BOSTON (CBS) — So, Major League Baseball wants to speed up the pace of their games. That’s understandable. Baseball hasn’t exactly been the most riveting sport out there, and in an ever-crowded marketplace in a battle for viewers, it makes sense that MLB wants to do all it can to encourage more folks to watch their games.
But is pace of play really the issue that’s keeping some fans away?
To be sure, nobody enjoys watching David Ortiz step back, spit in his gloves, and then casually saunter back into the batter’s box to do his job. Likewise, it’s downright maddening to watch Clay Buchholz take a Sunday stroll around the mound, rub the ball down to its core, remove his hat to rub his hand through his flowing locks, ascend the mound, look in for the sign … only to look at the runner on first base, step off the mound, and start the whole thing over again. If the league can enforce some set of rules to tighten up that process, then we’re all better off for it. But it might not make a whole lot of difference in terms of gaining new fans.
For that to happen, the league needs to enact real change. None of this minor tinkering stuff — MLB needs some changes that the casual fan might actually notice.
Changes like these.
1. Pitchers Don’t Bat Anymore. Period.
Oh yeah, the baseball purists are already gone, enraged at the thought of this change, but I don’t care. I’m sick of watching NL games where every three innings, some goofy-ass, gangly pitcher steps to bat, only to take two strikes before feebly waving at strike three. The pitcher on the mound pads his stats with an easy K, while the “batter” heads back to the bench, feeling mostly indifferent about what just happened.
If you’re lucky, you might even get to see the pitcher try to bunt. Talk about a nonstop thrill ride, a one-way ticket to Entertainment Town. Whew-wee.
Who really enjoys watching that? Not me. When I sit down to watch the best baseball players in the world play against each other, I prefer to see someone who can actually hit over seeing Bartolo Colon embarrass himself.
(OK, that’s a blatant lie. If every pitcher could be Bartolo Colon, I’d be all for having pitchers hit. Or perhaps I’d argue that Colon should switch teams each day to serve as the Designated Colon. You want ratings, Manfred? I’ve got your ratings right there.)
Longtime opponents of the designated hitter don’t really bring much to the table in the way of a defense. One retort they come with is that “This is how baseball was invented! This is the way has been played for 100 years!” OK, sure. Baseball players also use to rip butts in the dugout and work day jobs in the winter. The game has advanced quite a bit. The rules can change, too. The AL has somehow survived the last 40 years.
Other folks argue that they prefer to see pitches hit because it forces the manager to actually strategize. There’s no doubt that this is true, but that doesn’t make it a viewing spectacle. It’s difficult for somebody to fill out some Sudoku puzzles, but somehow I don’t think “Sudoku Live” would capture the 18-49 demographic’s attention in a prime-time TV slot. Plus, for all of the difficulty added to the manager’s plates in NL games, it also completely strips some innings of their drama. With two outs, a runner on second, and the eighth hitter up in the top of the fourth inning, the pitcher can throw a truckload of garbage at whoever’s batting, thanks to the knowledge that the pitcher is on deck. If you get him to chase something and ground out, great, now you have the pitcher leading off next inning. But you have no incentive to risk giving up a run on a base hit, because you don’t need to throw that eight batter anything to hit. The pitcher’s going to make the third out regardless. It’s like a built-in kitchen break to NL games.
That may be convenient, but it’s boring. Let’s get guys who can hit and … let them hit.
2. Call Strikes.
I know what you’re saying: “What, Mike? Are you on drugs? Umpires do call strikes, buddy!”
They do — but not enough. According to the official rules, the top of the strike zone is supposed to be the midpoint between the waistband and the shoulders. The bottom of the zone is supposed to be “a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap.” Beneath the kneecap? Surely the MLB rulebook is joking here, right? The strike zone that is actually enforced seems to go from the lower thigh to the belt. Anything lower or higher, respectively, and the batter is going to throw a hissy fit in that poor umpire’s face.
For whatever reason, the strike zone has grown smaller in umpires’ minds over the years. And now that we have computers presenting an on-screen image of what is a strike and what is a ball at all times during broadcasts, we’ve all grown accustomed to believing that a baseball that’s 1 centimeter one way or the other is actually a ball.
If you really want to speed up the game, having umpires enforce the strike zone would be the best way. Walks are valued now more than ever, and the result on the field is a bunch of 11-pitch at-bats that end with an eagle-eyed Dustin Pedroia type flipping his bat toward the bench and jogging to first. Boring! Let’s get these guys swinging. It’s a win-win.
(MLB is working on this. That’s a good thing.)
3. Bring Back Steroids 3. Declare One Game Per Week To Be Played Under ‘Rock N’ Jock‘ Rules.
3. Save The Dinger.
Look, we all like different parts of baseball. Some of us love a good hit-and-run. Some of us love a perfectly snapped curveball breaking right over the corner. Some of us love to see a diving catch, or a nifty stop behind the plate, and some folks just love to see the benches clear.
But do you know what really puts the booties in the seats, folks? In the words of an animated Mark McGwire, “DINGERS!”
Now, there are a number of ways to do this, and I’ll admit, all of the ideas out there have their flaws. That doesn’t mean they should all be ignored. Maybe it’s adding a two-batter minimum for all pitchers, thereby forcing some uncomfortable lefty-right matchups and vice versa. Maybe it’s “juicing” the ball, winding it tighter, changing the seams. I’m not sure, but I am sure that there are hundreds of capable smartypantses (or is it smartiespants?) who can make a worthwhile change there.
I recognize that you can’t alter a lot of ballparks, but maybe the ones deemed to be “Pitchers’ Parks” (Seattle, San Diego, San Francisco etc.) need some modifications. We need to see people sock some dingers. You West Coasters and your fancy new ballparks are interfering with that.
The idea of a pitch clock could help in this endeavor. If a pitcher is forced to throw before he’s ready and/or comfortable, he’s more liable to make a mistake. Some would argue, however, that you’re really muddying the game by doing that. Others would say “Tough luck, only the strong survive, adapt or die,” or really any other poorly applied cliche.
There are a number of other ideas, some of them decent, some of them terrible, from lowering the mound a few inches, to requiring four strikes for strikeout or banning defensive shifts. Some of these will fall flat, but others might be worth instituting. There will never be a universal agreement on what the specific rule might be, which is why I won’t pretend to have the magic answer right here to convince the masses. But get enough baseball people in a room, I’d be surprised if you couldn’t figure out something.
Back in the glory days, in 2000, there was an average of 1.17 homers per game across MLB. So. Many. Dingers. Now? The number is down to 0.86 long balls per game. More homers were hit in 1955! Runs went down to 4.07 per game in 2014, a full 1.07 fewer than in 2000. Back in 2000, the Marlins had the fifth-fewest home runs in the league with 160. In 2014, 160 taters would have been the fifth-most homers in all of baseball. In 2000, 16 guys hit 40 or more home runs, and 47 players hit 30 or more. In 2014, just one player was able to belt 40, and only 11 could muster up the strength to hit 30. That’s not enough dingers.
Go on YouTube and watch an old game from back then. They were awesome! And dingers played a large role.
Let’s bring back the dinger, baseball. Together we can.