Can baseball be saved?
That seems to be the theme from those who opine on such things this past week, citing declining attendance and TV ratings, with stagnant divisional races as a chaser.
But does the game need wholesale changes?
Dear God, I hope there won’t be. The sport, with some minor tinkering, is being played the same way it has for the last century-plus and remains the best way to spend not only a sunny summer day, but a moony summer night.
But, with the following tweaks, I think the game can be improved.
Yep, it’s a grind. Or, as Marty Lurie says, a marathon, not a sprint. But there are some of the old school that remain fixated on a return to a 154-game schedule, which was the norm until the first round of expansion in the early 1960s, which begat the Angels, Senators (now the Rangers), Colt 45s (now the Astros) and Mets.
To which I say: One week off the season? Really?
What would work better? The return of the scheduled doubleheader. You could even do the split doubleheaders that have become the norm because of rain delays to preserve income. But not only would this shorten the schedule, you’d make fans happy.
And while we’re meddling in this area: Interleague play, seeya!
For all the Mets-Yankees, Cubs-White Sox and Giants-A’s games that create interest in major metropolitan areas, there’s all the other games that are so meh.
Instead, let’s try beefing up the schedules in each league to bring back a little balance, especially in September, when the most significant regular season games should be played.
Before the last round of expansion, teams would take two trips to each city in the opposite division and three to teams in their division. One trip early in the season, one trip later, and September was strictly divisional play. The way the schedule is drawn now, with constant interleague play, not only do we have at least two teams playing interleague games the last weekend of the season, there’s situations like the Giants face this weekend when they host the Mets, a week after playing their only series in New York. Why not mix things up a bit?
Bring back throwing four wide ones to intentionally walk a batter. The time it saves, as we have shown elsewhere on this blog, is a wash. Have the pitcher work a little bit throwing around a hitter.
The designated hitter? Time for the American League to dump it in favor of the way the game should be played.
Replay? It stays, only because not only has the horse been let out of that barn, it’s down at the next farm training for the Kentucky Derby.
Putting a runner on second to start the 12th inning of extra inning games? If you think I like that, you haven’t been paying attention.
Remember the All-Star Game? Yeah, there were 10 home runs, but also 26 strikeouts.
Just like on the old “Home Run Derby” series, it was a home run or nothing. Unfortunately, that describes too many games nowadays.
This fine art of pitching has been replaced by the demand for more strikeouts. And while chicks may dig the long ball, all long ball, all the time makes for a dull product.
Blame statistical analysis, which also begat shifts, if you like, but if managers and coaches can teach their teams where to play defensively, can they not also teach hitters ways to beat the shift?
Get a man on first. Bunt him over or have him steal. Let the next two men drive him in. It’s not THAT difficult.
Thanks to the explosion in regional sports networks, virtually every major league game is on TV in some way, shape or form, on networks such as Root, Fox Sports Net or NBC Sports City Goes here.
According to Broadcastingcable.com, 79 percent of U.S. homes receive TV via cable or satellite. A figure that’s down from the 84 percent in 2014, but still significant, due to cord cutting and the growth of services like Netflix as well as online options.
But that leaves about a fourth of the population with no access to games, save a trip to the neighbors or the local tavern. So, why not mandate teams show one game a week in their local market over-the-air? It’s called exposure.
As for the networks, both cable and over-the-air, why not expand horizons beyond the East Coast?
Given how often games from the region are shown, you would think ESPN is an acronym meaning Easter Seaboard Programming Network.
Yet, a World Series rematch between the Astros and Dodgers at the start of this month, or a delicious series last weekend between the Astros and Athletics in Oakland for the AL West lead? Nowhere to be found nationally, save SportsCenter, if it wasn’t wiped out by an update on LeBron.
But somehow, there’s always room for the Yankees and Red Sox, or even that mediocrity that is the Baltimore Orioles.
There’s great baseball and great stars being played west of the Appalachians. It’s too bad most folks can’t see it.
Can baseball be saved?