Joe Posnanski
Monday April 12th, 2010

Baseball seems to me the only prominent American sport where people constantly harp about how long it takes to play. Best I can tell, there have not been half as many plots to shorten football (though there have been some complaints about the clock stopping on first downs in college) and few complaints about basketball games and not an especially vocal group out there looking to shorten golf to 16 holes.

But with baseball, there is always a whole lot of talk about how to shorten the game. Raise the mound. Disallow timeouts. Cut the visits to the mound. Limit the throws to first base. Expand the strike zone. Shorten the time between innings. Put a clock on the pitcher. Make it illegal for managers to come out on the field to argue with umpires. These are just a few of the ideas I can remember hearing or reading the last few years. There are certainly dozens more.

Last week, umpire Joe West weighed in. West has been umpiring baseball games since sometime in the middle of the 17th century. He also has made a name for himself as a country singer and songwriter. And, according to his bio, he is an avid golfer. These three things suggest that, yeah, he probably doesn't enjoy long baseball games -- he has places to go, songs to write, golf to play. He decided to unveil his wrath on the Red Sox and Yankees, who certainly seem to play the slowest games on earth.

"They're two of the best teams in baseball," he told The Bergen Record. "Why are they playing the slowest? It's pathetic and embarrassing. They take too long to play." He punctuated this by calling the pace of Yankees-Red Sox game a "disgrace to baseball," which could make for an interesting country song.

Oh, you left me so long ago Brett's done left and unretired I've grown a beard, lost 50 pounds My truck plates have expired

The time has moved so slowly Like a Yankee-Red Sox brawl Like Joe West says, Darling You're a disgrace to baseball

Well, this set off a lot of talk -- some who agree with West that the Yankees and Red Sox could pick up the pace, and some, like Mariano Rivera, who think West should just shut his yap. But before we can talk about that, we should probably at least try to answer the question: Do the Yankees and Red Sox REALLY play all that much slower than other teams?

This is a bit more difficult to study than I expected... I think Sean Forman over at Baseball Reference might want to add a "time of game" search, though I might be one of only three people who would use it. Anyway, I finally decided that I needed to limit the search -- so I focused only the American League in 2009 and only on divisional games. In that subset, are Yankees-Red Sox games longer than other games?

The answer in 2009, anyway, was decidedly, "Yes." I'll get to that in a minute -- just to reiterate, I only looked at divisional games. I figured that was the best -- that way, I had 18 games to play with. In non-divisional games, one 4:30 game would throw the whole thing out of whack. So it might be that the Rays and Rangers or the Indians and Orioles or some other odd matchup played excruciatingly long games in 2009, but they just didn't play enough to make even a decent measurement.

First, the average length of all divisional games in the American League was 2:56. So that's a good starting point: You can expect roughly a three-hour game when you have two teams from the same division playing.

Only... that's not exactly true. Look at the average game time, by division:

American League East: 3:06 American League Central: 2:53 American League West: 2:46

So, in other words, the more (Joe) West you go, the faster the games -- and that's a not-insubstantial difference between West and East. I mean, on average, a 20-minute difference seems to me to be quite a big deal.

Why the difference? Well, you already know. But to get to the point, look at the teams. Here are the five fastest-playing teams in the league in 2009:

1. Chicago White Sox, 2:42 2. Seattle Mariners, 2:43 3. Texas Rangers, 2:44 4. Oakland Athletics, 2:46 5. Los Angeles Angels, 2:48

Those are the teams that, in their divisional games, averaged less than two hours and 50 minutes. No real surprises there -- maybe the Rangers. But the Rangers really weren't the same no-pitching, lots-of-runs team in 2009, and anyway American League West games are just played at a faster clip than games throughout the rest of the American League.

There will be zero surprises in the five slowest-playing teams in the American League:

1. New York Yankees, 3:16 2. Boston Red Sox, 3:12 3. Tampa Bay Rays, 3:03 4. Toronto Blue Jays, 3:01 5. Baltimore Orioles, 2:57

Yep, it's the American League East -- and more or less in the order of how they finished. Of course, that is pretty much how it has to be if the Yankees and Red Sox really are, as Joe West says, the slowest-playing teams around. It takes two to do a slow tango.

