As the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy neared the halfway point of extra time, it dawned on me that, even with a penalty kick shootout, the match would take less time than the average Major League Baseball game.
Think about that. In what turned out to be 2 hours, 54 minutes, the Lions and the Azzuri gave the world a thrilling spectacle. England jumped out to an early lead two minutes in, Italy scored an equalizer, and regulation time ended with the score knotted. Then came half an hour of extra time, and the PK round in which England faltered and Italy took the cup.
The biggest match in the unquestioned biggest sporting event in Europe this year was played out a good 15 minutes shy of the average baseball game that up to the All-Star break this year was 3 hours, 10 minutes. (Snide aside: the Euro final was about two hours shy of a typical Red Sox-Yankees tilt, but of course, those games are MUCH more important.)
In today’s typical MLB game, what do we get? About 20 strikeouts, 10 walks and 5 home runs. The base hit has taken a back seat to the base on balls, and batting averages (sticky stuff or no sticky stuff) are in the tank.
What’s baseball to do?
Not move the mound back. Not mandate two infielders per side. And not, my god, put a runner on second to start extra inning or go to seven-inning doubleheaders.
I do wish MLB games would speed up but I can live with the three-hour average — as long as there’s a reasonable expectation of action on the field.
The basics of the game are sound. What’s out of whack is the approach the hitters take, and that leads to the numbing trio of K/BB/HR, followed by a conveyor belt of relief pitchers entering, warming up and exiting.
Mike Schmidt, one of the greatest hitters of all-time, pegs it right in this recent essay distributed by The Associated Press:
“Most would consider me a successful and knowledgeable hitter – it is my opinion the decline of hitting today lies directly in the hitters’ inability to hit the high fastball and the lack of accountability for striking out.
“Learn to hit, or take the high fastball and make contact more often. That would narrow this gap quickly.”
Be like Mike. Your team will score more, you’ll get your share of dingers, and we fans will be able to cheer on players stealing bases, turning double plays and obliterating today’s plodding pace.
That will be a beautiful game.