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The 8 minutes of baseball you're (not) missing

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Baseball games have been a little quicker over the first week of the season. Let's argue about what that means.

What can you do with an extra eight minutes? You can listen to "American Pie" or "When the Levee Breaks." You can make perfect hard-boiled eggs. You can toil for eight minutes on your abs until someone shaves a minute off the workout time. The world is your eight-minute oyster.

This comes up now because over the first week of the season, Major League Baseball says that they've cut eight minutes from the average nine-inning game. From Jayson Stark:

"The average length of those games this year has been 2 hours, 54 minutes, 39 seconds. A year ago, the average was 3 hours, 2 minutes and 25 seconds."

You can play an online match of Popular Video Game and get virtually shot in the face by a 12-year-old who is much better at it than you. You can watch eight minutes of the Luke Perry movie 8 Seconds, including the last eight-second scene that's stretched out to eight minutes. This time is MLB's gift to you. Which means it's time for a point/counterpoint-style debate over what this means.

Point: Who cares?

First, we still live under the rule of sample-size gremlins. This is their land, and we're just leasing it, forever and always. A week's worth of games could be heavily weighted with shutouts and dominant pitching performances. A week's worth of games could be heavily weighted with randomly quick games for no particular reason. The average Mets game this year has been 2:41. You know that's not going to last, and you know it's probably not going to be close, regardless of however many eight-pitch innings you've already pegged the Mets for.

Second, who cares about eight minutes? You're probably not yelling, "Finally! Under 2:55! Now I can see my kids again!" right now. This brings to mind the Mayostard/Mustardayonnaise/Mustmayostardayonnaise trilogy:

mustard

Eight minutes isn't enough to get the pace quick enough for the folks who think baseball is too slow. I don't think anything will convert an anti-baseball zealot, and the folks on the fence aren't going to care about eight minutes. We're back in the land of 1996 and 1997 at these current rates. Very few baseball fans pine for those days. In fact, a lot of baseball writers have actively worked to eliminate that era from the history books. The allure of 2:55 games isn't enough to make anyone rethink their distaste of the steroid era and start considering it to be baseball's golden age. No one remembers the games back then as being especially quick.

Baseball is still a long game. It will probably always be a long game. Even when hitters keep one foot in the box, it's still a game of preparation and waiting that's punctuated by bursts of action. By design. Unless baseball eliminates commercials, with the players wearing ad-festooned jerseys like they were playing soccer, and moves the pitch clock to, like, six seconds, it will always be a game of preparation and waiting that's punctuated by bursts of action.

Eight minutes x 162 games = about 22 hours at the end of the year. But you don't get those 22 hours off work. You don't get a visit from the baseball sprites right before you leave for work and get those hours to hang back, watch movies, and read books. Eight minutes isn't a big deal. This was much ahullabaloo about nothing.

Counterpoint: You fool. This is just the beginning

You're right. It's not the eight minutes after every game. It's the pace, the feeling. You don't care about the eight minutes at the end, you care about the five seconds in the middle, and then the five seconds again. After every line of spoken dialogue in a two-and-a-half hour movie, edit in an extra five-second pause between the next line of dialogue, and see how the three-hour movie feels. It would be interminable.

Charles, I'm mad for you. It's why ...

...

...

I have to tell you ...

...

...

The baby is ...

Yours.

Why it's ...

...

the baby is ...

Yours. The baby is yours, Charles.

The baby is William Taft's. Don't you see? I'm ...

...

going to have ...

...

...

the President's ...

Baby. You're going to have the president's baby. JUST SAY IT.

You wouldn't walk out of that movie thinking it was 30 minutes too long. You would walk out and ask, "What in the heck was going on with all of the pointless pauses and delays?" The pauses would define the movie for you. It's not just about a context-free pile of minutes. It's the pace of play, as they've been fond of reminding you.

More than that, though, this is just a start. We have an idea that pitch clocks are eventually coming. Commercial breaks might be trimmed after all. Instant replays already appear quicker this season, and the rules are being adjusted to prevent managers from waddling onto the field as much. There's a concerted effort to get the game moving at a quicker pace, and the early returns are that it's working.

This isn't a revolution. David Price is still a slug on the mound. Troy Tulowitzki is still the arch-nemesis of your free time. Madison Bumgarner was one of the slowest pitchers in baseball last season, taking 23.6 seconds between pitches. He's cut that down to 23.6 seconds between pitches this year.

But the game is moving in the right direction. The first baby steps have been taken, and while there's still a good chance that the baby is going to fall and hit its head on the edge of a table, eventually the little feller will be scurrying and running around before you know it. The early returns are in. The early returns are good.

There's still more to do, but if draconian changes were slapped on the players (or collectively bargained with them, anyway) completely altering the game as we knew it last year, it would have been a mess. This was the proper first step, and it looks like it's working. Eight minutes doesn't seem like a lot, but that's looking at it in the wrong light. The game feels just a touch faster. It's been years, if not decades, since we've been able to say that. If the first week is a harbinger of things to come, baseball is on the right track.