How to Keep America’s Pastime in the Present

While baseball is still thought of as “America’s Pastime,” that status seems short lived.  There has been more than a decade of exponential decline in popularity of the sport that ruled America for centuries.  Various reasons are attributed to the decline, sighting issues such as pace of play, bland players, and an overall boring game.  That being said, only one of those complaints has statistical validity. Players don’t have any less personality today than when the game was at its peak.  In fact, with the rise of social media giving players a direct path to their audience, they are able to have more of a connection. Secondly, the game today is still the same game with the same rules as it was in the glory days of the sport.  It hasn’t changed to be any more “boring.” The pace of play has gotten slower, increasing by about a half hour in the last 40 or so years. However, that begs the question, if people were willing to sit through two and a half hours of baseball, are they not willing to sit through three?  Is that where people draw the line? Most people are looking at this issue the wrong way, seeing it as black and white. It is imperative to think outside of the box, and use some creative tactics to regarner popularity and interest in baseball.

Mobile Phone Play by Play Interaction

Much of the problem cited by fans and professionals as to the decreasing popularity is that it’s boring to sit through a three hour game.  It gets to the 6th inning, there’s five hits and zero runs between the two teams, and fans simply begin to lose interest. But, what baseball has that is unique from other sports is that there is a large variety of defined and trackable outcomes with every pitch, and this can make any “boring” play interesting.  In basketball, the only two possible outcomes with a shot are “make or miss” and “two points or three.” There is no real variety. In baseball, with every pitch there is a huge range of defined outcomes that can occur. There can be a ball, a swinging strike, a looking strike, a foul ball, a hit by pitch, a ground out to any of six players, a flyout to any of nine players, a double play, a triple play, a single, a double, a triple, a homerun and the list goes on and on.  The MLB should take advantage of all of these distinct outcomes and create a game within a game. There should be an app available where fans can predict upcoming outcomes in the game and, if they get enough correct answers, win some sort of of prize such as memorabilia or free tickets to a game. This can make a random pitch in a random game in which the fan has no rooting interest intriguing and valuable to anyone, anywhere.

Revamp All Star Weekend

The Homerun Derby is fun to watch, but the Monday night festivities don’t need to start and end there.  The NBA’s Dunk Contest is always the main event, but that doesn’t mean they don’t add supplementary events to both engage their audience and create more sponsorship opportunities.  An example of another possible event would be a catcher vs base stealer duel. Yadier Molina behind the plate. Billy Hamilton on the base pads. We see how many times the best catchers can throw out the game’s quickest speedsters.  There could also be some sort of fielding challenge. You get five of the best infielders and five of the best outfielders in baseball, and have a machine launch grounders and fly balls to these gold glovers. Any ball that either leaves the infield or hits the ground in the outfield is a strike, and in classic baseball fashion three strikes and you’re out.  The competition ends with one infielder and one outfielder alive. These new competitions would provide more action to the night, supplementing the fun but rather rigid main event of the Homerun Derby.

Limit the Number of Pitchers 

This last idea would be the most controversial, but could also be the most effective.  This idea is expanded on in great detail in an article by FiveThirtyEight that, if this idea interests you, is a very good read.  Essentially, the decline in run production in recent years has, to many, made the game less fun.  Just as is the main complaint with soccer, people don’t want to watch a sport in which people don’t score.  The MLB has tried to solve this problem in recent years to no avail, and many have just chalked it up to “pitchers today are just too good.”  However, when digging deeper into the advanced stats, it isn’t necessarily that pitchers have gotten too good, it’s that pitchers have gotten too well rested.  The number of pitchers used per game has increased dramatically in the last century or so from just over one to just under five.  Relief pitchers are coming in and throwing an inning or so at a time, and because they are so well rested and know they will have to face 3-5 batters at most, they are throwing harder than ever before.  Starters turned relievers throw 2-3 MPH harder as a reliever, and strike out about 4% more batters. This may not seem huge, but the numbers don’t lie. There is a direct line of correlation between the increasing amount of pitchers used and the decreasing scoring in baseball.  So, if the MLB implements a rule in which every team can only carry 8-10 pitchers at once, this will force starters to go later into games, as well as have relievers face more batters per outing. This should take away much of the previous advantage they had, increase run production in baseball, and make it more fun to watch.    

While baseball’s demise isn’t necessarily imminent, it is certainly in a downward spiral.  In order to save America’s pastime, it is crucial the MLB takes some risks and thinks outside of the box in order to make baseball what it once was.  

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