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Outside the Lines:
Picking up the Pace

 


Here's the transcript from Show 106 of weekly Outside The Lines - Picking up the Pace

SUN., APRIL 7, 2002
Host: Bob Ley, ESPN.
Guests -Sandy Alderson, Vice President of Baseball Operations for Major League Baseball; Scott Sanderson, pitched 19 Major League seasons; Charles Pierce, writer for Esquire Magazine/Boston Globe.

BOB LEY, ESPN- April 7th, 2002. Baseball, we are taught, is played outside of time.

BOBBY COX, BRAVES MANAGER- I've been told it's the only game going that doesn't have a time clock on it so why mess with it.

LEY- But too long can lose the fans.

SCOTT SAUERBECK, PIRATES PITCHER- I know the World Series games are long but I missed half of those games last year. I was asleep.

LEY- This year, baseball says it's time to make the game brisker.

FRANK ROBINSON, EXPOS MANAGER- You see fans leaving the ballpark in the seventh inning because you look up at the clock and it's 10:30, 11:00, 11:30 and you're in the seventh inning.

LEY- Eliminate the rituals and dead time.

RYAN DEMPSTER, MARLINS PITCHER- Drives you up the wall, you know the human rain delays.

LEY- And other players wonder why tinker with the game?

MARK GRACE, DIAMONDBACKS 1ST BASEMAN- The more they change the game the more -- the more the game suffers I think.

LEY- Also this week ...

ERNIE HARWELL, TIGERS BROADCASTER- Here's the first pitch. It's a swing and a fly ball and it's hit deep to right, it might be, it is long gone.

LEY- The final home opener for a timeless voice.

Today on "Outside the Lines" whether the national past time really needs to pick up the pace.

This is a topic where everyone feels they're experts. We've all been riveted to our seat by unspeakable baseball tension or driven to bed unable to stay awake for the end of the game.

For now, the opinion that matters is Major League Baseball's determined to shave time from the nearly three-hour length of an average game. How much action is there in baseball? Well we put a stopwatch to championship games in three major sports, subtracted the time out and intermissions and in the Lakers clincher in the NBA finals, 57 percent of the time spent on the court was action but that number takes a big dip in the NFL.

The Super Bowl, for all its tension, just 17 percent action and the wrenching drama, the action in World Series game seven, only 15 percent of that game, just 21 minutes of action in that match. So when a sport with, by this definition, so little action says it is also suffering from too much dead time and delays, small wonder it tries to pick up the pace except the pace setters show little inclination of going along with the program.

Is the game so slow, so barren of compelling action that it's losing fans or is baseball's innate tension and strategy the very secret of its enduring success? Jim Kaat pitched 25 years in the majors and now broadcasts for the Yankees. He sees a problem.

JIM KAAT, YANKEES BROADCASTER- It starts with commercial time between innings. That's part of it. It's also the hitter stepping out of the box. There's a lot more signs coming in from the bench. There are a lot more pitching changes. The strike zone is a bit smaller so you're seeing more pitches per game being thrown and there's a lot more scoring in the game, a lot more home runs and you add all those things together and that begins to make for a slower game, a longer game.

LEY- For the third time in seven years, baseball is cracking down trying to play more briskly. Frank Robinson oversaw the last effort four years ago.

ROBINSON- Well it was a concern and it wasn't a concern like a lot people think of the commissioner's office. It was a concern of the fans. We get complaints, calls into the commissions office; letters and complaining about the games are too long.

LEY- This season's goal is to cut National League games down to two hours 40 minutes and AL games down to two fifty.

ROBINSON- But we don't have everybody on the same page right now.

LEY- Least of all the players, who some say live too deliberately in the spotlight and resist any change.

ALEX RODRIGUEZ, RANGERS SHORTSTOP- If you don't like how slow it is, then maybe you should go watch basketball or hockey or golf. I know that baseball and I talk to a lot of fans when I'm signing on the road and they just love the fact that it's a three-and-a-half hour game.

