Major League Baseball Should Change Slowly
Baseball, like everything else, has evolved over time. One hundred years ago the idea of dozens of players hitting 20 home runs in one season seemed like an impossibility. It also, most likely, would have seemed to be a terrible idea to rely on relief pitchers to secure wins. After all, relief pitchers were subpar pitchers. The first night game wasn’t played until 1935 and the first World Series night game wouldn’t come until 1971.
Evolution is a gradual process. It works by small changes happening slowly over a long period of time so as to not throw off the natural order. Rob Manfred and company would be wise to follow that blueprint.
The grace and symmetry of the game of baseball make it a beautiful sport to watch. Not everyone gets that. Not everyone understands. Not everyone wants to nor should everyone need to. The game of baseball is just fine. It continues to produce talented young players who push the boundaries of what we once thought possible. Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Mookie Betts, Noah Syndergaard, and Roberto Osuna are just a few of the newest crop of stars that will lead our game into and beyond 2020.
During the past few years, there has been a lot of noise surrounding the length of Major League games and the pace of play. Hundreds of articles from some of the biggest names in the sport have weighed in on the topic. I use the term noise because that’s what it is. To borrow a phrase from the late Stuart Scott who borrowed it from Shakespeare it’s “full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”
The game is no longer the apple of America’s collective sports eye. I get it. But I don’t think we need to try and regain our footing as our country’s favorite game if doing so requires us to alter our game.
One of the most unique things about this game is Kris Bryant and Clayton Kershaw are playing by the same rules as Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson. Baseball has never seen its version of the creation of the forward pass that revolutionized its game. Never has anything like goaltending or illegal defense been introduced and greatly affected every single game. Sure Babe Ruth and other sluggers during the 1920s popularized the home run but it has always existed. They just brought it into the spotlight and left American’s clamoring for more. We are watching the exact same game as our grandfathers and great-grandfathers.
I am all for marketing the game to younger generations in an effort to ensure that our sport continues to showcase the best and brightest stars our world has to offer. What I am against is altering the game itself. You can alter how the game is played without altering the game itself.
Most of the articles I’ve read attempting to address this issue suggest things that would alter the game itself. Things like fewer innings, changing the number of balls for a walk, limiting the number of times a pitcher can attempt a pick-off or a mandatory number of batters for each relief pitcher to face. Each of these suggestions fundamentally changes at least one aspect of the game. Not to mention all the unforeseen and unintended consequences. Baseball should not entertain any of these ideas.
The introduction of the 20-second pitch clock seems to be the darling of pace of play change. I’m on board but I don’t think it will cut the games as much as people are anticipating or wanting though it is a safe place to start. The fact is, baseball has 17 breaks and each of these breaks is roughly 3 minutes from the end of a half inning to the first pitch of the following half inning. There isn’t much you can do about that. Defensive players need time to get off the field and grab their bat and helmet if hitting in the half-inning to come and the offensive players need time to get off the base paths, back to the dugout to get their hat and glove and back to their defensive position. They could reduce it from three minutes to just over two minutes so you could save 17 minutes per game there.
Baseball could also have the umpires enforce the rules requiring batters to stay in the batter’s box if the resulting pitch wasn’t a handful of outcomes. They are also supposed to be limiting mound visits from infielders and managers to 30 seconds. So there are a few rules in place that could be better enforced that would help cut down on some of the wasted time.
There is some time that MLB can trim from games. If Major League Baseball and it’s powers that be insist on change they need to start the evolutionary process of shorter games by making one small change at a time. I think enforcing the existing rules plus the introduction of the 20-second game clock is the best place to start. Take a few years to gather and assess the results and only then decide if more is necessary.
Attendance across the league and local tv ratings are high. Major League Baseball Advanced Media is a big time money maker and the MLB At Bat app is the most utilized app among all sports leagues. Despite what everyone in the media seems to be saying baseball is not in a bad spot. Any change needs to be carefully considered and well thought out.
I am not against change especially if the change makes baseball better. What I am firmly against is making too many changes at once and altering the very foundation of this game in an effort to gain a few more fans. After all, fans continue to flow through the turnstiles, both real and virtual.