Talk about unintended consequences!
When Major League Baseball adopted the Pitch Clock and made other rules changes, all effective this season, the goal was speeding up games, which were averaging about three hours for nine innings.
Fanswere losing interest, MLB realized, because the games took so long and the action was so sporadic.
They improved the pace of play and shortened the duration—but in the process negatively impacted another important dimension. The time to sell beer was reduced.
Beer is as much a part of a ball game on a warm summer day as hot dogs or Cracker Jack; that’s been true for decades. When I was growing up, vendors at Crosley Field in Cincinnati were assigned brands: Burger (the Reds radio sponsor), Wiedemann, Schoenling and Hudepohl—all local brews.
“Get moody with Hudy” was one vendor’s pitch.
There is no authenticated data on beer consumption at baseball games, but one survey, done 10 years ago, put the number at 2,500 beers of unspecified size per game. The range of another estimate began at 6,000. Whatever, it’s significant.
Beginning sometime in the 1980s, beer sales concluded with the end of the seventh inning (except in Baltimore, where it was the end of the eighth), which explains why so many fans left their seats during or right after the last strains of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” and the end of the Seventh Inning Stretch.
But the news last week was that some ball clubs—the Brewers, Rangers, Twins and nearby Arizona Diamondbacks being in the first wave—are extending that cutoff to match Baltimore.
And the Rockies announced the next day that they, too, would continue selling beer until the end of the eighth, effective with the three-game series against the Pirates that ended yesterday.
Blame it on, or attribute it to, the Pitch Clock.
Which has nothing to do with a vendor’s call.
Pitchers must deliver the next pitch within 15 seconds of receiving the ball from the catcher following the previous pitch (within 20 seconds if there’s a runner on base). Hitters must be ready to hit at the eight-second mark.
The home plate umpire is responsible for enforcing the time limits, with authority to call a ball if the pitcher is tardy or a strike if the batter fails to comply.
As a direct result, games were about a half-hour shorter, on average, through the first couple weeks of the 2023 season. Thus, the seventh inning arrives sooner than it did for a long time, which equals to less time to have a beer or three (or more).
It’s by far not the only result. Players spend less time on their feet now that batters and the guys on the mound can’t waste time in between pitches. And fans get home earlier (except those who stop off on the way for more beer). Play is crisper.
Through the first two weeks of this season (six road games and seven at home), Rockies games averaged two hours and 33 minutes—both home and away. The home opener was over in 2:18, and the longest of the first home stand was 2:48.
Last season, only three of the first 13 were played in less than three hours. Ninety-nine required three hours or more, and another 24 were between 2:50 and 2:59. Zzzzzz.
The fastest Coors Field games last year were played in 2:18 and 2:19 (Chad Kuhl’s complete game against the Dodgers in June). Only 10 games, home and road combined, were played in 2:33 or less.
This isn’t the first significant change the Rockies have made in their history regarding beer sales. The Coors Field Rooftop opened in 2014.
Converting those usually empty seats high atop the right field stands into, in effect, an in-stadium bar—complete with pregame musical entertainment—snagged those who might otherwise watch the game on TV in one of the surrounding neighborhood watering holes.
It also moved the most serious beer-drinkers out of sections where their “spirited” antics were an annoyance to real baseball fans.
It no doubt reduced vendor profit, but overall, it increased beer sales.
The decision now to sell beer through the eighth is intended to preserve sales at that level.
As a Milwaukee fan said when quoted by The Associated Press, “Since the games are shorter, you’ve got to adjust.”
Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 15 books, nine of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at firstname.lastname@example.org.