Baseball is very nearly back, and what we saw in the negotiations to get the truncated season lined up was a lot of posturing that had much more to do with future labor negotiations than what is best for the game or for fans. With a shortened go of a baseball season—just sixty games—this baseball season will be unlike anything we have seen before, and a few new changes to longstanding rules were sorted into the mix, but the dying game of baseball is missing out on a golden opportunity to throw the kitchen sink at the issues its facing.
As I mentioned, it’s time to quit kidding ourselves—baseball is dying. The game, the at-bats, a day at the stadium—they all take too long for the average consumer. For that matter, the season is too long to keep the interest of all but the biggest fans. American kids are playing different sports, which is a tragedy—baseball is one of the most affordable sports for a long term commitment, and its slipping to remarkable degrees in inner cities and amongst those who could benefit from the game. To put it plainly—people aren’t watching like they used to, and that’s only going to get worse. As MLB cuts ties with many minor league teams and with the entire minor league system shut down for the year, entire fan bases that rope in young fans are going to disappear.
Baseball has always been tied to its traditions unlike any other sport, and it’s time to get rid of that mindset before it’s too late. Now is the time for sweeping rules changes—and believe me, as an old time baseball fan, I don’t even like everything I’m suggesting. But it’s time to change the perception of a typical baseball fan as an old white guy who refuses to accept change—even if I fall into that category. It’s time to punch the game up—bring in technology and speed to capture the short attention span of today’s viewer.
The changes we’ll see this year:
A three-batter minimum was instituted for this season after last year, and will continue. This means a pitcher will have to face at least three batters or finish out a half inning if brought into the game. This will cut down on batter-by-batter pitching changes that require walk-ins and warm-ups that take forever. A new rule that popped up in negotiations was a universal designated hitter—meaning no more pitchers batting in the National League. This removes a good deal of the strategy that we all love, but it increases offense by a good margin, and that gets people interested. The other new rule that will help move the game along, but that a lot of diehards are going to hate, is placing a runner on second base to start extra innings. When things are stalling in low scoring games, this is going to pick things up, but it does seem a little cheap—we’ll see how it goes.
The changes we should be seeing:
You’re going to hate this—I promise. But these are the lengths I think the league should be reaching toward, whether traditional fans love them or hate them. First off, an expanded playoff—it’s coming, but it should be here now. More teams with a chance means more interest—period. Digital ball and strike calls. Yep—this is the one the one I’m sneaking in the middle because it’s not going to go over well. But no more arguing over calls at the plate and no more blatant misses at home plate would be good for the game, like it or not. Speeding things up between innings would help, as well—limiting warm-up pitches and keeping the action going on the field would help tighten up games. Not jumping at the chance to move the game forward in a season that is going to look different by default would have softened the blow if these changes come later is a perfect example of how baseball is dragging its feet as the rest of sports take leaps forward.