TOM GLAVINE, BRAVES PITCHER- You're walking a fine line between speeding up the game and messing around with what guys are doing out there to try and do their jobs and you know some people do real well by playing quickly. Some guys are a little bit slower.

LEY- The largest cause of downtime is the elaborate performance art by batters around the plate and pitchers finding the right moment to deliver the pitch.

SAUERBECK- Obviously, some pitchers work slow and some hitters take a long time. I mean you think of Nomar, I think of Sean Casey. I love him but he stretches out there for a half an hour. Uncle already, come on. Let's go.

BOB BRENLY, DIAMONDBACKS MANAGER- The pre-swing routine has gotten to be such an elaborate choreographed thing that I mean it literally adds a minute to every one of those guy's at bats.

LEY- Judge for yourself. First a Hall of Fame immortal in the batter's box.

KAAT- You know for years when Mickey Mantle hit, the pitch would come in. He'd move one foot. He'd look at the pitcher, but the back foot never moved. It stayed in the box.

LEY- Quite a contrast with all of the rituals of one of the modern games marquee players.

GRACE- Nomar, he's a superstar and he's going to do his thing and he should be able to do his thing because if he doesn't do his thing he might not play as well so I think the fans are plenty patient. OK. Nomar, do what you've got to do. You know I don't think you need to step out 15 seconds, some 20 seconds between every pitch. Get in the batter's box and let's play the game.

LEY- What baseball has done is to re-emphasize 1998 guidelines. With no runners on, pitchers have 12 seconds to deliver a pitch. Hitters must have a spare bat ready in the on deck circle. There's strict enforcement of the half inning breaks and all pitching changes must happen in two-and-a-half minutes. Offending pitchers can be assessed a ball, batters a strike, theoretically at least fines are possible.

SAUERBECK- The two-and-a-half minute rule bugs me as a reliever because I don't think there's a pitcher alive that can run in from Coors Field. That's like a half a mile run and there's -- you know there's no air for you to breath. When you get out there, you're spent and then you're going to get four warm up pitches. I'll tell you what. If I'm warming up somewhere I've thrown two warm up pitches because it took me two minutes to run in from the outfield, I'm going over to first about six, seven times to get my arm loose.

LEY- Speed up initiatives in 1995 did initially cut five minutes off the average game but within two years that time had ballooned to over three hours in the American League. Baseball did not persevere in the rules enforcement. This year, Jim Kaat has yet to see the 12-second pitch rule enforced and that second bat at the ready and the on deck circle ...

KAAT- Well I've seen three games this year. It's already happened four times. They've done nothing about it. So they make rules. They don't enforce them, and the rules they make are laughable.

GREG MADDUX, BRAVES PITCHER- It's very simple. The easiest way to speed up the game, call strikes. Plain and simple. You know if it might have been a half-inch outside, it also might have caught the corner, strike. That speeds the game up.

LEY- That desire for speed co-exists with baseball's need to compete for young fans in a video driven culture where this understated game may be lost in the age of MTV.

SAUERBECK- That's the society we live in today. They want everything bigger, stronger, faster, quicker. Baseball just isn't like that. Maybe that's why, you know, the NBA and the NFL are becoming more popular than baseball nowadays. Who knows?

LEY- Proof that this languid game can be primped for the digital age is found on baseball's own website. Here, fans can watch condensed games, a full Major League game, every batter in just 20 minutes. Further proof is at Turner Field in Atlanta. Fans renting this portable video receiver view a live broadcast of the game they're sitting at from three different angles as well as two channels of replays and three more channels of cartoons, other sports and news.

FAN AT BALLPARK- When you get a little bored with the game just turn your channel selection to "Friends." It's great.

LEY- If fans are so turned off, they will turn on a sitcom while sitting at a Major League game. The speed up would appear to be needed but to some the call to hurry the game is an intrusion on a timeless sport.

GLAVINE- If there's little things that we can do here and there to speed it up great, but as long as it doesn't interfere with the integrity of the game or the -- you know what really needs to go on out there then that's fine, but you know we really need to find out who it is that really, really wants the games to be sped up in the first place.

