How Much Actual Playtime Occurs in a Baseball Game?


The real action in baseball games is less than you might think. Sportswriters Dick Wade and Rick Reilly timed the games, one in 1956 and the other in 2000. Those numbers hadn't changed in nearly fifty years. Although the findings are not definitive, it is fair, not foul, to say that the amount of action in a baseball game is minimal. Since many baseball games take more than 3 hours to complete, the notion that baseball is a slow-moving game may be true.

Dick Wade

A sportswriter in Kansas City, Dick Wade timed the action in a baseball game in 1956, reported Tom Peters in the "Philadelphia Inquirer." Wade timed the seconds from the time the ball left the pitcher's hand until it arrived at the plate. On balls that were hit, he measured the time it took until the batter was safe or out. According to his figures, there were 8.5 minutes of actual play during the game, a high-scoring affair won by Kansas City 15 to 6.

Rick Reilly

Famed "Sports Illustrated" journalist and columnist Rick Reilly timed a baseball game in 2000 and determined that the amount of action during the game, which lasted for 3 hours, 15 minutes, totaled 12 minutes, 22 seconds, and Reilly wrote he was generous with his stopwatch. As is his wont, Reilly expressed exasperation with the lack of action in a variety of funny and pithy ways. For example, "Percentage of boys who'd rather the coolest kid in school see them with their mom in JCPenny's lingerie section than watching baseball on TV: 99."

Football Vs. Baseball

A precise analysis of four football games by "The Wall Street Journal" in 2010 found that the amount of action in a football game was 11 minutes, about the same as baseball. As a result, TV broadcasts of both football and baseball games spend huge amounts of time focusing on the nonaction. You see lots of shots of managers in the dugout or in a conference at the mound, relief pitchers coming from the bullpen and hitters taking practice swings and spitting. Likewise, in football, more time is spent in the huddle and standing around during timeouts than actually playing the game. Of course, that leaves plenty of time for commercials.

The Love of the Game

The slow pace of baseball is a selling point for traditionalists. If you love baseball, you love the moments of action and the many more moments of baseball ambiance as the players ponder the significance of the last play while the commentators discuss batting percentages and the history of the teams. If you're in the stands, there's plenty of time for more garlic fries and hot roasted peanuts. It may be surprising to outsiders, but the amount of action has little to do with the popularity of a sport. Football is the most popular sport in America, but compared to basketball or soccer, the amount of action is minuscule.