Friday, March 22, 2013

The state of modern day baseball

by: Dan Howard
Staff Writer

Another World Baseball Classic, another disappointment for Team USA, another country conducting a wild celebration in a U.S. baseball stadium. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting sick of this.

The result of last Friday's game has left me with a terrible taste in my mouth. Team USA, comprised of multi-millionaires, multiple all-stars, managed by a legend, with a coaching staff of baseball royalty, was eliminated by a team that is made up of players from a territory of the United States. Is this how the residents of England felt in 1882 when they lost for the first time to Australia in Cricket? The media went wild, writing about the death of Cricket in England. I’m not taking anything away from Puerto Rico. They certainly deserved to win, but please allow me to eulogize baseball in America, as far as I’m concerned USA baseball, on the international stage, died last Friday.

We can "what if" until eternity, what if so and so pitched, what if so and so played, what if so and so did this or that, the point is WE LOST. Since the World Baseball Classic began in 2006, Team USA has, for lack of a better word, sucked. Eliminated in 2006 by Mexico in Round 2 Pool 1 play, we did beat eventual champion Japan to begin the second round. Eliminated in 2009 by Venezuela also in Round 2, I’m sure Fidel Castro wannabe Hugo Chavez rejoiced over that one by expelling more members of the Human Rights Commission. This brings us to this year’s embarrassment. Three tries, no championships, not even a semifinal. Are we really this bad in baseball?

When I was a child, baseball was king, although its monarchy was slowly shrinking to the growing empire known as professional football. I was born a few years after the “Greatest Football Game Ever”, the 1958 NFL Championship Game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts. The post-World War II “Baby Boomer” generation was developing a curiosity about football; the “Greatest Generation” that won the war didn’t want to see baseball lose its popularity, the “Generation X” kids are as fanatical about football as the previous generations were about baseball. When the Super Bowl era began in 1967, followed by the New York Jets improbable victory over the Baltimore Colts two years later, a seismic shift was beginning to affect the popularity of America’s Favorite Pastime.

The AFL-NFL merger in 1970 enabled professional football to gain a monopoly it would never relinquish. Many have tried, the WFL, USFL, XFL, none have succeeded. Monday Night Football began in the fall of 1970, making the game more visible. The NFL became more than just a Sunday league. How did baseball adjust? By introducing the Designated Hitter rule in 1973. The baseball purists, like me, hated it. I still do. The American League adopted it; the National League would not, allowing baseball to be played with different rules.

Baseball has had several moments of brilliance, the 1975 World Series, 1978 A.L. East Playoff, along with the 1986, 1991, 2001 and 2004 World Series, each seemingly piqued America’s interest, just not enough to loosen football’s grip on the public. The 1981 Players Strike damaged America’s love for baseball, the 1994 Players Strike, which cancelled the World Series, almost destroyed America’s love for the game. Sure attendance at the ballparks is up, but where are the television rankings. Here’s an example, Game 7 of the 1971 World Series between Baltimore and Pittsburgh had an approximately viewing audience of 37.4 million people, pretty impressive for an afternoon baseball game. Not just any afternoon, this was a Sunday afternoon game, during football season. On the other hand, Game 1 of last year’s World Series drew a measly 12.4 million viewers. A duel between former Cy Young award winners Justin Verlander versus Barry Zito and only 12.4 million people cared to watch.

Where do we go from here? In my opinion, make the games shorter. A football game takes about three hours to play. A regulation NBA and NHL game is played in 2 ½ hours. A Major League Soccer match takes two hours. A cricket test match takes three to five days to play, which is the average time of one Yankees - Red Sox game.

Baseball is an advertising salesperson’s dream, every half inning there’s spots for commercials, 18 slots per game. In the 1970’s there was one minute between innings, now there’s two to three minutes between innings. In the 1970’s the Reds began their games at 8:05pm with most games ending before 10:30pm. Now games begin at 7:07pm and end close to 10:15pm.

I’ve read that baseball is looking into shortening the games, but can’t figure out how short of putting a time clock in use. Maybe going back to one minute between innings would work. Speeding up the time between pitches would work. Back in the day, when the pitcher got the ball from the catcher, he was ready to pitch again. The batter stood in the box and stayed there until the at bat was finished. Today it seems the batters go through a religious ritual between pitches. Adjust helmet, batting glove, spit, scratch, spit again, pick nose, spit, scratch, check bat for termite damage, step back in, only to ask the umpire for time and do it all over again. In the meantime, the pitcher is confused so the catcher goes to the mound for a discussion. The rest of the infield joins in followed by the pitching coach (or manager). The meeting is called to order, the secretary reads the minutes of the previous meeting, then the treasurer gives their report and so on. The meeting continues until the umpire decides he’s had enough and requests a motion for adjournment. Once a second motion is given, the matter is voted on, and then the game continues. Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but peace treaties have been hammered out in less time than a meeting on the pitcher’s mound.

In closing, I really don’t have a clue on how to make baseball more appealing to this generation. With the rule changes in football, under the guise of making the game safer, that sport may become a shell of its former self in a few years. Maybe people will gravitate toward baseball and rekindle a relationship with the “Grand Ol’ Game”.

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