LEY- Joining us to consider that question Sandy Alderson, the Vice President of Baseball Operations for Major League Baseball. Fans remember his 15 years as General Manager of the Oakland A's. He joins us this morning from Princeton, New Jersey. Scott Sanderson pitched 19 Major League seasons. He won 163 games and he is now a sports agent. He joins us this morning from Chicago. Charles Pierce is writer at large for Esquire Magazine and also now with the Boston Globe and he joins us from Boston.

Sandy, before I begin with you, we did some public opinion poling recently in the last 48 hours. Let me give you some numbers. Five hundred and twelve sports fans were polled and according to e-poll, 64 percent of them say that baseball's fine. Don't touch it. Only 32 percent say the sport needs to take steps to speed up. So let me rephrase Tom Glavine's question. Who is saying the game needs to be sped up?

SANDY ALDERSON, VICE PRESIDENT, BASEBALL OPERATIONS, MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL- Well I think that the -- what we have been concerned about over the last several years is the trend toward much longer games. As recently as 1998, we averaged two hours and 48 minutes for a nine-inning game. In the year 2000, we were up to two hours and 58 minutes, so as much as reducing the length of games, it's important to us to -- it was important to us to arrest sort of the trend toward longer and longer games.

LEY- What's the first-week tally? Any numbers in yet?

ALDERSON- Well actually the games have been fairly long the first week. There's been a lot of offense and a lot of pitches thrown per game and I think we've been averaging something close to three hours.

LEY- OK. I watched a bunch of games myself off the satellite, off the tube. I haven't seen any of these rules enforced. It's just random viewing. Have there been any umpire reports come in saying that's so and so's been warned, so and so's had a ball or a strike assessed?

ALDERSON- No, I think that there's a misconception publicly that what is going to happen this year is that the umpires are going to intrude on the pace of the game and enforce some of these rules in a confrontational way. Our goal this year is to reduce the time of a nine inning game from two fifty-four to about two 50 and the emphasis is really between innings and during the downtime unrelated to an individual hitter or pitcher.

We're more concerned about making sure that we get in and out of half inning breaks efficiently. We're more concerned about pitching changes being done efficiently so that relief pitchers are not getting extra warm ups in the bullpen or extra warm ups on the mound. Those are the kinds of things that we're looking at.

LEY- Scott it sounds like it's making sense but you hear some of the guys you used to play with saying, "Geez, it is an intrusion."

SCOTT SANDERSON, FORMER MAJOR LEAGUE PITCHER- Well I think what you hear the players saying, if it's going to be an intrusion on the actual playing of the game, that's where they draw the line but from what Sandy's saying in between innings and the changing of relief pitchers, there's probably a few minutes that can be shaved off there, but the actual playing of the game out there on the field, there's a reason this is the greatest game in the world.

And that's because people like to go to the ballpark and they like to enjoy their time there and the tinkering with the game, I agree with what Maddux said. You know you call a few more strikes in there. You get a strike zone back to where it's reasonable understanding that I'm a pitcher saying this. That right there will speed up the game.

LEY- Well 12 seconds, now the 12-second rule's on the books. It used to be 20 second Scott. You were never the most hasty of workers on the field. In 12 seconds, could you get into that kind of a rhythm and regimen and pitch with nobody one base within 12 seconds?

SANDERSON- Well when you're out there pitching, the game of baseball is strategy and when you're on the mound and you're thinking about the pitch that you're getting ready to throw to set up other pitches, there's a lot that goes on in that. If the goal of the game is just to have a faster game, then I think that you're probably going to be hurting the quality of the product out there, but I think that there's always a conscientious effort to not take extra time out there but again there's strategy that goes on. That's why it's such a great game.

LEY- Well, Charlie here we are on the age of market surveys and of course billions of dollars in television money at stake. What do you make of baseball's efforts to speed up?

