A Speculative Future of the Sport of Baseball
By Chris M. Barkley: As I write these musings on the day before the opening of the 2019 Baseball Season, there seems to be a great deal of concern about whether or not the venerable sport has any future at all.
Attendance at games have seen a significant decline in the past five years and the games seem to be just as long as ever. In this fast-paced world of short attention spans and increasing competition from all sorts media and other activities, team owners and baseball executives are certainly right to be worried that baseball may be on the verge of a real decline of interest from fans.
Their solution? Speed up the sport to make it more interesting and the games more compelling. The most recent proposals include, introducing the designated hitter to the National League enforcing a 20 second count between pitches and placing a runner on second base at the beginning of extra innings to help settle games faster.
BUT, what if more radical changes were introduced to make the games faster, but MORE compelling for all of the teams playing? And in doing so, make EVERY SINGLE GAME COUNT in the standings not matter which team was playing?
Applying what I have learned over a lifetime as an avid baseball, over forty years in fandom and the past twenty years of WSFS Business Meetings, incessant tweeting, fannish flame wars and Facebook postings, I have come up with a series of provocative, yet thoughtful insights on what Major League Baseball should do to thrive in the Twenty-First Century…
Proposal One: Make the game shorter by two innings, seven, with a maximum of two extra innings. If the game is still tied after the end of the ninth, the game ends in a tie. What, a tie? What the hell, you might ask? I’ll explain this further along down the line…
Proposal Two: Another problem baseball has had is the extended at bat for any player who is skilled enough to foul off pitches. More often than not, this tires out the pitcher and bores whomever is viewing the game. Having played in slow pitch softball leagues with a limited number of fields and the time to play on them, the most recent league I played with had a rule variation where the second foul after a two strikes count was an out on the batter. This forces both the batter and the pitcher to either put the ball in play or force a walk. And the game moves along nicely as well.
Proposal Three: No Designated Hitter: I realize that the game could be still played with a DH but, as a purist at heart, I have hated it with a passion since the American League instituted it in 1973. Pitchers should be FULLY involved in the game at every level. That includes going up to the plate and contributing. If pitchers can’t hit, they should LEARN how to hit, or to least bunt efficiently. Slackers…
Proposal Four: Abolish all regional divisions in favor of a two league table. Until 1969, each league was divided up this way and the top two teams meeting in the World Series. Divisions have fostered some fierce rivalries over the decades but the effect has been, in my humble opinion, diluted by the number of weak teams playing stronger teams in house AND the number inter-league games played each season. While my preference would be to not have ANY games between the two leagues until the World Series, they have been very popular with fans (and team owners) since 1997. So, if we are going to have inter-league games, why not make it more interesting; mandate that all of the teams, on an alternating basis each year, play a three game home and away series with half of the teams (15 at the moment) from each league every year. Each team should be no more than 45 inter-league games each season.
Proposal Five: Drop the number of regular season games to 145 (100 within the league, 45 inter-league games). Why? So glad you asked…
Proposal Six: The League Playoffs should consist of the top eight teams of each division. What would make a compelling pennant race in each league? A change in how the standings are scored.
Proposal Seven: Currently, besides wins and losses, the standing of a team is determined by its winning percentage. I propose that baseball adopt international football league standings; each win will be worth three points, a tie (remember, from Proposal One?) will be worth a point and a loss could be either nothing or, more interestingly, wait for it…minus THREE POINTS! So, suddenly, losing a game in August and September becomes a big freaking deal and some of the so called ‘weaker teams” have more incentive to throw a monkey wrench into the chances of “stronger teams”. In fact, this incentivizes all of the teams in the league to make each team better as the season progresses, possibly enough claw their way into an 8th place in the standings and into the playoffs. If there are any ties for the eighth place, a one game playoff will will determine who advances.
The playoffs would be structured as such: Top seeds play the low seeded number 8, number 2 plays number 7, number 3 plays number 6, and number 4 plays number 5.
The first round: the best 2 out of three games. Second Round: best 3 out of five games. World Series: the traditional best of seven games. A reduced number of regular season games from 162 to 145 can accommodate such a playoff schedule.
Proposal Eight: The All Star Game should be played AFTER the the conclusion of the World Series. Instead of a mid-season break, the game should be played as a celebration of the season that has just past and we have conclusive answers as to who are the BEST players are in each league. All of the season’s awards should surround the event as well, which will give baseball a nice, bright spotlight in the midst of the American football season.
I am so lucky to call Cincinnati, Ohio my home. It is home of the very first openly all professional baseball team, the Red Stockings, who went 57-0 in their inaugural season of 1869. This upcoming season will mark the 150th season of the Cincinnati Reds. Our Opening Day Parade is world renown and the whole city celebrates as though it was Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years’ Eve all rolled into one day.
Over the past five years, if the Reds happen to be playing in town during our fan club’s annual convention, Midwestcon, in June, I try to organize a group of fans to catch a game at Great American Ballpark, which is right on the banks of the Ohio River.
Baseball is great game with a historic and revered past. If a few of the somewhat crazy ideas (or someone else’s crazy ideas) I’ve presented are implemented, I hope Baseball will somehow survive well into our future.
(This column is dedicated to Marty Brennaman, the Hall of Fame announcer of the Cincinnati Reds, who is retiring after this season after 46 years in the broadcast booth on radio and television. The fans across the country know and respect him but we, in the Cincinnati area, hold him in the highest regard. It is astounding to think that he has been involved nearly a third of all the games the Reds have played in their entire history. And we are so very lucky to have such an acerbic, thoughtful, knowledgeable and witty guide all those seasons. Thank You Marty and no matter what happens, THIS SEASON BELONGS TO YOU…)