

        • Music played as batters enter the game should stop after 10 seconds.

        “There's your dead time,” Watson said.

        Reds manager Bob Boone said he thinks the rules are in place to make sure players and teams can't stall in certain situations.

        “That's what all that time stuff is about,” Boone said.

        Graves' biggest concern is that a player will get hurt because he's rushed into the game, especially on cold nights. But Watson said that will not happen.

        Watson said he's not surprised by resistance from some but added that most clubs have backed the changes.

        “Any time you do something different, you're going to meet with resistance,” Watson said. “But like it our not, we're competing for entertainment dollars.”



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