CHARLIE PIERCE, ESQUIRE MAGAZINE, BOSTON GLOBE- Well I think baseball's in the unique position. I'm always -- I'm amused by baseball because a lot of the same people who consider it this ineffable part of Americana are also the people who are convinced it isn't going to survive for the next five minutes.

I don't get complaints from people that they're getting three hours of baseball for their 50 bucks rather than two. I think your poll numbers are interesting in that. I think a lot of the complaints about the slowness in the game come mostly from people in our business, and I think that one of the things that Jim Kaat mentioned that it isn't going to change, is the fact that if you -- if you speed up the game -- you're still going to have between innings. You're still going to have the changing pitchers and what's going to fill up the time that you save on the game on the field are longer commercial breaks.

LEY- And Sandy aren't you -- you're pretty well locked into the breaks between innings because that's where the bread's buttered. That's where the TV and radio money is.

ALDERSON- Well there's no question that you know we have contractually obligated television time, but our problem between innings is really not with the fixed amount of time for commercials. Our problem is that in a game where, for example, we have a two hour -- two minute and five second period between innings, we're not getting the innings started until three minutes, three 15 so there's a lot of slippage there.

LEY- Whose fault is that? Is that the home plate umpire?

ALDERSON- No, I think that in many respects it's the fault of what I call in stadium entertainment. I think an important point to remember here is that what we're trying to do is restore the pace of the game as established by the game itself and not established by the team mascot, not established by the rock video on the scoreboard, not established by people outside the white lines.

And so if we can get the game back to the pace as it's established by the pitcher and the hitter, typically we're going to find that a certain amount of that time is shaved off and only marginally but something that gets us down to a reasonable amount of time, 2:45, 2:50, and changes the perception in the minds of people that this is an intolerably slow game.

We're as concerned about the people who don't come to the ballpark as we are about the people who are in the ballpark, and I think if we can change the perception as Charlie said, this is a media driven problem. If we can change the perception we eliminate this as an issue, then I think the pace begins to take care of itself.

LEY- One of the things we looked at in our report and certainly and Nomar Garciaparra was mentioned and you think back to Mike Hargrove who's currently skippering in Baltimore.

He was called the "Human Rain Delay." You've got a guy like Nomar Garciaparra with all his rituals around the plate; statistically the fans are telling us that they think that's the single biggest problem. Now, here you are dealing with people. Thirty-nine percent of fans on our polling said they identified that as the single biggest problem. So Scott how do you go to a superstar and say, "You've got to change."

SANDERSON - Well obviously not every player does that. If every single player was taking that much time then I think it would be an issue but different players are going to perform differently and they're going to act and react differently. One of the reasons that I think I was able to last so long in the Major Leagues is I actually thought about what I was doing.

There was a strategy involved and there was a game plan and sometimes it takes a while to think about it but not every single player's doing that. There's also -- there's a reason that people love to go to Wrigley Field to watch baseball and there isn't that in between innings jumbo tron and all that kind of stuff going on, too.

So I think you, the baseball purists out there that love the game, the players love the game. I think that when you just let the game happen. As Sandy said there's some great ideas about getting the game started once the commercial break's over, but I think the players for the most part are not the ones at fault for having the longer games here. They want to go out and play and play the game that they love so much.

PIERCE - Yeah. Bob I think if you

LEY- Charlie we'll pick up right there when we come back and we'll get your words on that. We'll continue on this topic and also speaking of time, we'll learn of the appreciation of a man whose voice is timeless embarking on his final Major League season.

HARWELL- I love baseball. I've got a great passion for it. I love the people in it and it's just a blast for me to come to the ballpark and I think that's why I've lasted so long.

LEY-. We continue with Sandy Alderson, Scott Sanderson, and Charlie Pierce. Charlie, I promised you a chance to respond. Go ahead.

PIERCE- Yeah. It was interesting what Sandy said about the people who are not at the ballpark, which I take to mean the people watching on television. Baseball ran into a problem in the 1950s and 60s when it realized that it was never going to be a great television show or as great a television show as the National Football League has created itself to be.

