Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ogden on Baseball

While a life-long baseball fan, I've never been a fan of the All-Star game which just took place a day or so ago. There is something phony about a "game" in which players are constantly shuttled in and out of the lineup. It's not a true test of which league has better players.

But the All-Star break, which ends today with the start of the second half of the season, is a chance to reflect on the national pastime, baseball, the game of my youth. Growing up in Southeast Indiana, I was a fan of the Big Red Machine. While everyone else was a fan of the more popular and flashy Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, or Joe Morgan, I was a fan of the quiet slugger, first baseman Tony Perez. All are in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Well, actually Rose isn't but should be. Rose's sins were committed as a manager not as a player. And man what a player Pete Rose was. The all-time hits leader epitomized what baseball is all about.

The game has changed so much from when I was a kid. A few years back, I spent hours combing over the 1975 and 2006 New York Yankee rosters to see whether I was right about my memory that players growing up were much smaller than players in 2006, near the end of the steroid era. Boy was I right. I'm working off memory here as I can't find the research, but the players on the 2006 roster are about 32 pounds heavier and nearly 2 inches taller than the Yankees of 1975.

Baseball is a beautiful sport. Unfortunately the professional game has lost a lot of appeal it had in my youth. These are my recommendations for turning around the game:
  • Shorten the season. Scheduling playoff games on cold November nights detracts from the quality of play and makes for a miserable expedience for those attending the game. I would love to see a graph on how the starting temperature of World Series games have plummeted over the years. Some of the games end up in temperatures at or below freezing.

  • Bring back scheduled double headers. Major league baseball could shorten the season by a few weeks by bringing back doubleheaders. Imagine every Sunday featuring a doubleheader. Two games for the price of one. Some revenue would be lost, but there would be increased attendance for those games.

  • Stop playing playoff games so late into the evenings. Some of the games are lasting until 11 pm or midnight. The games are scheduled late to take advantage of a bigger prime time audience, but it is a short-sighted strategy. MLB is making is sacrificing building interest among the youth for better ratings today. Young people can't stay up to watch games lasting well into the night.

  • Bring back more day baseball games, primarily on the weekends. The best baseball is baseball played in the sunshine.

  • Get rid of the American League DH. Every poll shows it is still unpopular among fans some 34 years after it was adopted. Yet it still persists. Baseball gets knocked because it is a game that lacks a lot of strategic maneuvering. The ultimate strategic decision is whether to pull a pitcher for a pinch-hitter. The AL takes that decision out of the game.

  • Speed up play. One thing different from my youth is that multiple pitchers are used virtually every game. It's nothing for a team ieven n a low scoring game to use four or five pitchers. The parade to the mound has meant more delays during pitching breaks. Partly as a result of that, the length of games has increased substantially. Baseball fan's attention span for most games is no longer than 2 1/2 hours. Most games need to be shorter than that to keep the attention of sports fans in this world of many entertainment options. MLB needs to do a thorough study of where the delays are in baseball and find a way to reduce those delays.

  • Reevaluate interleague play. The novelty has worn off. It might be time to cut back on the number of interleague games.

  • Do NOT expand the playoffs. Every sport ends up doing this, with the NCAA men's basketball being the latest. Expanding the playoffs devalues the regular season and with an 162 game season stretching over six plus months you don't want to do that. The one wild card has been a great success, adding interest to the late season pennant races. But I know the suggestion will soon be made to add another wild card or perhaps two more. Too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing.

Those are some thoughts. I would be happy to listen to others.

See also: Wednesday, October 28, 2009, There is No Cold in Baseball; Major League Baseball Turns Its Back on Youthful Fans

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I can't agree with you more, especially how slow the game has become. The Kabuki theater of pitchers stretching and batters stepping out of the box just to adjust there shirt or helmet or bling has become insufferable.

That is why I'm a big fan of AAA baseball. I attended an Indians game last summer and it took me back to the way baseball used to be play.

In other words, the players really putting an effort into the game.