Bodell: A hardcore fan’s guide to saving baseball

  • Fans at Fenway Park wait for the start of a baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays in Boston on Tuesday. Empty seats have become a problem for Major League Baseball, as the 2018 season saw a 4% drop in attendance across the league’s 30 franchises. AP

  • A family in seats at Fenway Park wait for the start of a baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays in Boston, Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) Michael Dwyer

  • A fan seeking autographs holds a ball and a pen before a baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays in Boston, Monday, July 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) Michael Dwyer

  • Fans call for a baseball during a baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Fenway Park, Friday, July 12, 2019, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Elise Amendola

  • Young fans watch the Texas Rangers bullpen catchers warm up before a baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros Thursday, July 11, 2019, in Arlington, Texas. Texas won 5-0. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter) Jeffrey McWhorter

  • New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge signs autographs after batting practice in London, Friday, June 28, 2019. Major League Baseball will make its European debut with the New York Yankees versus Boston Red Sox game at London Stadium this weekend. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland) Tim Ireland

Monitor staff
Published: 7/17/2019 8:56:09 PM

There’s been a lot of talk in national and local circles (and by local, I mean Boston, in this case) about Major League Baseball dying a slow and painful death. Television and sports radio pundits, along with many fans, bemoan the slow pace, the diminishing audiences, the ever-older-skewing demographic and the all-or-nothing nature of today’s games. Games are longer than ever but there seems to be less action than ever, too. People are abandoning the game for “Fortnite” or Instagram or whatever their distraction of the moment might be.

Some of the proposals out there to “save” or “fix” the game include putting a runner on second base to start every inning once a game goes into extras, instituting a pitch clock that would penalize pitchers who take too long to throw a pitch, forcing relief pitchers to face a minimum of three batters, even shortening the games to seven innings. In the Atlantic League, a minor league affiliate of MLB, they’re actually experimenting with letting a batter steal first base if the catcher can’t handle a pitch at any point in the count.

But I don’t care how far attendance falls or how low ratings drop. Those kinds of proposals are ridiculous. They would bastardize the game we’ve known for our entire lives, turning it into a circus sideshow.

I’m what many would consider a “baseball hardo.” I love the game the way it is and the way it has been played for more than a century. I have no problem sitting through a four-hour, nine-inning game … and I’m a millennial. However, I realize that I’m in the minority of my age group, and if things keep up the way they are, there may be too small of an audience in the not-so-distant future to support professional baseball. I don’t think anybody wants that.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with a short list of changes to improve the product without altering the game at its core. Here they are:

Eliminate replay during the regular season

For some reason the replay-review process is always off the table when talking about ways to speed up the game. Yet this initiative, introduced in 2008, is the most obvious change to the game over the past decade or so.

Last year, for instance, there were 1,409 challenged calls, according to @MLBReplays, the official MLB replay Twitter account. Of those 1,409 challenges, 585 calls, or 41.5%, were overturned. Conversely, that means that 58.5% of the time (824 calls) the calls ended up the same way they were called on the field – except we all sat through about two minutes (the maximum allotment of time for a review, though TV broadcasts have many times logged reviews that went beyond that limit) of watching an umpire stand around with headphones on.

It’s hard to find data on how many times a manager considers a challenge, holding up his hand on the top step of the dugout while he looks over his shoulder at his “video guy” to see whether they want to challenge. Many times, about 20 seconds pass as the manager hold up his hand and look over his shoulder only to ultimately decide not to challenge. This often happens multiple times per game, on each side, and each time we lose 20 seconds of our lives.

In a 162-game season, we simply do not need every single call in every single game to be 100% accurate. There are just too many plays – did the tip of the runner’s spike come a millimeter off the bag for a hundredth of a second, in the third inning, in game nine of the season, against the White Sox? Who cares? Let’s move on.

Ban dramatic shifts

Instead of managers being allowed to deploy players anywhere in the field, teams can only put two infielders on either side of second base, and have three outfielders. Pretty simple. This would lead to more base hits through the infield and fewer can-of-corn grounders hit directly at infielders who don’t even need to move their feet to field the ball. This would not necessarily make the game faster, but it would certainly lead to more action and excitement. (By the way, more offense equals longer games, so you can’t really have both more offense and shorter games.)

Stay in the box or else

The batter should be forced to stay in the batter’s box at all times and the pitcher should be allowed to throw a pitch whether the batter appears ready or not.

While pitchers have taken a lot of heat over the last few years – Boston’s David Price chief among them – for dawdling on the mound before they deliver a pitch, the batters are just as guilty when it comes to slowing down the game. Next time Xander Bogaerts or J.D. Martinez step into the box, watch all the histrionics they practice before even raising the bat – deep breaths, closing the eyes, tugging on the jersey, fiddling with the batting gloves, reaching the bat across the plate three or four times, adjusting equipment inside the pants, staring at the third-base coach with nobody on base. All the while, the pitcher stands there, waiting. The fans sit there, waiting. Everybody waits. If you want a pitch clock, there should also be a batter’s clock making sure the hitter is constantly ready to go.

Shorten commercial breaks

Baseball games have, at an absolute bare minimum, 16 commercial breaks, one after each half-inning (if the home team is winning after the top of the ninth, obviously the game is over, thus no commercial break). When you add in multiple pitching changes per side, we’re well over 20 commercial breaks per game that last two or three minutes. Forty minutes of commercial time? Seriously?

Cut the commercial breaks down by at least 30 seconds so we’re back on the field in a minute and a half, two minutes tops. Networks can simply charge more money for the commercial spots – if Coca Cola doesn’t want to pay an extra 15-20% per spot, surely Pepsi or FanDuel or Coors or Nike will jump at that opportunity. For the most part, games are broadcast on local networks anyway, which are chock-full of house ads they can run in lieu of paid advertisements (how many spots for “Dining Playbook” have you sat through this year?). The games are long enough as it is – we don’t need to fill up the broadcast with 40 minutes of ads.

And that is how you “save” the game of baseball without completely ruining it for the millions of hardcore fans that still exist, like yours truly.

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