Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Time Machine

Last night, Fox Sports Ohio replayed the September 11, 1985 Reds-Padres game in which Pete Rose broke the all-time hits record. Kudos to FSN for showing the whole game rather than condensing it into an hour or whatever as so often happens with these classic broadcasts. This is especially commendable given that the highlight of the game -- Rose's hit off of Eric Show -- comes in the first inning. They could have easily played that and two hours of baloney commentary, but they let the whole game play.

Not that that the record-setting hit was the only highlight. Other things that kept me from flipping around:

  • The game moved really fast. Tom Browning or Eric Show would pitch, the catcher would throw the ball back, the batter would maybe step one foot out of the box for a second, and then Browning and Show would set and deal again. Even the two biggest prima donnas on the field -- Dave Parker and Steve Garvey -- were back in the box and ready for the pitch with a quickness. Given that only two runs were scored in the whole game it would have been quick anyway, but this tilt came in at a crisp 2:17, which is far shorter than almost any game in the glove-adjusting, signal-repeating days in which we now live.

  • Joe Morgan, in his first season in the booth following his retirement, was the color man. Despite the fact that he was doing a Reds game with former teammates Rose and Concepcion on the field in front of him, his Big Red Machine love was far more subdued than it is during any random A's-Mariners tilt he's assigned to today. He also sounded like he was enjoying himself a bit, which was quite shocking coming from him.

  • The players' waistlines. In 1985, I distinctly remember watching Dave Parker, Buddy Bell, and Pete Rose and thinking that they were fat for ballplayers. Watching last night, they all looked surprisingly thin (Tony Gwynn in right field looked practically anorexic).
    I have no doubt that this reassessment on my part is due to seeing so many beer league softball-sized players today.

In any event, it was a great thrill to see a game from the Golden Age (with the definition of Golden Age being whenever the viewer happened to be about 12 or 13 years-old). MLB TV is supposed to launch soon. Programmers: please run as many old games -- in their entirety -- as possible.


Voros McCracken said...

Coincidentally I was cruising the intertubes a week ago trying to find video from the first televised baseball game. Not so much as a historical thing, but I wanted to watch a long forgotten professional hitter like Frank McCormick swing the bat and see how much he looked like a current hitter. No luck.

As for the waistlines of players, while they've no doubt expanded, I'm guessing part of it is also related to the uniforms. 80s era baseball uniforms made in shape people look in shape and people who weren't look grotesque. The bagginess of the modern (and old-time unis) are a bit of an equalizer in that regard.

Mike said...

If I remember correctly, didn't Eric Show sit down on the mound during all the post-hit hoopla?

- Mike

Drew said...

While it's true that most games run longer, there were 103 games in 2007 that were shorter than 2:17, and 339 games shorter than 2:30. That's out of 2,431 total games, so it's not exactly a huge percentage, but it's worth noting that quick games are still out there. The average game time was about 2:55. (Based on retrosheet data)

Shyster said...

Mike -- yeah, he sat down. Show always was something of an ass.

Drew: good points. I think more than actual game time, it's the pitch-to-pitch pace that was so different. I'd gladly take a 3 hour game if the pace was quick.

I also think the game I watched last night seemed so dramatically faster because the last games I saw -- the playoffs -- were so interminably long.

drew said...

What can I say, I got obsessive:

In 1985, the average game time was 2:42, according again to retrosheet data. 13 minutes shorter than today's average.

One major factor in game time between (not super strongly correlated, but meaningfully correlated) seems to be total number of pitchers used in a game. In 1985, the average game included 5.47 pitchers, and in 2007, we see an average of 7.94. That's a pretty substantial difference, and may account for a large part of the difference.

Now, I know what you mean about game pace seeming quicker in the old games, but I wonder how it is that games weren't all that much shorter given fewer pitching changes and what seemed to be a faster pace at the plate. I'm not sure I've got the energy to figure it out, either, I just think it's interesting that the data shows that today's games just aren't as slow as we think they are.

rufuswashere said...

I also have noted that the time between pitches seems markedly shorter in the older games. Even a few seconds on the between-pitch timing can have a huge impact on our perception of the speed of the game.

Pete Toms said...

We all agree games are too long.

Aren't games longer simply because there is more scoring today? Somebody want to find the numbers on pitches per plate appearance? Is there more nibbling because the hitters are better - bigger & stronger? Yes, more pitching changes is part of it as well.