You may have noticed the lack of big news items as we sit in the lull between the Super Bowl and baseball spring training. This means that we are mostly grasping at straws to drive content (as are most other outlets), and a lot of that grasping has to do with the appeal of baseball and pace of play issues, per the esteemed Commissioner. The article by Jayson Stark is a good read:
Just posted: Is this the year baseball raises the strike zone & kills the INT BB? MLB has proposed both to the union https://t.co/ggR77Y3O7G
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) February 6, 2017
Shaving off a few seconds of non-action here and there is welcome to most of us, who prefer not to wait 45 seconds for, say, Pedro Baez to deliver a pitch, or for any number of batters to finish their pre-pitch routine before/after every delivery during their plate appearance. My guess is that the strike zone doesn’t need to be altered much (if at all); what would be nicer is if the umpires were capable of enforcing the rule book strike zone in the first place! I also don’t mind the minuscule opportunity for a wild pitch or a *SURPRISE* hit off a bad intentional ball.
This got me to thinking about the myriad blogs I’ve done on pace of play and the appeal and access to baseball. I won’t rehash what I wrote, but I think ultimately I believe that the baseball rules are fine, as long as they are enforced as written. I also agree with this assessment, about how baseball is great for those of us who just want to relax and have other things to do while a game is going on:
— Sporting News MLB (@SN_Baseball) February 8, 2017
I did note that the gentleman who wrote this is about my age (probably a couple years older), so perhaps our opinions are similar regarding how we enjoy the game of baseball. However, I don’t think I’m as extreme in my opinion that baseball is fine as is. This is obviously not the case if the average age of baseball fans continues to trend up, and the commissioner keeps harping about bringing in younger fans. As I said above, I don’t think anything super drastic has to happen, like what Jeff Passan is reporting here:
Major League Baseball plans on testing a rule change in the lowest levels of the minor leagues this season that automatically would place a runner on second base at the start of extra innings, a distinct break from the game’s orthodoxy that nonetheless has wide-ranging support at the highest levels of the league, sources familiar with the plan told Yahoo Sports.
It makes sense on a number of levels due to our modern knowledge of how fragile the human body can be, despite the best conditioning and preventative measures. Having more opportunities to end a game in a reasonable time could save bullpen arms from additional wear and tear, especially since the players and owners haven’t scaled back the 162 game season. But it does not seem “pure” from a traditionalist’s point of view, and part of the appeal of baseball, even for open-minded folks like me, is how the way the game is played has not really changed much since the early 20th Century.
Sure, the mound has been lowered, the baseball has been changed out every so often, and there are better equipment options out there, but looking at a game from last season versus a game from around the time of integration, it pretty much looks the same, doesn’t it? The wholesale changes that the head honchos in MLB are proposing may be taking things a bit too far.
I believe I’m somewhere in between the crowd that says “Baseball is fine” and the other side that says “Baseball needs all kinds of changes.” I believe that baseball does need tweaks, but nothing that turns it into a sport that would almost be unrecognizable to someone from the days of Ron Santo and Ernie Banks. If the goal is to speed up the game, I think that enforcing the existing pace of play rules will work fine, and perhaps limiting mound visits would be helpful as well.
However, if the goal is to reach out to youthful fans, then I think the issue is less a problem with the game itself, and more about access. Many people are frustrated with how tight MLB tugs on the leash against folks who want to share user-created content from game footage. We all enjoy fun gifs and video clips, but MLB Advanced Media does its best to quash unauthorized usage of their properties (which is their right). They sometimes do it to an extreme, as I’ve heard from others that accounts have sometimes been suspended or banned due to skirting this legal line. The prevalence of social media, particularly to the younger generations, makes it easy to share content all over. It is hard to believe that kids won’t be excited by Anthony Rizzo‘s tarp/wall/any catch or any of the 29538 awesome plays by Javier Baez last season.
With revenues skyrocketing, it is unlikely that I can afford to take my family to games regularly anymore, as I used to do when the Cubs sucked. But perhaps there is a way MLB can make the actual game of baseball accessible to all kids, not just the ones with families who can afford to have them play. Active participation, combined with increased access through digital means, may prove to be much more effective than making rules out of thin air.
UPDATE 2/16: The Commish has backtracked on the gimmicky man-on-second rule, but continues to push for changes that will improve pace of play. I do agree with the rulebook enforcement of the strike zone, as well as a need to reduce the time of replay reviews. I also agree that fans are reticent to change. However, I don’t think all change will meet resistance, just the ones that make little sense from a competitive standpoint. Stay tuned!