Baseball does not depend on a ticking clock, unlike most team sports that use quarters, periods, or halves to measure time. There is no specific time length for a baseball game – teams at the highest level of MLB compete until there is a winner.
How Long is a Baseball Game?
The length of a baseball game varies depending on the league. Major League Baseball games last an average of about three hours throughout nine innings. The same goes for Minor League baseball games and collegiate games of nine innings.
How Long Does an Inning Last?
An inning last for six outs, three outs per team. This rule is the same for all skill levels, except for tee-ball leagues. The actual time that an inning lasts depends on how quick the pitcher works, the number of at-bats, and pitching changes.
In some cases, half innings are over after three pitches, although this is a rarity. In theory, an inning could last indefinitely.
What Determines the Outcome of a Baseball Game?
In simplest terms, the team that scores the most runs after nine innings in a professional game wins the baseball game. Each team gets time to bat at every inning. When three men are ruled out, their half of the inning is over, and the other team bats. If there is a scenario where no team has more runs after nine innings, extra innings play out until a winner emerges.
However, there are some exceptions. There is a 12-inning maximum in the regular season and a 15-inning maximum for the playoffs in Japanese leagues. But as noted earlier in the article, the record length of the game at any level is 33 innings, with 25 innings for a Major League game. Therefore, games can extend very long after the scheduled nine-inning contest.
How is Baseball Trying to Speed up the Game?
There are numerous ways that MLB is attempting to quicken the speed of the game. A 20-second pitch clock in Minor League Baseball has lowered game time by about 15 minutes and is something MLB is highly considering adopting.
Another way to speed up the game, albeit briefly, is eliminating the need to throw four pitches out of the strike zone for an intentional walk. Managers now signal from the bench to the umpire when they wish to walk a batter intentionally.
This season, MLB made doubleheader games seven innings each instead of nine. Also, starting last season, MLB began extra innings with the team at-bat already having a man on second base. This change has increased the chances of scoring runs and lower game time. However, rules involving doubleheaders and extra innings are unlikely to continue next season.
Longest Games Ever in Baseball
The longest game ever played in Major League Baseball occurred in 1984 when the Milwaukee Brewers faced the Chicago White Sox. The game began on May 8 and took two days to complete. After 25 innings and just over eight hours, the White Sox came out on top with a walk-off home run by Harold Baines.
The longest game at the Minor League level featured the Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Paw Sox. The game began on April 18 and was suspended at 4:09 AM on April 19. After over two months, on June 23, the game was resumed and was completed after 33 innings, with Pawtucket winning, 3-2. The total time of the game was a mere eight hours and 25 minutes.
The record for the longest World Series game played was in 2018 when the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers battled for seven hours and 20 minutes.
The Dodgers won this 18-inning game 3-2. The win turned out to be the only one for the Dodgers during the series. The game’s duration eclipsed the previous longest World Series game of five hours and 41 minutes between the White Sox and Astros in 2005.
Factors the Influence Length of Games
With the increased attention to pitch counts, Major League Baseball games head to the bullpen earlier and more frequently than ever. It’s pretty normal to see up to five pitching changes by both teams throughout the game. Each pitching change adds a few minutes to the time of the game.
Every team takes advantage of matchups with the lefty specialist and several other specialists, such as strikeout and ground ball specialists, depending on the situation in the game.
In addition, managers have access to so much information in terms of analytics. Hitters now have a better idea than ever how pitchers will try to get them out. Notice how a pitcher’s effectiveness generally decreases the second and third time through a line-up. Changing pitchers catches offenses off guard. Batters don’t get used to seeing the same pitcher over and over again.
Considering that each pitch period change takes an average of 3-5 minutes, this can add 18 to 30 minutes extra time if each team makes three pitching changes and up to an hour when making five pitching changes.
Higher Strikeout Rates
Gone are the days when 100 strikeouts in a season for a batter was considered very high. Nowadays, 200 strikeouts aren’t impossible.
These many strikeouts result in batters going deep into the count more often than not. This cuts down the number of potential double plays and adds to the pitch counts, which means more pitching changes.
For those that don’t mind the extra time, the all-or-nothing approach at the plate has increased home run totals, which is a bonus for anyone that likes the long ball.
Time Between Pitches
Gone are the days when both starting pitchers logged many innings and worked at a fast pace. Many of today’s pitchers are very deliberate, particularly in critical situations late in the game.
Ever notice a pitcher shaking off a catcher so many times that the catcher must head to the mound? Or in other circumstances, a hitter calls time out and steps out of the box?
Ever notice how many batters step out between each pitch to adjust their helmet, batting gloves, or other rituals? Although this only takes a few seconds, it adds up when more than 200 pitches are thrown in a ball game.
Although teams are only allowed to visit the mound five teams per nine-inning game, that time adds up quickly. Mound visits can add up to 10 minutes to the game time.
Time Between Innings
Kudos to Major League Baseball for speeding up the time between innings, but still, it could be faster. The major hurdle in that is that radio and television need advertising between innings to make their money. Decreasing advertisements decreases revenue, so changing this will likely be a hard sell.
This article would be incomplete without mentioning entertainment between innings and during pitching changes. Younger kids want to see action, and while MLB is a great product, all the downtime can be boring for younger viewers.
There are numerous contests, dancing to live music and other forms of entertainment during downtimes. While this impacts the duration of a game, it does help ease the boredom that could set in waiting for game action to resume.
How long baseball games last varies depending on the level of competition and a variety of other factors listed above. A nine-inning game will generally last about three hours, while seven-inning contests last two to two and a half hours. Youth league games conclude after about an hour to an hour and a half.