Baseball’s one of the coolest games you can play as not a lot of limitations are present in the game. A game could potentially go on forever.
There is no time limit, so you keep playing until someone wins. The game is slow-paced and efforts have been made to speed up the timing of the game.
The casual fan can get bored, but even with that, there is no limit to how long a game can last.
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How Long is a Baseball Game?
A typical baseball game lasts 9 innings, which is about three hours, but it can be much less or much more. If a game is stopped by weather, it is an official game if 5 or more innings were played. If after 9 innings and the score’s still tied, the game continues until someone wins.
The rules of the game were set up in 1846, and the basics have not changed in 175 years.
Regardless of how many innings were played, the first few games were played until one of the teams scored 21 runs. Most of these games lasted around six innings and took two or three hours to complete.
Early on pitchers were serving up easy balls to hit, and the game was for hitters. The idea of calling strikes and balls did not come about for a few more years.
Eventually, pitchers started trying to strike out batters and defenses improved.
Runs got harder to come by and it took longer and longer to get to 21 runs. There was no stadium lighting in those days, so games had to end when it got too dark to see.
These were the conditions that led to some rules being set up in 1846.
Since baseball teams have 9 players, so nine innings was chosen as a logical number. They also decided if the score was tied after nine innings, they would keep playing until someone won.
Speeding Up the Baseball Game
Over the years there have been attempts to speed up the game. Setting up basic rules and setting nine innings as the standard game helped. From there other things have been tried.
Three hours seems to be the historic average. That is a long time to watch a slow-paced game like baseball, so some tweaks have been added.
Most of these are tried in the minor leagues first before adding them to the major league games.
A pitch clock was started, requiring the pitcher to throw the next pitch in a certain amount of time. There have been limits as to how many pickoffs attempts a pitcher could make.
Changing the batter and pitcher’s distance has also been tried at the minor league level.
Just changing it one foot would give pitchers a slight advantage and that could speed up the game.
How Long a Baseball Game Takes
The length of games has gone back and forth in the 175 years or more than baseball has existed. This has held true in the modern era as well.
In the early 1980s games were taking an average of 150 minutes. By 2021 that average was up to about 190 minutes.
A game can get longer due to varying reasons. Pitching changes add to the time it takes, as well as substituting other players.
Teams are very evenly matched at the professional level, and they look for any advantage they can find.
This makes the game take longer. Smarter baseball takes longer to play.
That is great for the teams, but it is not great for television ratings or for fans who want more action. People get bored and that is not something baseball wants.
Rules change slowly in baseball, and that may be a good thing. In 1973 the American League decided to not require pitchers to bat and allowed a designated hitter to hit for them.
To purists this was heresy, but now both leagues adopted the rule of having a designated hitter.
The Extremes of a Baseball Game
In 1920, there was a game that went 26 innings and it was stopped because of darkness. The Brooklyn Robins and the Boston Braves were tied at one run each when darkness fell.
It was a pitcher’s duel, and both pitchers pitched all 26 innings. The game took only a little more than three hours as a result.
In the modern, there have been two games that went 25 innings. The Chicago White Sox beat the Milwaukee Brewers in their 1984 game with a score of 7-6.
That game was stopped because it was 1 a.m. and the game was finished the next day. With eight hours and four minutes of actual playing time, it is the longest game in history.
The national league had no rule saying when play had to stop.
In 25 innings, the St. Louis Cardinals beat the New York Mets 4-3 in their 1974 game. That game went to 3 a.m.
It lasted seven hours and four minutes and is the longest game of uninterrupted play.
The shortest time to complete a major league game was just 51 minutes in a game played in 1919 between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Phillies. The Giants won 6-1.
The minor leagues have that beat for the shortest game. In 1916 the Winston Salem Twins beat the Asheville Tourists 2-1 in a game that took just 31 minutes.
That broke the record set in 1910 when the Atlanta Crackers played the Mobile Sea Gulls in a game that took 32 minutes to complete.
Softball is a lot like baseball but has some significant differences. One is how long games take.
College softball fastpitch games, played by women, take about two hours to complete a seven-inning game.
College baseball games are nine innings and take about three hours.
One reason softball games go faster is the pitching. In softball, there is no windup, and there is not much time taken between pitches.
The fast pitch is thrown in a more under-handed motion, which is more natural. This allows the pitcher to throw pitches faster, and to pitch much longer than a baseball pitcher.
Recreational leagues play slow pitch ball and also use the underhand motion to pitch.
That is more like pitching was done in the very early years of baseball when they were serving up easy pitches to hit.
Frequently Asked Questions about How Long a Baseball Game is
Why is there an interest in speeding up the game of baseball?
The games are taking three hours, and they tend to get longer each year. The games get boring and do not hold fans attention when they take that long. Good strategy tends to slow the game, and officials have to keep trying to shorten it as a result.
Softball games go faster, but are they really as athletic?
Softball pitchers have shorter distances to throw balls. Hence, a 70 mph softball pitch is equivalent to a 95 mph baseball. Batters also have less time to react to a pitch in softball, because the pitcher is closer.
Since the idea of a nine-inning game was accepted the normal length of a game is about three hours.
As time passes the game gets a little slower, and they have to try to speed it up.
Even though that changes over the years, the three-hour range stays the average.