HOUSTON — Baseball is dying. The game is boring.
These two statements are synonymous with young sports fans today. America’s pastime has failed to keep up with the times.
In a world of instant gratification the game of baseball is plodding. Too much standing around waiting for nothing to happen. Especially in the National League, where rallies die when you reach the lower third of the batting order and what Max Scherzer so aptly described as pitchers “swinging a wet newspaper.”
The average sports fan expects excitement and consistent action. Basketball and football provide those frequently throughout the course of a game.
Baseball is the slow, methodical contest, the true marathon of sports with 162 regular season games. It has an aging fan base and does a poor job of marketing its star players compared to the NFL and the NBA.
Now the sport is finally making changes that are long overdue.
New commissioner Rob Manfred attended an Astros game last week and outlined a couple of his ideas for the future – speeding up pace of play and marketing the league’s stars.
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Due to new pace of play rules established by baseball this year, the average game time has dropped to 2 hours and 53 minutes, over eight minutes below last year’s average.
Manfred said players are accepting his suggestions that they stop wasting so much time between swings in the batter’s box. He has not had to resort to fines to force more rapid play.
His first initiative already has positive results. Now he will turn his sights towards marketing players like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, the future of the game, whose faces are rarely seen on nationwide television.
These steps are important but will not accomplish the most desired effect.
Home runs are what fill up stadiums. Shorten the distance to the fences, and lower some of them, and baseball will have a truly recognizable change.
Bringing the Designated Hitter to the National League would be another step in the right direction – more runners crossing home plate.
Traditionalists from earlier generations may find some fascination in double switches. If they want to play chess, then play chess. But baseball should be about action and drama.
Along those lines, Manfred sees possible advantages to reducing the 162-game schedule. The Players Association is planning to make a 154-game schedule a talking point when the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires at the end of next season.
The players want more time off, insisting that playing 162 games in 183 days, with all the travel involved, puts too much strain on the body and leads to more injuries. Prior to 1961, when baseball truly was the national pastime, the schedule had 154 games and no playoffs before the World Series.
The owners do not want to give up eight days of ballpark revenues. But if they can add some postseason games, they might see the change as having overall financial benefit. The one-game wild-card playoff could be expanded to a best-of-five series.
People want to go to games and see meaningful action. They want to see lots of scoring and they want to see it on a regular basis. Give it to them, Commissioner Manfred. The fans will thank you for it. And there will be more of them, now and in the future.