The Average Length of Major League Baseball Games
Baseball is fundamentally different from most popular North American sports in many ways; but one sets it apart in a huge way. Of the five major American sports, baseball is the only one without a clock. At the major league level, teams play nine innings to decide the game. If the game is tied after nine innings, the teams will play extra innings to determine a winner. In theory, baseball games could go on for as long as the game stays tied. Major League Baseball games, however, on average last around three hours.
What are the concerns about pace of play?
Many experts and baseball executives do not want the game to be played at too slow of a pace. Many small actions, like a batter stepping out of the batter's box or a pitcher taking his time while pitching, can slow the pace of play. If the game is full of constant action, a long play time is acceptable for many viewers. However, if the game has little action, pointless delays, or long meetings on the mound, fans can become annoyed. As a result, Major League Baseball (or MLB) officials have instructed umpires to keep games moving efficiently and instituted many new rules to control pace of play.
How has pace of play changed in the MLB?
According to MLB.com, the average length of a Major League Baseball game in the year 2000 was 2 hours and 58 minutes. Major League executives were unhappy with the long length of games and began instituting new rules and measures to control pace of play. Major League Baseball got the results it wanted in ensuing years. The average time of a Major League Baseball game was 2 hours and 54 minutes 2001; 2 hours and 52 minutes in in 2002 and 2 hours and 46 minutes in 2003. But as the game has evolved, the average time has ballooned to nearly 3 hours and eleven minutes in the 2021 season. In fact, baseball games are longer than they have ever been over their nearly 130 year history.
What are the reasons for concern
During the 1970s, the average time of a Major League Baseball game was approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes. The increase is related to several factors, including increased time between innings for TV and radio commercials. However, players also take longer between at bats and between pitches. With the average human attention span falling to eight seconds, many around Major League Baseball are worried that longer game times will fail to draw the attention of younger fans. Others worry that viewers will fail to watch games in full if they continue to stretch longer.
What pace of play rules have been instituted?
In 2018, the MLB instituted multiple new rules to help curb the inflating average play time of baseball games. These include:
- The institution of a six mound visit limit for a team in each game
The decrease of commercial breaks from two minutes and 25 seconds to two minutes and five seconds for locally broadcast games. For national telecasts, this figure has decreased from two minutes and 45 seconds to two minutes and 25 seconds
Pitchers are no longer guaranteed eight warmup pitches on pitching changes
- Batters must keep at least one foot in the batters box in between pitches
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman authored The Minnesota Vikings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Who's Better, Who's Best in Football -- The Top 60 Players of All-Time, among others, and placed in the Pro Football Writers of America awards three times. Silverman holds a Master of Science in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism.