The MLB has hijacked kairos. It needs to be returned.

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Last week, Keith Olbermann took on MLB commissioner, Bud Selig, questioning whether or not the MLB truly wants to shorten games like the commissioner suggests it does.

Essentially, Olbermann’s argument was, “Why aren’t baseball games getting any shorter? Well, because Selig won’t tell the umpires to enforce the two rules that are already in place to speed up the game (8.04 & 6.02b). The MLB would rather make tons of money on more TV advertisements. Time is money. Duh.” Paraphrased, obviously.

Watch the entire segment here.

It really is a problem. Even those of us who can’t get enough baseball (me) wouldn’t mind the ballgames speeding up by 20 minutes or so. The batters readjusting their gloves between every pitch, the pitchers stepping off the rubber to go back through the signs – and now, play stopping for 3-5 minutes per game for the umpires to initiate an instant replay challenge – it’s all making the game juuuuuust a bit too long.

It’s also, supposedly, the number one reason kids these days aren’t interested in the sport of baseball*. It’s slow. It’s boring. There’s no explosive action. It’s dull.

* – I’m pretty sure I disagree with this argument, by the way. Kids want athletes who they can emulate, and athletes who are franchise faces make the best options. That doesn’t seem to exist like it did in the 70s and 80s. Lots of reasons, but that’s an entirely different post. I’ll talk about that when Alex Gordon signs his extension with KC and becomes a career Royal.

I go to baseball games with my wife, for example, and she has about a 6- or 7-inning threshold, which, honestly, is pretty decent from a husband’s perspective. Around the 6th, I notice her starting to glance at the scoreboard clock trying to do the math on how much longer it will take: “So we’re 2/3 of the way through right now…and it’s taken just under two hours so far…so that’s like another 50 minutes? I can do that…just don’t let it go into extra innings, please.”

Which is not good for the game. When we go into ballgames watching the clock, we’re rarely going to have a good experience.

Baseball should never be about watching the clock.

When you watch football or basketball or hockey or soccer, it’s perfectly acceptable to clock watch…because there is one. What’s more, the clock directly effects the game itself. When you’re winning in football, running the ball runs the clock down faster. If you’re behind in basketball, you gotta foul and roll the ball inbounds to save the precious seconds left. In soccer or hockey, clearing the ball/puck deep to the other end forces the opponent to waste more time corralling it and advancing it again.

And all the while, it’s totally appropriate to anxiously count the seconds down until the game ends. We even root for it.

Baseball doesn’t utilize a clock. You can’t run the clock down, foul, spike the ball, clear the puck, etc. The game doesn’t end until 27 outs are recorded and one team has more runs scored than the other.  Clock watching in baseball is irrelevant to the on-field product. It is only relevant to our own concept of time outside of the game itself.

Baseball games vary in length significantly. Two weeks ago, it took the Angels six and a half hours to beat the Red Sox. Last week, the Yankees/Astros game only lasted two hours and seven minutes. In baseball – in an attempt to sound as much like Ron Swanson as possible – it takes the time that it takes.

When you’re at the ballpark, there are only two reasons to check the clock:

  1. “Wow, it’s already the 7th inning stretch? This game is flying by! How long has it been?”
  2. “Finally, the 7th inning stretch. This game is a friggin tortoise. How long has it been?”

The first is rare. The second is too common.

Which is why the conversation about game length exists at all – we are only really conscious of time in baseball when it interferes with our own internal clock. We’ve got to get the kids to bed – or ourselves, for that matter – or we’ve got a train to catch after the game from Philly back to NYC.

Baseball in its purest form doesn’t care about clocks at all. Everything occurs outside of a specified timeframe.

At this point, I have illustrated two different concepts of the same word. The Greeks had two different words for the concept of “time” – chronos and kairos. The former concept is conscious of hours and minutes and seconds. It’s the root of the word “chronological.” Chronos is what football teams are conscious of when they spike the ball or kneel at the end of the game. The game only lasts a certain amount of time, so teams execute “clock management” as best they can.

As a culture, we run on chronos time constantly. Meetings. Appointments. Punch in, punch out. There’s a never ending tick-tock cadence to our days. Chronos is why we celebrate birthdays and New Year’s. Radio stations air their top shows during rush hour traffic. Our world is extremely chronos conscious. Thank the Lord for DVR, which allows us to make TV fit our schedules instead of the other way around.

Kairos is an entirely different understanding of time. In ancient Greek, it referred to a supreme or opportune moment, or an unspecified amount of time in which everything takes place. Instead of being quantitative, kairos is qualitative. Kairos is the reason we throw around the phrase “time flies when you’re having fun” – quality time doesn’t worry about minutes and seconds. Quality time is simply present to the moment. This is a kairos experience of time.

In Christianity, it’s a reference to God’s action on Earth. Jesus uses this word when he talks about the Kingdom of God arriving in Mark 1. “The time (kairos) has come,” he says. God is acting, and Jesus is cluing others into what’s going on around them in the present moment. It’s not a specific timeframe that God was working and then he wasn’t anymore. God was already acting; Jesus is just trying to clue people into it.

Ideally, baseball happens in kairos, not chronos.

Unfortunately, the ideal has been breached. I believe this is why ballgame length is truly an issue for us. We don’t want ball games that even remotely remind us of our chronos mindset. We want to be removed from that tick-tock reality and placed firmly within kairos.

The issue, to me, is not whether games are too long. The issue is that the MLB has hijacked the kairos-ness of baseball for their own profit, and we’re subconsciously aware that something is amiss. Baseball fans don’t want 20 minutes less baseball. Baseball fans want to eliminate the urge to check their watch in the middle innings.

Which probably explains why attendance is down across the MLB over the past 6-8 years. Sure, ticket prices are up, and it’s completely relative based on the success of each team’s franchise, but with the MLB catering to TV viewership and advertising, it’s no wonder that we’d rather stay home and watch from our living rooms. But perhaps the underlying motivator isn’t that we’d rather watch on TV than in person – I wonder if it’s actually because staying home keeps us comfortably within our chronos mindset.

If the MLB is going to keep hijacking the kairos mentality, less and less people will be interested in not only going to games, but watching games in general.

If they actually want more people to love the game of baseball, then Selig and future-commissioner Rob Manfred need to make moves to eliminate the clock checking wherever possible. Listen to Olbermann. Actually enforce 8.04b and 6.02. Not with the goal of simply shortening games, but with the understanding that every time a baseball fan looks at their watch, it’s bad for the game.

Baseball allows us to step out of our agendas and be present to a different time and space. Simply the fact that we’re talking so much about how much time it takes is evidence that we’re focusing too much on the chronos.

The MLB has hijacked kairos, It needs to be returned.

-apc.

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