MLB is boring. There’s not enough action, it’s too tedious to watch. I’d rather go fishing. MLB doesn’t get it about their fans, do they?
Major League Baseball (MLB), for casual fans in a world that is almost entirely visual, is boring to watch. Let’s accept that as a fact, at least for the moment.
Strikeouts, base-on-balls, balls hit out of play, outcomes of pitches thrown and often repeated in a single inning of play.
Pitchers and fielders are treated like chess pieces on a never stabilized board, and the best players in the game make out seven of every ten times they come to the plate. Where’s the entertainment value in any of that?
MLB: The All-Knowing All-Seeing Baseball Overseer
This is what the casual fan sees in MLB games. Major League Baseball believes it is necessary to “grow the sport.” Further, to do so means catering to the casual fan with disposable income.
Ergo, a rash of proposed and actual rule changes put forth by MLB to manufacture more action designed to create the illusion of activity on the field, with the ending result being more offense. More towering flies into the night sky – more home runs.
It’s been that way in baseball since the early Twentieth Century when the “Sultan Of Swat” Babe Ruth instilled a one-man revolution on the game. Ruth got paid big-time and now all hitters want to get paid too, and they do if they hit home runs.
To my way of thinking though, this is where MLB keeps shooting itself in the foot by attempting to create (i.e. manufacture) action and excitement for the casual fan.
Where MLB Is Going Wrong
First of all, who is this mystical casual fan, so worthy of MLB’s attention? Is he (or she) the fan who scours the boxscores and standings before he makes the drive to work in the morning?
Is he the baseball fan who signs up for Extra Innings so he can catch games not available locally? Does he belong to various Facebook groups dedicated to discussion about baseball?
Does he play catch in the backyard with his son and daughter before dinner, afterward catch a couple of innings on TV before bedtime?
The casual baseball fan does none of these things. They may or may not join the bandwagon of a team in their city when the postseason arrives, but there is no guarantee they will do so.
And there, my friends is where MLB is making its biggest mistake when it tries to reach around its firmly implanted base (me and most likely you) to garner fans from the unlikeliest of places.
MLB And The Lust For More
Baseball is what it is and therein should lie the glory and beauty of the sport.
There need not be a reason to “actionate” the sport of baseball with the barest of hope that the NFL and NBA fans will see the light. It’s a fantasy for MLB to believe they can, and it’s even worse for the suits at MLB to believe they should.
Major League Baseball is already a ten billion dollars a year professional sport in America. No one that you or I can name who is associated with baseball, whether it be owners, players, coaches, umpires, minor league teams, TV networks, writers, and so on, is losing proposition with baseball chosen as their career endeavor.
To further illustrate the point, consider this.
The first thing a campaign manager tells his candidate is – get the votes you are assured of getting first. If you are a Republican, appeal first to that base. Do not, for example, attempt to garner votes from moderate Democrats.
By pursuing the casual fan who is just that – casually engaged in baseball – MLB risks offending and alienating the fans who are loyally engaged and daily baseball followers.
Yesterday’s essay talked about MLB’s pursuit of change for the sake of change that has little or no regard for the lasting effects of rule changes that are designed for the moment, and even before that, the same subject matter was approached.
Oh, How Baseball Has Changed (On Its Own)
Author’s Note: The best and most entertaining reading on the origins of baseball comes from John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball. His most prolific work is titled Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game. (Recommended)
It’s interesting to note that the game was all about offense at baseball’s inception in the late Nineteenth Century. The pitcher’s job (or else he was fired) was to make the batter “hit the ball”.
And when Candy Cummings had the gall to throw baseball’s first known curveball in 1870 at a game played in Brooklyn, an uproar occurred within the ranks regarding if the pitch, clearly designed to fool and retire the hitter, should be legal.
Later, during the 1960s when pitchers like Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Steve Carlton, and Don Drysdale dominated hitters, MLB stepped in to lower the pitcher’s mound by a few inches, creating at least the illusion the game was being played on a level field.
The entrance of steroids into the game swung the game in an offensive direction, and for the most part, MLB is still trying to cope with how to handle that development.
But one thing remains a constant as a (or maybe even the) reason why games have increased in length along with an interminable amount of time-outs with no action on the field during pitching changes – the arrival of the five-inning starting pitcher.
It’s almost impossible to conceive these days that complete games were considered as typical as three relievers needed to complete a game are in today’s game.
Bob Gibson finished with 255 complete games and Steve Carlton had 254. Phil Niekro (245) and Juan Marichal (244), and Burt Blyleven (242) all follow with Tom Seaver finishing the list at #100 with 231 complete games.
Compare those number with this pitiful list of active complete game leaders:
MLB And The Law Of Kinetics
Still, starting pitchers like Kershaw will average $31 million per year – plus a signing bonus of $23 million when he inked a new contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. All that for making (when he is not injured) 30-35 starts a year, with anything beyond the sixth inning considered a bonus.
But that’s okay because it is something arrived at by team front offices, managers, and coaches who are responsible for the health and safety of their “investment.”
That’s different from rule changes imposed on the game from above, such as the three-batter minimum rule for relievers that is designed solely as a speed it up maneuver to alter the game as to how it’s managed and played.
The salient point remains – which is that MLB is off-base when it thinks it can alter its fan base simply by making rule changes that take longer to explain than their value as a “game-changer.”
MLB will never replace the value or intensity of Stephen Curry grabbing a rebound, racing down the court looking for teammates to pass to with Olympian lateral vision, only to dribble through three defenders to score with a slam dunk and a foul.
Let it be.
That’s the NBA who has its own issues with the final two minutes of a game taking upward of a half-hour to complete or, for that matter, the final two minutes of the first half of an NFL game.
Who cares? Let these leagues be what they are, good and bad, just like MLB.
But please, oh ye mighty suits at MLB, for god sakes don’t try to put a square peg in a round hole when it comes to baseball – and the so-called need for change.
As in the case of the battle to contain COVID, these best changes have always been the kind that evolves through scientists and people in the know.
In the case of MLB, this means players, general managers, managers, and coaches who adapt to a changing environment – no rule changes required – we’ve got this.
“Casual Fans – Really?
“Casual” anything is not much at all. I was once a casual saxophone player, wanna be PBA bowler and an aide to Senator Hubert H. Humphrey. Does any of that matter in the context of today?
MLB’s inherent fan base (of which I consider myself a charter member since 1957) is not casual and never has been. We are baseball loyalists, tried and true.
We’ll bend a twist a bit when it comes to rules changes, but you (MLB) need to watch closely and think twice before you alienate your meat and potatoes from baseball’s fan base.
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