I have dined out for many years on a comedian's observation that baseball is five minutes of action crammed into three hours. It now appears the quip is actually correct.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the actual time in baseball when "everyone on the field is running around looking for something to do (balls in the air and runner advancement attempts)" takes five minutes and forty-seven seconds during a three-hour-plus game. That's 5:47 out of 3:00+.
The WSJ took a stopwatch to three different major league baseball games and, according to reporter Steve Moyer, timed everything that happened and categorized it as action or inaction. By the most generous definition, action involving the 18 adult men in pajamas on the field and their supporting cast actually accounted for 17 minutes and 58 seconds. In fairness, a similar WSJ test of NFL games in January 2010 showed average action time for America's best professional football teams was 11 minutes.
When it was just the players playing who were tracked, however, baseball could not break double-digits in the getting stuff done department. Indeed, it seems time in baseball stretches like elastic waistbands at a Weight Watchers meeting.
According to the WSJ, time wasters in the 90 per cent of the game that is "down time" include:
- 33:39 for "time between batters" (which is the amount of time it takes a really good runner to a run 10K race)
- 42:41 for "time between innings" (which is more than double the time it takes a reasonably good runner to run a 5K race)
- 1:14 for "time between pitches" (which is actually 15 minutes more than it took Zersenay Tadese to set the world record for running a half-marathon)
Curiously, it's this last category that gives me pause about the WSJ findings. Not that I doubt the numbers. They are from the Wall Street Journal, after all. And numbers are never wrong, distorted or self-serving on Wall Street, as we all know. What makes me balk, however, is not the accuracy of the clock time but the categorization of what constitutes action.
Don't get me wrong. I find baseball so somnolent that I think Sealy Posturepedic should sponsor mattress-testing contests at halftime, or whatever you call it. I think companies that sell those little bedtime oxygen masks should provide them free as a public service during the World Series. Still, much of what the WSJ discounts as time wasting inaction would, to a baseball fan I think, be the heart of the contest.
"Technically, the time between pitches begins when the pitch to the batter who saw the last pitch concludes . . . and ends when the pitcher begins his next pitch. So it includes the unstrapping and re-strapping of batting gloves, sleeve adjusting, practice swinging, plus the pitcher doing whatever he does as well," Steve Moyer writes.
Even someone who plays baseball as though he grew up in England—as a wag once described my grasp of the game—can appreciate that these seemingly trivial tics, twitches, and rituals are integral to the psychological activity of the game. The small actions that fill the interstices of the larger outbursts create the tension that engages us in whatever drama there might be. We should not treat such moments like factory seconds unworthy of our attention or our appreciation.
It seems to me that increasingly we do just that. Not only in baseball, but in virtually every aspect of life. We can, of course, explain and blame using the streaming video metaphor of contemporary life—as though all our woes began with, and are spread via the vector of, the internet. But surely this antic nature of modern/post-modern life began well before the 1990s, no? Surely we have been rushing to fill what Pascal called "those terrifying spaces" above and around us much longer than that, yes?
What we rush to fill them with is what we think of as "meaningful action", "goal-oriented purpose", "game-changing events", all of which result, in the American style, in things highly visually stimulating, frequently frenzy-inducing, and invariably loud enough to wake the dead. That's not to say there's anything wrong with action, goals, purpose, or change. Ontologically as well as teleologically, batters must bat and runners must run. But there is more.
Painters have known since at least Lascaux the necessity of the uninhabited openings between the lines. Musicians who play beyond the level of "Chopsticks" know the notes mean nothing without the silences. If an engineer tells you he can build you a bridge without the tension produced by space, he must be from Montreal because that bridge will not stand.
Somehow, however, we have lost sight of the vitality of everything that is happening just when it seems that nothing is happening. Nowhere, I think, is this more evident than in so much of our lives of faith.
"Be still," God says, "and know that I am God."
We watch at our watches, time God's arrival, fail to grasp His presence because we yet do not know where to look, or even how to see.