Baseball is one of the rare team sports without a running clock, as the length of each at-bat and inning is determined based on the outcomes on the field. Since there is no official game length, no one can be sure how long a particular baseball game is going to be. In case the game is tied after nine innings and multiple extra innings are played, a game can extend deep into the night (or even be stopped and continued the next day), turning into a real test of endurance.
While the rules theoretically allow an unlimited length of a game, in practice, there is a typical duration that most games fit into. It’s worth taking a look at how long a baseball game is at every level of play and examining some of the instances of very long games from MLB history books.
How long does a typical MLB game last?
The answer to the question ‘how long is a baseball game?’ is dramatically different if we are talking about a high-level play involving grown-ups. Professional baseball games tend to last much longer than on the youth level or even in college, with the average MLB game length at full 3 hours and 9 minutes as of 2018. A part of the reason for the extra length is that the pro game is played in 9 innings, but there are also factors that affect the pace of play and needlessly add length, such as pitchers taking a long time to throw or batters hitting a lot of foul balls.
While a typical inning lasts around 20 minutes in the MLB, late in a closely contested game the pace can slow down to a crawl, resulting in much longer innings. Of course, if the game is tied it can turn into a true marathon and last for a very long time before a resolution is reached. In case you are wondering how long a minor league game is, there is only a slight difference from the major league level with the average game clocking in at just under 3 hours. This reflects the fact that minor leagues also play for 9 innings, but the absence of instant replays and other made-for-TV moments accounts for the difference.
How long is an average youth baseball game?
The average baseball game length depends on the age of participants, and in general, the games involving younger players tend to be shorter for several reasons. Kids up to 7 years of age often play in timed games that last a maximum of 1 to 1.5 hours and are interrupted when the limit is reached. Most Little League games last between five and seven innings depending on the level of competition and age, and they are consequently finished more quickly than adult baseball games.
At the high school level, baseball games tend to be slightly longer. Most teams play for seven innings, and the average length of the game is between 90 and 120 minutes. Games of this length are not too exhausting for the players or too demanding for the audience, which is why doubleheaders are also very common at this level, featuring two back-to-back games with a 20-minute break in between. Since some high-school teams are much better than the competition, occasionally there will be some high-scoring games that go over the two-hour mark, but those are the exceptions rather than the rule.
What are the longest games in MLB history?
It’s fun to keep track of the various records, so it’s interesting to look at some of the longest baseball games ever played. While there is no shortage of games that went for 20+ innings, the record that still stands was set in 1920 when Brooklyn Robins and Boston Braves ended the match after 26 innings with the score still tied at 1-1. However, in terms of time, this game was relatively short and included just a bit less than 4 hours of action. That length was dwarfed by a 25-inning affair between Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers in 1984, which lasted a truly gargantuan 8 hours and 6 minutes spread over two days, ending with a 7-6 win for Chicago. This game still counts as the longest MLB game in history.
A 1974 game between St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets also deserves a mention, as it took 25 innings and more than 7 hours to complete, which is a record for a game played entirely in a single day. If we take minor leagues into account, there is an example of an even longer professional baseball game. In 1981 the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings played a 33-inning game at the triple-A level, taking 8 hours and 25 minutes to come to an end.
What is regarded as the ideal length of a baseball game?
It’s no secret that most spectators care how long a professional baseball game is and prefer faster, action-packed games. On the other hand, the uncertain duration of a game is a part of baseball’s unique identity that can’t be changed without disrupting the very essence of the sport. That’s why a broad consensus is that games that last between 2.5 and 3 hours are perfect for the MLB, and that length of innings should stay between 15 and 20 minutes regardless of the level of play.
The league is taking steps to cut some dead air from the games, most importantly by mandating a pitch clock from next season. The idea is to allow for an occasional outlier while keeping most games as short and entertaining as possible. It remains to be seen how long a baseball game will be with the new rules in place, but if just a few minutes are shaved off from each inning this would have a significant cumulative effect. Slightly shorter MLB games with condensed action would certainly be welcome, so there is reason to believe that professional baseball will become even more exciting to watch.