Analyzing The 'Anatomy Of A Baseball Broadcast'

NPR's Robert Siegel talks to Wall Street Journal reporter David Biderman about his analysis of how many minutes of action there is in a typical broadcast of a Major League Baseball game. Biderman did a similar analysis of National Football League broadcasts earlier this year.

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: Though you may have the television on for three or more hours, you will likely see only about 14 minutes of action. As for the rest of the time? Well, there'll be likely some 40 minutes of commercials, 10 or so minutes of replays, and close to an hour and a half of players just standing around. That's, at least, according to an analysis by Wall Street Journal sports reporter David Biderman, who joins us now from New York. Welcome.

DAVID BIDERMAN: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

: And now - first, you have to define your terms. What do we mean by action, and what do we mean by standing around?

BIDERMAN: Sure. Action, we started - and when I say we, I mean me sitting with a stopwatch. We started our stopwatch whenever a pitcher started his pitching action, which is basically lifting your leg to start your wind-up to throw the pitch. And if it were just a ball or a strike going to a catcher's glove, then we would stop as soon as it hits the catcher's glove. But if there were a hit or a foul or anything like that, we would keep our stopwatch going, and it's pretty easy to figure out when the play is dead. You don't necessarily have to see an umpire say, okay, the play is dead. The players stop moving. The sound kind of die down in the crowd. And that would be when our action ended.

: But, you know, in those National League games, after the pitcher has been on the base pads, it's the job of that leadoff man to take a lot of time to have the...

BIDERMAN: Yeah.

: ...pitcher catch his breath. Here's a dimension of the game, which is all about wasting time, and it's not just standing around.

BIDERMAN: You know, you could, obviously, as we did, call it standing around, but, yeah, there's definitely a fair point. We're not saying that a baseball game is meaningless, except for those 14 minutes of action. I think that's what fans really like about the game is that it can't be defined by time because you have those little things, like a manager walking slowly as humanly possible to the pitcher's mound to make sure that the relieving pitcher has enough time to warm up. In our count, that would be standing around or that would be - we had a separate category for how long managers talk to pitchers about a pitching change...

: Mm-hmm.

BIDERMAN: ...but you could, if you wanted to, make that as strategy category, and I think that's what your lifetime baseball fans would do.

: So we'll continue the interview under protest?

BIDERMAN: Sure.

: We'll (unintelligible). Okay. You looked at two different games from this season, but you also looked at the earliest Major League broadcast you could find, and you did the same analysis on it. Which games are we talking about?

BIDERMAN: We looked at two early season games this year. We looked at one on Fox and one on ESPN. And then the 1952 game, that is the oldest complete game that was nationally broadcast and that Major League Baseball has in its collection. And it was a World Series game - game six. And the biggest difference was the amount of commercials shown. The 1952 game, there's just under 10 minutes of commercials. And in the games this year, you found just a little bit more than 40 minutes of commercials.

: And still about 14 minutes of action...

BIDERMAN: Yeah.

: ...both in 1952? And how long was the game start to finish? Was it a good deal shorter in 1952 than it is now?

BIDERMAN: A little bit shorter. It wasn't drastically different.

: Now, here's something I found surprising. This is for all those pro football fans who say, yeah, baseball is a really slow game. You did a similar analysis of National Football League games.

BIDERMAN: Yes. And we found that the National Football League had less action.

: About 11 minutes?

BIDERMAN: Yes.

: Can you honestly watch if you tried watching the 14-minute version of a baseball game or the 11-minute version of an NFL football game?

BIDERMAN: You know, you kind of have to question - I think when I watch a Major League Baseball game on TV with friends, you kind of like the idea that you can sit around. And while the players are standing around, you can get chips and dip and talk with your friends. So, is it possible to watch a game in 14 minutes? I think so. But I think that that might actually take away some of the fun of sitting around with your buddies for a few hours and drinking beers and just generally relaxing.

: Well, David Biderman, thank you very much for talking with us about the action and standing around in baseball games.

BIDERMAN: Great. Thank you for having me.

: David Biderman of The Wall Street Journal. His story today is called "The Anatomy of a Baseball Broadcast."

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