We Must Evolve the Game

improve the game

We’ve heard it all by now.

Baseball is boring

The games take too long

Nothing ever happens

Jayson Stark, a prominent writer for The Athletic and analyst from MLB Network, recently participated in a roundtable discussion on the most under the radar topic regarding baseball.

Stark: I think it’s the never-ending challenge of creating a sport, in the 21st century, with more action. Every time I bring this up, baseball fans overreact to it, in ways that illustrate how difficult this is. You almost never hear football fans complaining that the NFL has ruined the game that Red Grange used to play. But any time you suggest that baseball ought to at least be able to experiment with ideas that could make the game more entertaining, millions of baseball fans react as if you’re doodling on the Mona Lisa.

I love baseball as much as anyone I know. But I’m totally open to trying all sorts of these ideas — not to make games “shorter” because it isn’t about “time of game,” but to move toward a sport where you don’t have to wait 4 ½ minutes in between the average ball in play. Why do I think this story is under-covered? Because it feels as though the focus is either on time of game or on individual rule changes, not on the big picture. It’s about action, not games that take 3 ½ hours. And we can’t seem to get our audience to understand that’s the biggest issue in the sport. Why is the Home Run Derby the highest-rated baseball event on cable between Opening Day and Game 162? Because something happens! And it happens every few seconds.

It’s about the action. THAT is the biggest issue in the sport. But there are more issues beyond just the action, this goes much deeper than that.

I’m too tired to watch the end

I fall in the line of your average baseball fan. I support my teams, I watch as many of their games as possible, but life and work get in the way sometimes. What also gets in the way is the fact that most of us work your standard 9-5 shifts, sometimes even earlier. I get up at 6:30AM, many friends of mine start their day even earlier.

Your average MLB start time is 7:05 Eastern, the average length of the game in 2018 was 3 hours, 5 minutes, and 11 seconds. That would put your end time roughly around 10:15PM. That’s not terrible, but it’s not great either. You stay up to watch the end, or you don’t, I don’t know about you but I don’t have 3 hours every day to give to a sport that plays on an almost daily basis. 162 games, that’s 486 hours of baseball.

That’s 20 DAYS of your LIFE.

Why give that to a sport that doesn’t seem to care about you? They bring you to the ballpark only to charge you $10 for a beer and $5 for a hotdog that likely costs them less than 10 cents to make. Stations like MASN spit in your face when you protest that the other sports give us streaming options here in 2019 where we can view our teams on our phones, our iPads, our Playstations. You want a “choice” on how to watch this game?

Guess what, They don’t care about you.

Kids don’t watch baseball

A 2016 article in Fox Sports cited the median age of baseball fans at 56 years old. Can you blame kids? Look at their options. Basketball presents offense on almost every trip down the court, big dunks, exciting threes, nonstop action. Football ironically enough is close to baseball in average length of time of a game, and yet it just seems like it moves much quicker. You know that as soon as the team breaks the huddle something is going to happen. Hockey is similar to basketball, fast-movements, flying across the ice, big hits, action. Soccer, the mortal enemy of most baseball players growing up, goes long periods of no scoring but all the while the ball is moving, tackles are being made, shots are being attempted.

In baseball we are waiting for the batter to ready himself for battle, the pitcher to receive the sign, the batter to change his mind that no, in fact, he is not ready to do the thing he is paid millions of dollars to do, he needs more time. The pitcher wants to discuss with his catcher the strategy they have gone over at length beforehand. Oh look, another ball thrown outside the zone, we are now at six minutes and nothing has happened.

This is a problem.

extras

The baseball purists stomp their feet, pound their chests, this is how baseball is meant to be played. How dare you question that? How dare you want to change anything about this beautiful game? The game ends when it ends, they scream, kids and potential fans be damned.

I love baseball. I played baseball. I hope my kids play baseball. I get why others don’t love to watch or play baseball. I find the strategy exciting, the individual talent levels off the charts, its a difficult game, one of the hardest, but I get it. I get the disdain.

Even as a player there was plenty of times my mind wandered as I stood in the outfield, begging for a ball to be hit my way, give me something to do. I’ve fallen asleep watching baseball on television, I’m sure I’m not the only one.

How do we fix this? We must swallow our pride, accept that this game is beautiful to some and boring to others. At times in my life I stress about how the world doesn’t adjust to us, we need to adjust to the world, but with baseball this is adjustable. This is sports, this is a game, we have options. Put a guy on second base to start extra innings. Give me a pitch clock. Speed it up. Just TRY something. If it doesn’t work, fine, scrap it and try something else. But soon enough the age of immediacy will collide with the slowest moving game out there.

Baseball MUST change, baseball MUST evolve.

Before it is too late.

 

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