And I think the more baseball tries to make itself into a great television show, the further away it gets from what its purists and its most ardent devotees think it should be, and I think that's the bind that baseball finds itself in a lot of issues, most particularly this one.

LEY- Sandy is their an eye towards the TV dollar too much in that regard?

ALDERSON- No, I don't think so and certainly from my point of view what I'm hoping to do is make the game slightly more attractive and get those people who are watching on TV or perhaps listening on the radio or not involved at all back into the ballpark from time to time.

You know you mentioned earlier that the amount of time that individual players take and part -- one of the great parts of baseball is the anticipation, the ability to think about what's coming next, the time in between and when Barry Bonds comes to the plate and Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez, the fans love that anticipation. That at bat could last 15 minutes as far as the entertainment value is concerned.

LEY- Somebody's got to tell that to the number eight hitter though don't they?

ALDERSON- But somebody's got to tell the number eight hitter that he's not the star of the show and that we need -- and it's very difficult. There's no question and we're not talking about different standards but what has an entertainment value on the one hand for one player may not in the other case and that's a problem we face.

LEY- Gentlemen, thank you. Thank you to Sandy Alderson, to Scott Sanderson and to Charles Pierce as we've been looking at baseball trying to pick up the pace. We appreciate it.

Regardless of where you come down on the issue of speeding up baseball, there is universal agreement that among the many treasures of the game are the men whose voices carry on the soft breeze of summer have brought us the radio call of games for years and years and years. Ernie Harwell is one of those treasures. This is his final year in the booth and this week at the age of 84 he celebrated his final opening day.

ERNIE HARWELL - Hi guys.

FAN OUTSIDE STADIUM- Hi Ernie.

HARWELL- Hey, everybody OK?

FAN OUTSIDE STADIUM- Yeah absolutely. Have a good one Ernie.

HARWELL- Opening day is sort of like Christmas and Easter and the Fourth of July.

WOMAN IN ELEVATOR OF STADIUM- And why is the opening day like Easter and Christmas?

HARWELL- Because people come once and they don't come back just like in the church. You're opening the presents. We're seeing a new team and it's the Fourth of July because it's a time of celebration and fireworks. I have to savor it a little bit more I think than I have any other opening days. I have to realize that this is the final opening day that I'll do at home but it makes me feel nostalgic. It makes me feel a little bit sad but on the other hand, I'm very happy I'm able to participate in one more.

I've missed two games in the 55 years and as Woody Allen says that showing up is 90 percent of genius. I'm not a genius but I have been available. I've done seven decades now and probably broadcast more games than any other announcer in history.

My style it just sort of evolved over the time and I've always just tried to lay the game out there as simply as I can and let it go at that. I say it's "long gone" and that happened in the late 80s. It sort of caught on and I do that now but I don't believe in sitting down and contriving some kind of a call. I think that's a big mistake because it usually falls flat if you do that.

I'm a storyteller and I don't believe in numbers. I think we give too many and I'd rather have the human-interest side of baseball than the historical side.

It's wonderful for me to hear people say, 'well I used to sit on the porch with my granddad and listen to you broadcast and he's dead now but I always remember that we heard your voice together and it meant a lot to me in my lifetime.'

I don't look on it as work at all. It's just been a joy throughout my 55 years. I thank God that he gave me a great job and wonderful people to work with and I'm happy to go out and I hope I can go out with a smile.

LEY- What a treasure. Next the anatomy of a fix, the point shaving in Arizona State and the issues awakened by that scandal.

Last Sunday's first hand account of a point shaving in the Arizona State basketball game sparked a number of comments to our e-mail inbox. This particular comment from St. Louis, "The NCAA is in denial to think that gambling will go away. They set up a tournament with the brackets to encourage office pools and more to stir up interest. These things foster gambling.

If you missed Anatomy of a Fix watch it online. The key word at ESPN.com, "OTLweekly" and our e-mail address otlweekly@espn.com.

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