Over at the Wall Street Journal, they took a stop-watch to three MLB games of varying overall length and found that the average three-hour game includes less than 18 minutes of actual baseball action.
Here's more from the Journal's Steve Moyer:
The almost 18-minute average included balls in play, runner advancement attempts on stolen bases, wild pitches, pitches (balls, strikes, fouls and balls hit into play), trotting batters (on home runs, walks and hit-by-pitches), pickoff throws and even one fake-pickoff throw. This may be generous. If we'd cut the action definition down to just the time when everyone on the field is running around looking for something to do (balls in play and runner advancement attempts), we'd be down to 5:47. ...
By far the most time-consuming period of inaction is the "time between pitches." This took up an average of 1:14:49. That's not all that far from half the WSJ analysis's average game time of 2:58.
What's to blame? As noted above, the between-pitch liturgies have much to do with it. Were I granted plenary powers over baseball (should happen any day now), I'd ban walk-up music (how many times have you seen the hitter waiting for those bars of almost uniformly crappy music to fade out before he steps in?); require hitters to keep at least one foot in the batter's box at all times, as they do in the minors (so as to prevent those head-clearing strolls); and STRICTLY enforce the 12-second time-between-pitches rule when no one's on base.
As for the rest -- pickoff moves, pitching changes, longer commercial blocks between innings -- those ships have sailed, and no longer can you glimpse them from shore, even on the clearest of days ...
Overall, though, the pace doesn't bother me all that much. I like to keep score, and the downtime helps me do that. When those plenary powers come my way, I'll force everyone to score the game in question, so the complaints about pacing shall cease.
It's also worth keeping in mind that, according to a similar WSJ micro-study, the putatively action-packed NFL provides viewers with about 11 minutes of action per game -- 11 minutes divided up by a halftime wide enough for a one-act play to pass through. So note all of that before you declare MLB, a roughly $8-billion industry, to be culturally irrelevant or some such tripe.
I have no doubt that we enjoy complaining about the pace of sporting events, but there's plenty of evidence that it hasn't affected our consumption of sporting events all that much. And that's what the proprietors care about.
In the end, though, it's personal preference. For instance, I'd sooner be shot from a cannon than watch a NASCAR race, but millions of people are gripped and compelled by NASCAR. There remains no accounting for tastes.