Ruane: A history of three-inning baseball

From SABR member Tom Ruane at on July 25, 2012:

Many fans consider the game of baseball to be close to perfect. Oh, we may quibble about the DH and the meaningfulness of the All-Star game, but most of us agree that our mythical founding fathers got the big things right: ninety feet between the bases, a pitching mound only slightly more than ten inches high, the short-fielder, Sunday baseball and so on.

Well, almost everything. I’m talking, of course, about the length of the game. Simply put: it’s just too long. I was thinking about this during the recent SABR convention when the lot of us ambled over to Target Field for the obligatory trip to the park. And don’t get me wrong – it was great… for a while. But around about the third inning, I could tell people were getting restless. Isn’t that Denard Span at the plate? Didn’t we already see him hit? He grounded out. Well, that’s original.

Of course, some people didn’t mind. I could easily spot those people, since they were either studying some hand-held device of theirs or working their way through a batting helmut full of nachos and their second or third tub of beer. But most normal people had had enough. Of course, we didn’t want to miss the game’s conclusion. After all, who wants to leave a game without knowing who won? We just wished that conclusion could come a lot sooner than the ninth inning.

But what if our forefathers had understood this? What if they had determined that a regulation game would last three innings instead of nine? I think it’s pretty obvious that the world would have been a much better place.

Of course, there’s little chance of that happening today. It’s hard enough getting the powers that be to move a team from one league to another or add another round of playoffs more than once a decade. Good luck getting them to slice the time of a game down to around an hour and change. So I decided to do the next best thing. Taking Retrosheet’s play-by-play data for the last sixty-one years,1 I decided to see what kind of game we could have had if they only lasted three innings. Of course, there would still be extra-inning contests, but it would be a rare contest that would approach the current “normal” span of nine tedious innings.

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Originally published: July 25, 2012. Last Updated: July 25, 2012.