“The Irishman” has been lauded as one of celebrated director Martin Scorsese’s greatest achievements, earning 10 Academy Award nominations. But for all the praise the movie has received, perhaps its most polarizing aspect has been its length. At 3 hours 29 minutes, it is 1 hour 40 minutes longer than one of its fellow best picture nominees, “Jojo Rabbit.”
So when “The Irishman” was released in November, it produced plenty of debate (and jokes) among cinephiles about its meandering pace and length. The cracks felt familiar to a very different group: baseball fans.
The pace of play has long been an issue in baseball, and despite Major League Baseball’s efforts to speed up the action, games in 2019 averaged 3 hours 10 minutes — likely the longest ever.
In many ways, watching a long and winding Oscar-nominated movie is similar to watching a long and winding regular-season baseball game. Both have compelling (and sometimes not-so-compelling) characters! Both have rising action and a climax (since baseball games never end in ties)! Both have plenty of filler! And, yes, both have a healthy number of hits.
When the Red Sox played the Yankees on Sept. 7, there was enough setup to make it worth watching, much like “The Irishman.” The game had postseason implications for both teams; the film had the intrigue of a Netflix-backed blockbuster as well as Hollywood royalty, led by Robert De Niro playing the former labor union official and hitman Frank Sheeran.
Remember this before you dig into this highly unscientific comparison: Baseball’s regular season is 162 games long. So watching every one of your favorite club’s games is comparable to watching most or all of “The Irishman” on repeat for a six-month span.
Before we start, a warning: There are major spoilers for “The Irishman” below (though maybe that’s O.K. if you only want the quick version of the movie).
How much screen time for the stars?
A Yankees-Red Sox game can nearly always guarantee the same thing that drove much of the hype for “The Irishman”: big stars. In the movie, it’s a collection of some of the most recognizable actors of the last 60 years: De Niro, Al Pacino (who plays Jimmy Hoffa) and Joe Pesci (who plays the crime boss Russell Bufalino).
In the Sept. 7 game, the three biggest names were Mookie Betts, one of the best players in Red Sox history who was recently traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers; Aaron Judge, the face of the Yankees; and Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees’ six-time All-Star closer.
In a scripted movie, of course, the highly paid stars dominate the screen. De Niro is in nearly every scene, with his close friend in the movie, Pesci, close behind.
In baseball? Not so much. While fans watching on TV can expect to see plenty of a starting pitcher, if you tuned in to see Betts or Judge you might have to settle for a handful of fleeting glimpses.
In this game, Judge was hitless and had a few catches in right field, for a total of six minutes of screen time on the YES broadcast. Betts, who went 1 for 3 with a walk, received nine minutes — helped by a stellar leaping catch at the wall.
And Chapman? He came into the game at the very end, faced four batters and gave up a home run, for a total screen time of nine minutes — about 4 percent of the length of the game.
What everyone pays to see: hits.
While it is significantly less violent than another Scorcese mob classic, “Goodfellas,” “The Irishman” has plenty of the grisly murder scenes that fans of the genre expect. Such killings are known as “hits,” which is convenient for comparing a mob movie to baseball.
In all, there are 11 on-screen hits in “The Irishman” — one every 19 minutes.
While there is often debate about the art and tension in low-scoring games, baseball fans — especially casual ones — generally want to see some action, too.
This game, featuring two of the highest-scoring offenses in baseball, had 14 hits, more than the M.L.B. average of 8.65 in 2019. That amounted to one hit roughly every 15 minutes — including the one seen above, which looks like a foul ball, but is actually a blooper that probably should have been caught but instead turned into a run-scoring double.
What keeps our attention between hits?
In a movie and baseball game of that length, there’s plenty of filler. Well, depending on your point of view.
If you want to see mobsters violently taking out their rivals, “The Irishman” has a long lull after an early flurry of action. There isn’t a mob hit for an entire hour before the death of Pacino’s character, and just before that, there is a full three minutes of discussion about the smell of fish in a car.
In the game, there was only one hit in the first 55 minutes. The Yankees took a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning — and then neither team scored until the ninth. With lulls like that, television cameras often find other “action” to fill time: like then-Red Sox Manager Alex Cora scratching his neck in the dugout.
But nothing slows down a baseball game like changing pitchers, and the Red Sox used nine pitchers in this game. M.L.B. introduced new rules for 2020 aimed to cut down on this and speed the game up, requiring each pitcher to face at least three hitters or end the half-inning before a change can be made.
Every story (eventually) needs a climax.
The emotional tension in “The Irishman” peaks a full 2 hours 52 minutes into the movie, when De Niro stammers through a phone call with Pacino’s wife shortly after having killed her husband. Scorcese then ties up loose ends for the final 40 minutes of the movie.
The baseball equivalent didn’t come until the eighth inning, with the Red Sox getting a golden opportunity to get back into the game. With two Red Sox players on base and two outs, Betts blasted a ball into right field, and the Fenway Park crowd held its breath. But it was caught by Aaron Judge to end the threat.
The rest of the game — a 5-1 Yankees win — took 30 minutes to finish, with the outcome never truly in doubt.
Like many watching the final minutes of “The Irishman,” observers were probably just wondering when it would end.