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Today’s fast world needs a slow game of baseball for welcome relief

MLB All-Star GameYou can bet that tomorrow casual fans will be complaining about the slow pace of play in tonight’s All-Star Game. But the relatively slow pace of the game in this ever-changing world is what makes the game so great.

A baseball game is a ritual, a sporting exercise largely unchanged for the last century. It’s also more than just the action on the field: it’s the pageantry before the game, the camaraderie in the stands, the unique mix of predictability (first pitch, National Anthem, seventh-inning stretch, Take Me Out to the Ballgame) and the original reality programming (you never know when you’ll see a spectacular play in the field or a towering home run).

In a study of three games, the Wall Street Journal estimated that there is only 17 minutes and 58 seconds of action in any given baseball game. Most of your experience is spent waiting for that next spurt of action, that next pitch, that next base hit. Of course, this all depends on how you define “action”:

The WSJ reached this number by taking the stopwatch to three different games and timing everything that happened. We then categorized the parts of the game that could fairly be considered “action” and averaged the results. The almost 18-minute average included balls in play, runner advancement attempts on stolen bases, wild pitches, pitches (balls, strikes, fouls and balls hit into play), trotting batters (on home runs, walks and hit-by-pitches), pickoff throws and even one fake-pickoff throw. This may be generous. If we’d cut the action definition down to just the time when everyone on the field is running around looking for something to do (balls in play and runner advancement attempts), we’d be down to 5:47.

This is a pretty severe definition of action, and we all know there’s a lot of baseball action that comes before and after a pitch. The pitcher shaking off the catcher. The outfielders being repositioned between hitters. The batter preparing to approach the plate — whether it’s a veteran swaggering to bat or a rookie nervously taking a doughnut off a bat. The inevitable sight of a pitcher removing his cap and wiping sweat off the brow during a rally. The third-base coach flashing signals. The batter prepping for a pitch. Managers arguing with an ump, a strategic move that can help pump up the home crowd. It’s hard to quantify body language as action, but for many the body language on the field is the most fascinating part of the game.

So let those addicted to action spend their time watching NASCAR races or ultimate fighting or whatever fast-paced sport is trendy these days. Baseball is the only major sport that doesn’t operate with a clock, the only one where action on the field determines how long the game lasts. We’ll keep watching baseball on our own terms — and we’ll savor every moment of what we consider action.


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