Baseball is the only major sport without a clock. But maybe it's time to get one after the 4-hour-45-minute epic Aug. 18 at Fenway Park that has the distinction of being the longest nine-inning game in major league history. Although the Yankees and Red Sox survived 520 minutes of baseball in the day-night-morning doubleheader, the second game was particularly painful.
There were exhausted children crying in the pavilion seats during the seventh inning of the nightcap, and the park was half-empty by the top of the eighth. By the ninth, the Baseball Tavern on Boylston Street was packed, and one swerving fan suggested electronic collars to keep batters from stepping out of the batter's box.
The umpires, whose job it is to keep the game moving, get less respect than Pluto. Foul balls become mini-intermissions. Players spit tobacco and sunflower seeds, adjust jocks and socks, and generally take their sweet time.
Just how much game action was there in that 14-11 Yankee victory?
The answer, according to my trusty stopwatch, is 25 minutes 41.17 seconds.
For the purposes of this exercise, game action was timed from the moment the pitcher started his delivery to when play was stopped. So why did it take so long to get 54 outs? Besides the fact that there were 25 runs, 34 hits, 437 pitches, and 10 pitching changes, that is.
The Globe watched a tape of the game and called on an expert for advice.
No one played more baseball in American League history than Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, who suited up for 3,308 games from 1961-83.
Ask Yaz about the pace of play, and he sounds more real estate agent than baseball god when he talks about location, location, location.
``I watch all the games, and I love watching them on TV because you can see pitch location," he says. ``Pitch location is so bad. You see the catcher setting up on the outside, and it's right down the middle of the plate or on the inside corner. That's what I see.
``That's 90 percent [of the problem]."
Yankees leadoff hitter Johnny Damon set the tone for the evening with a 10-pitch at-bat: Strike, strike, foul, foul, ball, foul, foul, ball, foul, single. A foul ball eats up about 30 seconds between pitches. With 93 foul balls feeding the fans, that's more than 45 minutes right there.
``It all adds up," says Yaz, who turned 67 Tuesday (and celebrated by ``ignoring the day").
The rulebook says a pitcher is supposed to put the ball in play in 12 seconds if there are no runners on base, but that rule is not enforced. And players step out if a pitcher takes too long.
In his 23 seasons, Yaz says, no umpire ever yelled at him to get back in the box. ``No, no, never."
Another factor is the use of specialists, such as the Yankees' Mike Myers, who is brought in to pitch to just one or two hitters.
``More pitching changes, I think that's got a lot to do with it," says Yaz. ``Starters, when I played, looked to go nine. You might have one lefthander come in and pitch a half-inning. You have a closer come in, something like that. But [Luis] Tiant, you had to drag him out of a game."
Each pitching change means nearly five minutes added on.
Although they didn't worry much about pitch counts in Yaz's day, he says teams used the same strategy as today to wear out the opposition.
``Yeah, you foul it off, make the pitcher work, stuff like that," he says. ``You foul off good pitches."
Yastrzemski notices things that most fans won't. In the ninth, for instance, Keith Foulke delivers a pitch in the dirt to Alex Rodriguez. The umpire stops the game, takes the ball from catcher Doug Mirabelli, and hands him a shiny new one. Foulke rubs it down.
``That's another thing," says Yaz, who remembers things were different in his day. ``Throw a ball in the dirt, the catcher throws it back. If a pitcher throws the ball in the dirt you'd ask an umpire to look at it, and he'd say, `No, I'm not looking at it,' and he'd throw the same ball back."
Yaz says that could give the pitcher an advantage.
``A pitch used to go into the dirt, and Elston Howard used to hit it against his shinguard and scuff it when Whitey Ford was pitching," he says. ``To get a ball changed, you had to hit a foul ball. To get a ball out of the game before was like pulling teeth."
Yastrzemski said it would be hard to speed up the game and maintain the natural flow.
``I don't know what they can do," he says. ``Last year or the year before, in some of the minor league games in spring training, they wouldn't allow the hitters to step out of the box."
But at Fenway, anything goes. Boston's Eric Hinske takes a little walk after every foul ball he hits. Coco Crisp steps out of the box and grabs a handful of dirt before each pitch. David Ortiz spits in his hands and rubs them together, then tugs at his batting gloves and wristbands. And, of course, Derek Jeter continually gives the umpire the stop sign from the batter's box.
Then there are the factors that have nothing to do with baseball. In the seventh-inning stretch, Billy Ray Cyrus sings ``God Bless America" and the organist plays ``Take Me Out To The Ballgame." This takes four minutes.
This is after the Yankee half of the inning lasts 51 pitches and 32 minutes. The key hits by Melky Cabrera and Jeter came after they each fouled off three pitches with two strikes. In the bottom of the inning, Yankees pitcher Kyle Farnsworth is hit in the leg by a batted ball. By league rule, his replacement, Scott Proctor, gets as much time as he needs to warm up. Translation: five extra minutes.
The entire inning lasts 1 hour 21 minutes, far longer than it took for the quickest nine-inning game to be played: a mere 51 minutes for the New York Giants and Philadelphia on Sept. 28, 1919.
But that was eons before television intruded. Forget the one-minute break between innings during your dad's era. The norm is now 2:15. Yaz says that started in his heyday, during NBC's ``Game of the Week."
``We hated TV days, especially the networks," says Yaz. ``There would be a wait because of the commercials." So add an extra 20 minutes in the name of making money.
The average baseball game this year takes 2 hours 51 minutes 51 seconds, according to Stats Inc. That's up more than two minutes from last year but still well below the 3:01:21 high-water mark of 2000 that prompted Major League Baseball to institute time-saving measures. In 1983, Yaz's last year, games averaged 2:36. During the early 1940s, it was a speedy 1:59.
So why the marathons of today? It's a classic case of being nickeled and dimed, the way you are with those pesky add-on charges on your cable-TV bills.
In the second inning, Jeter rifles a foul ball into the stands. He then peers into the crowd for a minute and a half, like a gawker passing a highway accident. And with network ratings dictating the demise of day baseball, for some the seventh inning doesn't mean stretch, it means sleep. Midnight last Saturday came with Mike Lowell fouling off three successive pitches.
Even No. 8 admits he didn't go nine.
``I dozed a little bit and woke up," says Yaz, ``and I still saw five innings. I watched the first couple of innings and then I watched five more."