So, now, finally, we get to the games. I'll give the average time for every divisional game on the bottom of this column, but it's probably worth breaking it down. Here were the 10 slowest matchups in the American League in 2009:

1. Yankees-Red Sox, 3:39 (yikes!) 2. Yankees-Blue Jays, 3:19 3. Red Sox-Rays, 3:13 4. Tigers-Twins, 3:10 5. Yankees-Rays, 3:09 6. Red Sox-Orioles, 3:05 (tie) Royals-Twins, 3:05 8. Rays-Blue Jays, 3:03 9. Indians-Royals, 3:01 10. Orioles-Yankees, 3:00 (tie) Indians-Tigers, 3:00

Well, there it is. The Yankees-Red Sox games lasted 20 minutes longer than the next matchup (which involved the Yankees, too) and was 40 minutes longer than league average.

Why? Well, I think there are some pretty obvious reasons that come to mind. The Yankees and Red Sox are great offensive teams, and as such they tend to work pitchers, get a lot of men on base, force a lot of visits to the mound and pitching changes and such. They walk a lot. I don't have foul ball data -- I'm sure it's out there to be found -- but I would suspect that you see more foul balls at a Yankees-Red Sox game than anywhere else. And, let's face it, you will pitch Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez and Kevin Youkilis and all these stars more carefully, nibble more, step off the mound more, try to make the perfect pitch more. I think a good part of the Yankees-Red Sox length-of-game issue tends to be the opposite of Joe West's point -- BECAUSE they're such good teams they play longer games.

That said, I do suspect that West is at least a little bit right. Everything about Yankees-Red Sox takes on a World Series environment, and I think these games are played and managed to the death. It sometimes feels like you could watch an episode of Seinfeld between pitches. So yes, I tend to think that the Yankees and Red Sox do play the game at a slower pace and teams play at a slower pace against them. So you get a perfectly slow-moving storm when they play each other. As a baseball fan, those games do often feel interminable to me.

But, hey, if Red Sox and Yankees fans like it that way... I see nothing wrong with it. I started with the premise here that baseball is the sport where people gripe about length of game... but I'm not sure that's right. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's NOT right. It isn't time of game -- it's more like pace of play. A crisply-played 3:30 game doesn't FEEL like a 3:30 game. Anyway, if Yankees and Red Sox fans want their games to feel epic, want their games to last all night, don't want them to end, I think that's actually pretty cool. Few people ever say that a vacation lasted too long or a ride at Disneyland was too long or complain that a day at the beach just would not end. Me, sure, I wouldn't mind if the Yankees and Red Sox picked it up a little bit. But if Yankees and Red Sox fans like their games long, well, good for them.

And if you prefer short, crisp games, check out Seattle and Texas. Last year their games averaged 2:38 -- more than an hour shorter than Yankees-Red Sox. And a White Sox game is always a good choice. Of course, you're not going to see a lot of runs.

Here are the average time of games for all the divisional matchups:

American League East Game average: 3:06

Baltimore vs. Boston: 3:05 Baltimore vs. Yankees: 3:00 Baltimore vs. Tampa Bay: 2:50 Baltimore vs. Toronto: 2:54 (despite six extra-inning games)

Boston vs. Yankees: 3:39 Boston vs. Tampa Bay: 3:13 Boston vs. Toronto: 2:51

Yankees vs. Tampa Bay: 3:09 Yankees vs. Toronto: 3:19

Tampa Bay vs. Toronto: 3:03

American League Central Game average: 2:53

Chicago vs. Minnesota: 2:44 Chicago vs. Kansas City: 2:44 Chicago vs. Detroit: 2:41 Chicago vs. Cleveland: 2:41

Cleveland vs. Minnesota: 2:55 Cleveland vs. Kansas City: 3:01 Cleveland vs. Detroit: 3:00

Detroit vs. Minnesota: 3:10 Detroit vs. Kansas City: 2:49

Kansas City vs. Minnesota: 3:05

American League West Game Average: 2:46

Los Angeles vs. Texas: 2:52 Los Angeles vs. Seattle: 2:45 Los Angeles vs. Oakland: 2:48

Oakland vs. Texas: 2:44 Oakland vs. Seattle: 2:48

Seattle vs. Texas: 2:38

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