Andrew Kimbrell characterises the time of most sports as restricted by artificial, mechanised time-frames that evoke industrial efficiencies and productions. Baseball conversely is closer to a natural time with no pre-defined end point on a clock.
A Celebration of Natural Time
“The Clock doesn’t matter in baseball. Time stands still or moves backwards. Theoretically one game could go on forever. Some seem to.” —Herb Caen, noted columnist
Baseball has no use for standardized, digitalized, mechanized time. The other major sports have strict artificial time frames reminiscent of efficiency-driven industrial production (as in “time is money”) or militaristic action (as in “synchronize your watches”). Football has four fifteen-minute quarters (and of course “sudden death”), basketball has four twelve-minute periods, hockey has three twenty-minute periods, soccer two forty-five-minute halves. Baseball, by contrast, is played in natural, not artificial, time. There are no seconds ticking away on scoreboards, no two-minute warnings, no buzzers or buzzer beaters. Actually, it isn’t just the baseball game that could continue eternally—each of baseball’s nine innings, in fact, each of its eighteen half innings, could theoretically go on forever.
In our hyperactive, ADHD world, this meditative, “real life” time element in baseball has been called its downfall. The game is too slow, we are told, for the modern age. Mary McCrory once wrote that “Baseball is our past football our future.” Let’s hope not. It is true that a baseball game can seem like six minutes of action crammed into two-and-a-half hours. Pitchers and catchers give, receive, or shake off signs; batters step out of the box; other players or coaches go visit the pitcher to give advice or encouragement; pitchers nervously pace or blow into their hands between pitches. For the most part though, to the baseball fan, the natural pace is far from boring. In fact it’s experienced as a crescendo of cumulative tension. Any parent of a Little Leaguer, or fan during a crucial major league contest, knows that a game can indeed seem like “a nervous breakdown spread over nine innings.”
The timing of the baseball season also is a celebration of the year’s seasons even if in a bittersweet way. As Bart Giamatti wrote: “It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”
Kimbrell, Andrew. 2012. “In Praise of Baseball.” Tikkun August 30, 2012. https://www.tikkun.org/in-praise-of-baseball