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Baseball is a great American tradition, on par with barbecues and freedom. Many visitors to America see attending a baseball match as a must-do while they’re there. But one thing that many newcomers to the sport are often not prepared for is how long the games can go on. So, for the sake of scheduling and preparation, how long do baseball games generally last?
Baseball games don’t have a fixed time like other sports. They generally last an average of three hours, but the actual length depends on many factors. The shortest baseball game in history lasted only 51 minutes, while the longest was eight hours and 25 minutes, spanning over three days.
If you plan to enjoy your first live baseball game, come prepared. You will need lots of snacks, cool drinks, an open calendar, and maybe sunscreen, depending on the time of the game. But why exactly do baseball games last so long? What makes the game so intense that you have to set aside an entire day (or, occasionally, two) just to enjoy a sporting match? Let’s find out.
How Long Do Baseball Games Last?
A baseball game does not have a particular time limit (at least, not in the professional or big leagues). Of course, a quick game between friends can be limited however the players choose, but the moment there’s a formal scoring system in place, time does not factor into the game at all. Instead, the game’s length is determined by the number of innings.
With a few minor exceptions, all major league matches have nine innings. Minor league matches (and a few others) have only seven innings. An inning lasts until the fielding team has caught out three hitters or runners. As you can see, there is no clear way to know how long this will take, which adds to the length of the game. On average, though, an inning lasts about 20 minutes.
Why Are Baseball Games So Long?
Nine innings at 20 minutes each means 180 minutes, or three hours. But there are a few things that this average does not account for.
The first is the fact that baseball is played at a very leisurely pace. Since the pitcher knows that they could be standing out there throwing balls for a very long time, they tend to pace themselves so as not to overdo it and injure themselves.
Coaches and team members often use the time between pitches to discuss better strategies, which could sometimes lead to a few minutes passing between pitches. In other words, unlike other sports like football, where it’s an adrenaline rush from start to finish, baseball progresses at a more leisurely pace punctuated with bouts of adrenaline and action.
There are also two other factors that could affect the duration of a baseball game.
The Length Of An Inning
Though innings generally last about 20 minutes on average, there’s no actual time limit – an inning continues until the requirements are met. For example, the longest inning ever recorded was in a game between the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers, where the fifth inning lasted a whopping 68 minutes and resulted in 18 runs.
So, because innings don’t have a time limit, longer innings can occasionally happen, which could extend the length of the game considerably. These cases are rare, though.
This is also rare, but the number of innings may be increased as the game progresses. This usually happens when the teams are tied at the end of the ninth inning; then, a tenth inning is added to break the tie.
The rules of modern baseball try to limit this by ensuring that there is only one extra inning by making it a sudden death inning (the first team to score wins, and the inning ends early). This was not always the case, though.
Older baseball games had no limit on the number of extended innings that could be added to a baseball game; the game simply continued until an inning ended with one team clearly in the lead. This led to some ridiculously long baseball games, as you will soon see, which is why the rules were changed to make provision for shorter games.
Do All Baseball Games Last This Long?
Not all baseball games last as long as three hours. The first exception is obviously if innings end more quickly. For example, if the first three hitters all happen to be unlucky enough to get caught out immediately, the inning will end in only a few minutes. If all innings progress similarly, the game will last a fraction of the time it usually does (and be less than satisfying because of it).
But the other factor that makes baseball games shorter is the number of innings. Though nine innings are the rule with most major league games, there are a few exceptions:
Some Games Have Only Seven Innings
During the Covid-19 pandemic, major league double-header games were changed to have only seven innings each. This rule has already caused a lot of controversies, and baseball fans are generally not pleased with the change.
But the minor league and school games also tend only to have seven innings, mainly to help the younger, less experienced players to have less strain (especially on the pitchers’ arms).
The Mexican Baseball League also adjusted its rules for major league games from the nine-innings standard to only seven innings per game. These rules seem to be spreading over the lesser-known leagues and teams, and we might see more of them in the coming years.
A seven-inning game reduces the average game time by about 40 minutes to only two hours and twenty minutes.
The Roll-Over Rule
This rule does not apply to formal season games, but a new rule was introduced recently that allows a team to decide to end their inning after pitching twenty balls instead of the standard three-out limit. The rule only applies to the spring training season, though, and only affects matches played during this time.
The addition of this rule means that games that are played during spring training could last about half the time of a regular game, reducing it to about an hour and a half.
The Shortest Baseball Game Ever Played
As mentioned, games can progress much faster than average if the fielding team is exceptionally good at catching out the runners and hitters. With this in mind, the shortest baseball game ever recorded was a game between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies. It happened all the way back on September 28th, 1919, at the Polo Grounds.
This game ended in only 51 minutes when the Giants won with a score of six over the one point scored by the Phillies. It is still standing as the shortest ever Baseball game in history that finished the full nine innings.
The Longest Baseball Game Ever Played
History was made in 1981 when the longest-ever baseball game was played between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket. It is still recorded as the longest professional baseball game ever played. So long, in fact, that the game didn’t just span over two days but three. The total playing time was eight hours and 25 minutes, with 33 innings.
This historic game started on April 18th, 1981, at 8:25 PM (for those who are interested in strange coincidences, there’s a really interesting one). This delay in the starting time was caused by problems with the stadium lights, and consequently, the game started almost half an hour later than it was scheduled.
The game progressed past the ninth innings, and both teams were tied, so play continued. There were multiple occasions where it seemed like the tie was about to be broken, but circumstances changed, and the game continued.
The International League has a rule stating that games should not continue after 12:50 AM, so that should have been the logical conclusion, with the game ending in a tie. However, the home plate umpire, Dennis Cregg, had a copy of the rule book that did not state this rule, so the game continued unabated into the early morning of April 19th (Easter).
Since this was April, the weather was terrible, and players had to resort to burning broken bats to keep warm. Fans watching the game bought food and drinks to the point where the clubhouses were completely sold out.
The players eventually started becoming delirious from exhaustion. By 3 AM, Pawtucket’s manager tried to reach the league president, and when he finally did, the absolutely horrified president ordered that the match ended when that inning was over.
The players finally went home at 4:07 AM after 32 innings. By that time, there were only 19 fans left in the seats, all of whom received season or lifetime passes to McCoy Stadium. Even Dennis Craig was fast asleep by then, and rumor has it that he has never attended another baseball game since, though this is unconfirmed (but it wouldn’t be a surprise).
But that was not yet the end of it. The game was still in a draw, after all.
Though many tried to schedule the conclusion of the match within a day or two, this was opposed due to fear of injury, and the conclusion was finally set for Tuesday, June 23rd of the same year, some two months after the events of the previous game.
This time the fans and media showed up in their masses, just for the game to be over in 18 minutes by the end of the 33rd inning, when Pawtucket won with three points against Rochester’s two. The Red Sox’s Dave Koza scored the winning run, and Steve Grilli of the Red Wings threw the losing pitch.
It was such a historical event that it was even celebrated on June 23rd, 2006, the game’s 25th anniversary. The chances of all the factors working together perfectly to create such a painfully long baseball game are astronomically low, yet it happened.
It’s no wonder baseball’s powers that be changed the rules so that such long baseball games will never be allowed to happen again. It poses a health risk to the players and even the fans, and it might even lead to the game losing popularity if this became a regular occurrence.
Baseball games are a great way to relax, both for the players and the fans. Because of this, the game is usually played at a slow pace, and one game can last an average of three hours. The days of extremely long baseball games are gone forever (and thankfully so), so you can safely spend a relaxing evening at the ball game without fear of what you will do the next day.