Sports, Politics, Popculture--From the Minds of Twenty-Somethings

Sports, Politics, Pop Culture--From the Minds of Twenty-Somethings

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Where Has All the Baseball Gone?

"Where has all the baseball gone?"

By, Kyle McCann

    Has anyone else noticed how ridiculously lost Major League Baseball seems to be right now? Is this really our favorite pastime1? I am 25, grew up playing baseball and love the game and all its illogical, subtle nuances. But seriously, it’s even hard for me to get into the division races as we approach the final 2 weeks of the season. Can you imagine not carrying about the last game and a half of the NFL season? Can you imagine checking out for the last 6 quarters of the NFL season? It’s ridiculous but that’s the games to games equivalent of what is happening here. There would be riots across the country if television coverage collapsed for the last game and a half of the NFL season. But why do we care so little about MLB’s 162 game season? That is something we will delve into a little bit later; for now let’s get caught up on where we stand right now.  

As of September 19, 2011 here are the standings on each division:

AL East:
    Yankees up 4.5 games over Boston and 6.5 over Tampa Bay.
AL Central:
    Detroit up 12.5 over Cleveland and 14.5 over Chicago.
AL West:
    Texas up 4.5 over the Angels.
AL Wild Card
    Boston up 2 over Tampa Bay and 4 over the Angels.
NL East:
    Philly up 12 over the Braves and have clinched the division.
NL Central:
    Milwaukee up 6.5 over St. Louis.
NL West:
    Arizona up 5 games over San Fransisco2.
NL Wild Card:
    Atlanta up 3.5 over St. Louis and 4 over San Fran.
Yup that’s right. Only two team has clinched themselves a playoff spot (Detroit and Philly) and that’s a Philly team that is absolutely stacked and would have been the equivalent of the 2011 Miami Heat not winning an NBA championship had they not made the playoffs3 and a Detroit team with the most dominant pitcher in the world, Justin Verlander. The way no one seems to care about baseball right now you would think all 6 divisions would be locked up already. But nope, only one is. Yes The NL west and both Central divisions are almost sure fire things but even still, come on. We have the Red Sox in panic mode with Tampa (one of the best run small market franchises in the history of the world) somehow becoming a threat to what was supposed to be an amazing Boston team/season. Out west the Angels, against all conceivable odds continue to win and due to the fact that they finish up the season with 3 at home versus Texas anything could happen. We have the out of nowhere Diamondbacks, the Verlander led Tigers and everyone’s sleeper for a World title run Brewers. And we haven’t even talked about the wild card races yet.

These are interesting, dynamic teams loaded with stars. So what is MLB’s problem here? It is at least threefold4.
  1. 162 Games. Yup the season is still that long. Remember how you silently drift off during the NBA season and then as the playoff standings actually start being important, you start to pay attention again. Yeah? Okay, no double that the sleepy time. That’s right the MLB season is just 2 short of being twice as long as the NBA’s. That’s insanity for the immediate gratification fan bases of the 21st century.
  2. Game length. Over 4 hours for a Red Sox-Yankees game is entirely too long. No one has time for that anymore. In the 1950’s when no one had anything to do and time-killing was a purposeful act a slow, drawn out game made sense. Having 4-5 games a week that last upwards of 3 hours each is simply unmanageable for most people. We’re way way way too busy, too easily distracted.
  3. Market your F**king players!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can’t believe how poorly marketed MLB is. For goodness sakes you have more players in your league that actually matter than any other sport. You have 5 starting pitchers, dynamic bullpen throwers and everyday guys who hit a round ball with a round bat harder and further than most generations have seen (awkward um cough, steroid era). Please, please change the way you do things.

Ok, so this is a partial list of “what the hell” is wrong with baseball. Now what to do about it? First, speed up everything. Well not everything but that’s how it freaking feels. We need shorter (read faster) seasons. Here’s a possible scenario.
Take the 162 games and shorten it to 1305. Of those 140 have each team play 12 of their games overseas. I know it sounds crazy but let me map it out for you. Traditionally we have roughly 90 games played before the all star break. Let’s keep doing that. Out of the All Star break, you have each team play 3- 4 game series somewhere out of the country.  Teams in the northern US and Toronto can go to Canada. Southern and Midwest teams Mexico, the Caribbean and South America, Western teams to Asia. When these games are completed, give them all 5 days off to recuperate and readjust to being back in the states. This will put us at roughly the 100th of our 130 game season. Wouldn’t the stretch run of baseball be much more interesting with 30 games to go, teams fully rested and not as tired because the season is roughly 20% shorter and they’ve just been given 5 days off? We could have a dramatic stretch run with well rested and happier players (fewer injuries, get to travel abroad for free).
So your saying “wait wouldn’t the owners be upset about all that lost revenue?” And in theory maybe this sounds a little crazy to give up over 40 games (with the 12 being played out of country included). But have you seen a baseball stadium recently attendance, no matter what Selig says, is horribly overstated. I’ve watched a few Marlin games and I swear my high school graduating class could have filled more seats. Fewer games would mean higher attendance per game and the increased exposure from a global baseball would drive up the value of MLB franchises globally. Over time they would be able to pay the players less because they would be play in 25% less games and there is no way the owners don’t actually make more money in the long run;  A. There will lower operating and overhead costs due to a shorter schedule and B. The increased popularity of their sport would raise revenue levels across the board.
My second point relates to the length of baseball games. I am a traditionalist in most facets of sports. I enjoy Olympic sports, running games in football and Notre Dame’s jerseys. But for baseball games to last 4 hours + is, simply stated, no longer a viable model. They need replay, they need the umpires to speed up the game and they need to stress expanding the strike zone in order to facilitate this increase in efficiency. I think this is a much easier fix than MLB seems to think that it does. Bud Selig can you hear me: E-x-p-a-n-d t-h-e s-t-r-i-k-e-z-o-n-e. This will increases the like-ability of the game. You must remember the majority of people willing to spend money on your product (aka customers) like quick results (twitter, Sportscenter highlights, etc. etc.) and exciting sports (read football, basketball, UFC). An increased strike zone would simultaneously increase aggressiveness of batters, and that can’t be a bad thing for a sport that consistently lacks explosiveness.
My last point takes object with the horrible marketing that the MLB claims to do for their product. I can’t believe how little we know about stars of teams from all markets. I’m not just talking about Hanley Ramirez in Florida or Justin Upton in Arizona. But the MLB markets teams and not players. Or at least they don’t market their players enough. We have amazing pitchers on amazing runs this year, Kershaw, Verlander, the entire Philly starting rotation and yet hardly hear about them. Jose Bautista, everyone batting 1-7 for the Yanks and Soxs, Miguel Cabrera are all stars having spectacular seasons and we simply are not being told about them enough by Major League Baseball. Moving games out of state would help with marketing as well (for pointers on international expansion see the NBA model over the last 10 years).

Please get out there and do a better job baseball. You still do have passionate fans and fan bases. But if you every want to be considered America’s pastime again you’re gonna have to do a better job. America is throwing the pitch. We’re bringing the heat6. Our new way of life has expanded the strike zone, now it’s up to you to be aggressive.  
  1. I would argue it no longer is.
  2. My personal favorite standing. Because they is no fan worse than band wagon, NorCal Giants fans blowing up their facebook page the one time the Giants do something. And BTW they were the worse team to ever win a World Series and you cannot convince me otherwise.
  3. Sorry too soon all three diehard Miami Heat fans.
  4. Is that a word? I don’t care, I’m using it.
  5. Yes I am saying shorten the season by 30 games.
  6. Oh yeah I went metaphorical here.

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