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People who watch their first youth baseball games can compare with what they’ve seen on television, and probably wonder why the TV contests seem to last so much longer. We know adult baseball games are 9 innings, but how many innings are there in Little League games?
Games sanctioned by the Little League Baseball organization are 6 or 7 innings, depending on the division (which is determined mostly by age). Contests are 6 innings through play in the Minor League division, which is for players up to age 10. Beginning with the Major Division, for players as old as 12, and divisions that follow for older players, official games are 7 innings.
Compare that to the generally accepted lengths of baseball games for adults: 9 innings in Major League Baseball and college baseball, and 7 innings for high school baseball. (Note: some adult-level games can be 7 innings, namely those of a doubleheader).
The next question from new baseball fans is, How long are Little League games?. Understand that 7 innings worth of youth baseball play is not the same as 7 innings of high school contests, or the same number of innings in youth-level baseball games.
The high schoolers almost always finish 7 innings. For the younger teams, that’s not true. Most youth baseball games feature a time limit, which we explain below, that often ends games well before the maximum number of innings is reached.
Little League Game Lengths
Baseball games according to the Little League Baseball organization last 6 or 7 innings, depending upon the age level (division). Games are no more than 6 innings from right after tee ball through the Minor League division, which mostly features players up to age 10.
Starting with the division of players as old as 12, known as the Major Division, as well as for divisions after that, official games are 7 innings.
Please note that there also is a 1-hour and 45-minute time limit to games, according to the Little League organization rules. This is pretty standard for youth baseball play, which we will discuss more below.
Length of Games for Non-Little League Youth Baseball Organizations
Not all new baseball fans understand that Little League is not the only avenue for organized baseball play for kids. There are other organized youth baseball entities, like PONY Baseball, or Cal Ripken Baseball, among many others.
Each can have distinct rules, such as differences in field sizes, or even in whether or not players can wear metal spikes at younger ages.
For PONY Baseball, they skip the 6-inning cap and hold games lasting 7 innings, or (most of the time, depending on the league) 2 hours. Cal Ripken Baseball leans the opposite, with games officially at 6 innings.
But anyone who has watched youth baseball knows quite well that it is rare for a game to go the full 6 or 7 innings, due to a variety of factors with most of them involving the time limit. Let’s examine this more closely.
Why Fewer Innings in Youth Baseball Play?
The 6- or 7-inning caps on Little League and youth baseball games were established after years of experience that indicated how long players at each age could withstand a full game. That is, their patience.
The caps also are set in an effort to prevent injuries, as tired human bodies tend to break down easier. For baseball play, especially for pitchers, most youth league officials are cognizant of protecting young arms.
However, new parents might notice that little Johnny’s games are lucky to complete maybe 5 innings ~ and many games go only 4 innings.
Baseball is the only major sport without a clock. Well that’s true at the high school and above levels, but from middle school on down leagues almost always have time limits on games due mainly to scarcity of fields. Leagues try to pack weekend days with as many games as possible, and to do so they have to cut off how long each game can last.
The most typical time limit is 1 hour, 30 minutes, though that could vary by 15 to 30 minutes more depending on the age.
Do Little League Games Actually Go 7 Innings?
Very few Little League or youth baseball games last the full 7 innings. This is because of the quality of play, plus more breaks in action as pitchers are changed or defenders swapped.
High-level baseball including Major League Baseball use no clocks to track an entire game. (Sometimes clocks may be used to force pitchers to throw, or get batters ready to hit). But the time limit in youth baseball essentially acts like it.
While the rules say the game can go up to 6 or 7 innings, they most often fall short for a number of reasons:
- There are more errors and more bases on balls the younger the age of play. Putouts shorten innings; failing to get batters out makes innings last long, and basically eat away at the time limit. Certain errors, like overthrowing bases, take up a lot of time on their own.
- Walks take a lot of time since at least 4 pitches must be thrown to the batter. Think about it: batters who put the first ball in play do a favor to the pitcher, letting him “save” arm strength for later. Good pitchers end innings in the least amount of pitches possible (with 3 of course being the minimum). Walking batters eats a lot of time.
- Pitching changes. Whenever a pitcher is changed mid-inning, he or she must walk to the mound and then warm up, further eating away time. There are more pitching changes in youth baseball compared with high school and above because hurlers have not yet mastered throwing strikes, plus they can run out of stamina, or a coach just wants to give another kid some experience on the hump.
- Undeveloped skills. What this means is there might not necessarily be errors that make innings last, but outs just missed because of a mental error and just tardiness in making a throw. Or, perhaps a pitcher is just learning to catch baseballs and constantly drops the ball coming back from the catcher. These are not errors, but take up time.
- Baserunners. The more runners on base, the more a pitcher has to pay attention to them, even tossing pickoff throws in the upper-level leagues. Even without pickoffs, there are stolen bases, attempted stolen bases, and poorly executed stolen base plays to contend with (ask any youth baseball coach about this!).
- Substitutions. We already mentioned pitching changes, but in youth baseball managers must contend with a whole bunch of possibilities that may force him to call a timeout and get a player out of a game. Maybe he or she had to go to the bathroom; or ate too much chocolate at the park before game time and felt ill. Totally unforeseen things like bee stings can knock any player from a game.
- Instructional time. Especially at the younger age levels, games could be interrupted by managers or coaches offering instruction on the field during games ~ something you’d never see on TV!
- Parents. Yes, parents in the stands can force managers or umpires to reach in ways that extend innings by time. Also, parents who are aggressive yelling instructions to their
Final Words on Little League Baseball Games and Innings
It’s natural for parents or anyone new to baseball to wonder how many innings are scheduled for that little ballplayer. In general, before high school play, games for Little League and other youth baseball organizations are scheduled for 6 or 7 innings, depending on the league and age division.
However, a good percentage of youth baseball games last less than 6 innings. That is due to time limits most leagues set on games to squeeze as many contests into available fields as possible.
Question: With a time limit, do games just end right when the clock runs out?
Answer: In some leagues that might be the rule as written; but most of them have a process for the umpire to call an end to a game. For instance, some leagues set a time where the umpire has to declare “no new inning” at that point, that the game will only conclude the inning currently active and then end with the 6th out.
Q.: Why don’t they all just always play 9 innings like in the major leagues?
A.: See the section above, “Do Little League Games Go 7 Innings?” Youth baseball leagues could schedule all games to last no more than 9 innings, but in reality with time limits teams are lucky to get in 5 innings per contest. Games that go the full distance in youth baseball and end on innings are rare.
Q.: Can’t coaches who have the lead near the end of a time limit use stall tactics to prevent the other team from having chances to win?
A.: Yes and it happens all the time in youth sports. For instance, say the team on the field has a 1-0 lead and the manager knows there are only 3 minutes left until time expires. The opposing team could get 2 or 3 at bats in during that 3 minutes. But … the manager elects to change the pitcher right at that moment, requiring warm-up pitches that eat the clock. Some leagues try rules to prevent this, but it occurs in youth baseball often to this day.
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