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Sunday, August 17, 2014

New Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred needs to speed up games

Alan Greenwood

Since the days of Major League Baseball owners appointing a truly independent commissioner have gone the way of four-man starting rotations, counting on Commissioner-elect Rob Manfred to inject a true sense of urgency into baseball’s greatest threat might be unrealistic.

Still, as outgoing commissioner Bud Selig continues his farewell tour, Manfred at least acknowledges that there really is a problem, and that efforts to correct it need to click up a gear or two. The Selig Administration has nibbled around the edges in trying to shorten games, and the average game time has decreased a few minutes. Even the game’s showcase events, the playoffs, seemed slightly quicker last fall. ...

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Since the days of Major League Baseball owners appointing a truly independent commissioner have gone the way of four-man starting rotations, counting on Commissioner-elect Rob Manfred to inject a true sense of urgency into baseball’s greatest threat might be unrealistic.

Still, as outgoing commissioner Bud Selig continues his farewell tour, Manfred at least acknowledges that there really is a problem, and that efforts to correct it need to click up a gear or two. The Selig Administration has nibbled around the edges in trying to shorten games, and the average game time has decreased a few minutes. Even the game’s showcase events, the playoffs, seemed slightly quicker last fall.

Hold the congratulations, Bud; much more needs to be done. MLB and its TV rights-holders need to be locked in a conference room, with the shades drawn and the air conditioning off, allowed to leave only after finding a replacement for the traditional advertising vehicles.

Paying boatloads of money to show the games empowers the networks to do whatever they wish to turn a profit, as well it should. But, with ratings slipping, and part of the reason is the 45 minutes or more of dead time between innings.

Giving viewers three or four minutes to channel surf at the end of each half-inning is, in today’s world, ludicrous.

Baseball poets defend the game’s pastoral ambience, the leisurely pace that allows for reflection and solemn conversations as to whether a sacrifice bunt is called for. Alas, baseball poets make up a small, and ever-dwindling audience.

While my generation revels in John Updike’s graceful prose, the burgeoning generation of baseball consumers couldn’t care less. Like it or not, the game must start catering to their tastes, and do so quickly.

As Red Sox principal owner John Henry put it to the Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman recently, “Attention spans are shortening in regard to media. That has been the case for some time now. Making fans wait between pitches isn’t a big issue at the ballpark, but on TV it’s very easy to switch to something else. There is too much waiting in baseball for 21st century television viewers.”

TIME TRAVEL: Aug. 18, 1967 – Anyone who lives in New England, cares about the Red Sox and is old enough to remember 1967, knows where they were, who they were with and what they were doing while listening to Ken Coleman, Ned Martin and Mel Parnell recount the Jack Hamilton fastball that nearly killed Tony Conigliaro that night at Fenway Park.

There is one bit of black-and-white film of the beaning, since those were the days when two thirds of the games were not televised. Newspaper accounts the next day featured predictions from the Red Sox team doctor that Conigliaro would be sidelined for three or four weeks.

“He’ll be kept under close observation for 48 to 72 hours,’’ Dr. Thomas Tierney said. “He’ll be out at least three or four weeks. We’ll know better after the observation period.”

Once they knew better, it was clear that Conigliaro would have to put up a mighty struggle to resume one of the most promising careers in baseball history.

And, so he did. But his career, and his life, were destined to be all-too short.

Alan Greenwood can be reached at 594-6427 or agreenwood@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Greenwood on Twitter (@Telegraph_AlanG).