Let the games begin . . . and end at a reasonable time.
That's what Major League Baseball hopes to accomplish with TC set of guidelines that was sent to all 28 clubs this week to enlist their help in reducing the average time of game. The hope is that the length of games can be reduced by as much as 20 minutes with stricter enforcement of existing rules and a little help from upstairs.
The directive calls on umpires to keep things moving, and it outlines a variety of ways that club personnel can avoid delays and eliminate dead time during the course of each game.
Don't look for Rex Barney to reduce the hang time on his famous expression of gratitude, but he and some other Orioles employees will be very much involved in the speedup effort.
The new guidelines call on club personnel to have all pre-game ceremonies concluded at least two minutes before the scheduled start of the game and ask the public address announcer to move the action along with timely announcements.
The instructions for team officials were compiled by former Cincinnati Reds general manager Dick Wagner, who now serves as assistant to the chairman of Major League Baseball's Executive Committee. National League president Bill White and American League president Dr. Bobby Brown already have addressed on-field guidelines to their respective club owners, general managers, managers, umpires and player representatives.
So, what will be different at Camden Yards this year?
* The lengthy pre-game ceremonies that have become an Orioles tradition might have to begin earlier to assure that they will not delay the scheduled start of the game. The introductions, the national anthems and the exchange of lineup cards must be complete with two minutes to spare.
* The home team will be encouraged to be on the field and the pitcher ready to deliver the first pitch on time.
* Barney will be asked to introduce the first batter of the game when the umpire signals that only two warm-up pitches remain.
* The leadoff hitter of every half inning will be introduced 1 minute and 45 seconds after the final out of the previous half inning.
* Subsequent batters will be introduced no more than five seconds after the completion of the prior play.
* Pitching and lineup changes should be announced promptly once the umpire signals that they are official.
* Between-inning entertainment will be limited to 1 minute and 45 seconds.
The Orioles may not be any more guilty of slowing down games than any other team, but the club had the second longest average time of game in the American League last year (2:59). In yesterday's release, the commissioner's office points out that the average time of game in the American League has risen 22 minutes since 1977. The average time of game has risen 20 minutes in the National League.
Baseball experimented with speedup rules during the inaugural season of the Arizona Fall League this year and got cooperation from the minor-league players there, but it might be difficult to get dramatic results in the major leagues without some rules changes.
The umpires have been instructed to enforce rules more strictly, but it could be difficult to change the habits of established major-leaguers. Games appear to be moving faster this spring, but that probably has more to do with the nature of spring training than a consciousness of the need to speed things up.
"We usually don't have any trouble with times of games in spring training," veteran umpire Rich Garcia said this week. "The [established] guys come out there ready to work, and we have a lot of younger guys this time of year."
Average length of nine-inning games:
Year ... ... ... Length
1992 ... ... ... 2:49
1991 ... ... ... 2:49
1990 ... ... ... 2:48
1989 ... ... ... 2:46
1988 ... ... ... 2:45
1987 ... ... ... 2:48
1986 ... ... ... 2:44
1985 ... ... ... 2:40
1984 ... ... ... 2:35
1983 ... ... ... 2:36
1982 ... ... ... 2:34