Make Baseball Great Again: Stop The Human Rain Delays And Try Teaching The Game
Recently pundits and fans have bemoaned the three-million-person drop in Major Laeague Baseball attendance from 2017 to 2018.
It’s a symptom of several problems. Fortunately, The Spitter has the solutions.
First, it be is inaccurate to say the drop was across the board. Only a few teams are responsible for most of the drop. Fire sales and lousy teams in Toronto and Miami account for a lot of it, like half. Decreases in Texas, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati also contributed.
But the newly-popular scorched earth policy of building a team is important in that it is full of possibly long-term effects even though, “The Astros did it. So can we!”
Sometimes scorched Earth wins championships later. Sometimes it looks like the Cleveland Indians of the 1980s. Nothing works and annually hurts attendance. Sometimes it’s temporary but indicitive of how fickle fans can be. How many vacant seats did we see at Yankee Stadium when even the venerable Bronx bombers where a fair-to-middling team? Tons. And once Miami dumped Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton, fans said, “Why should we show up if you’re not keeping your best players or are just going to scrap the whole thing in three years?”
Shockingly, fans don’t care to watch crappy players play crappy defense, hit like crap and pitch like crap as cities build new, smaller stadiums for billionaire owners who increase prices in spite of record broadcast revenues. I call it the, “You better put a friggin winner on the field, you weasel” effect.
There is also the time-of-game question. Even Politifact has weighed in, citing Baseball Reference and two separate studies in which baseball games were timed with a stopwatch to find out how much action was actually taking place. The results: Between 14 and 18 minutes out of three hours and change.
A big part of the problem is simply the amount of time it takes for a pitcher to actually deliver a pitch. The Major League Baseball rulebook says a pitcher has 20 seconds to get the sign and throw the ball.
Well, we know that doesn’t happen.
What has happened instead is a lot of staring, thinking, cup adjusting and walking around and that’s just the pitchers. Sixty-feet-six inches away there’s cleat-knocking, spitting, more dirt-rubbing, practice swings, donut removal, batting glove adjustment and more spitting that amounts to 25 extra minutes per game according to stopwatch work done in 2013 for the Wall Street Journal by Steve Moyer.
So an obvious answer to the speed-of-play question is to tell the umpires to get the show on the road and stop allowing so much dawdling. Duh.
But that they don’t isn’t what bothers me.
What does bother me is all of the time in delays is time we as fans waste. We could be using it to get people involved in the game… at the ballpark or not… especially kids.
How do we get more kids involved in the game —especially more inner-city kids who could certainly use all of the means possible to escape there bleak existence?
People get excited when other people get excited. So if you and I are talking baseball, asking others what they thought of this play or asking them to predict what will happen, they will get more involved. That’s what good broadcasting crews do. And there’s no reason we can’t do it too. And Lord knows there’s time to do it, if you can keep your nachos with the olives and pimentos out of your mouth for 25 seconds.
The game doesn’t need to be short. Football games take just as long with plays 45 seconds apart and provide even less actual game time —11 minutes.
But Baseball would certainly keep the attention of fans and non-fans more if the action were more rapid-fire .
To accomplish that it, it would help if there were more swings at more pitches, which, thanks to the Chris Davises of the world, is already happening.
Where we’ve been is in large part due to the dominance of pitching and the preponderance of strikeouts in the late 1960’s. Baseball responded by lowering the mound and unofficially making the strike zone the size of a shoebox.
Strikeouts decreased while hits and homers increased. But walks went up, too, which meant more pitches per game, fewer complete games, more pitching changes —and commercial breaks— and longer games. Three pitching changes adds six-to-nine minutes to every game.
So if Baseball is really interested in making the games shorter, it will immediately restore the strike zone to the size you’ll easily find in Ted Williams “Science of Hitting,” which you should read once a year.
As for the much more important problem of the health and popularity of the game, Baseball needs to do more.
Teams need to take the players to local communities to sign autographs, hold clinics and hold events that generate interest. Sacramento is 90 minutes from the A’s and Giants and you don’t hear squat about anything like that in the local communities, save a Junior Giants park renovation sometime around the beginning of the decade.
People might know who some of these players are but don’t ever get to see them in their neighborhoods. When was the last time you heard of any team playing exhibitions or the term “barnstorming” that wasn’t from 1958?
The game also must be taught better. The perception that it’s nine guys standing around diminishes it and eclipses the fact that it is a difficult game to learn at a truly micro level. There are hundreds of situations and possibilities that arise in any game and even after having played and broadcasted and coached hundreds of games, occasionally there is still something that occurs that I have never seen.
So, in order to increase the knowledge of —and enjoyment— of the game I would suggest that Major League Baseball embark on a “What’s Next?” Or “Eye on the ball” type of campaign to keep fans and young players alert and interested while Joakim Soria is busy adjusting his hat so it sits just so.
During my son’s farm league games I’m constantly asking them where they should go with the ball should it be hit to them or which base they should cover or how they should back up a particular play. Baseball isn’t nine guys standing around anymore than football is 11 guys standing around. Every player has a responsibility. Keeping kids and adults thinking about the game is how you keep them involved in the game and how they will expand it.
This is why something similar should be undertaken at ball parks across the country. The scoreboard could ask the fans where they would throw the ball if they were the first baseman, or which pitch they would throw.
Right now too much emphasis is placed on the entertainment between innings: the bratwurst race, the spin ‘til you puke race, three-card monte and the dot race. A lot of times kids enjoy those activities far more than what’s going on in the game because an announcer is engaging them. The least stadium announcers could do is actually talk about the game.
As bad as attendance was this years in certain markets, the number of markets could increase, and soon. Owners are going to come to a reckoning when the next television contract is negotiated. ESPN had to fire half its staff with the current deal and certainly won’t re-up for another egregious amount for broadcast rights. Player salaries will increase but income from TV rights will decline. The owners will no doubt then try to stick that increased cost to the fans and even more will stop going.
So before that eventuality, the game needs help. Bigger strike zone, better teaching, fewer delays, more community involvement and better team management.
We’re already down three million. How many more before Major League Baseball wakes up?