The baseball season opened Wednesday night (I’m not counting that B.S. series in Japan). Personally, I’m excited. Baseball is my favorite sport and I’ve been anxiously anticipating the summer months so I can get to the ballpark.
Unfortunately, my favorite sport is far from perfect. Attendance is up, but the general consensus is that baseball’s popularity is waning. NFL Live is on in June, but Baseball Tonight is not on the air in January.
Baseball is America’s pastime, but football has become the national sport. So in defense of my sport, I offer some improvements baseball should employ to bring itself back to prominence. Most of these will never happen because of the almighty dollar, but a guy can dream.
Shorten the playoffs: I would prefer to shorten the season, too, but I can live with 162 games if I must. We live in an ADD society. Part of football’s appeal is that it’s only on once a week. Three hours, one game, one weekly commitment. It takes hundreds of hours to watch every baseball game in a given season.
Baseball actually added a one-game playoff to its postseason, which adds a March Madness-like feel that will up the excitement. But the league should consider shortening the playoff series. Less is sometimes more. How about three games for the first round, five games for the championship series and seven for the World Series? Then we won’t have the World Series ending at Thanksgiving like we do now. Plus, baseball is at its best when every pitch is packed with tension. Shorter series equals better baseball.
Speed up the game: This suggestion accompanies the previous one. Yankees-Red Sox games are the most egregious offenders of slow, methodical baseball as their games average about 3.5 hours (though it feels like 8.5). You’re not holding anyone’s attention for that long. And the game doesn’t flow well enough to warrant three hours of attention. I don’t need to see a pitcher standing on the mound for 20 seconds between pitches. I don’t want to see a batter step out of the box every other pitch to adjust his gloves. Get in the box and swing. Move the game along and more people will be inclined to watch.
Expand instant replay: Baseball purists say that “the human element is part of the game.” The “human element” is still present in every other sport, but they use instant replay (mostly) effectively. The best solution for baseball would be to use an NHL-style system, wherein a handful of officials in one location watch all the games and make the calls on fair and foul, home runs, etc. That way the game doesn’t slow down all that much and the percentage of correct calls goes up. And don’t tell me we don’t have the technology to have a machine or computer determine balls and strikes. Enough with umpires punching out batters on balls that are a foot off the plate.
Eliminate the DH: Here is a place where I think baseball should actually harken back to yesteryear. Nine guys on the field, nine guys bat. The DH creates an imbalance between the American and National Leagues. Plus, the strategy in the NL adds some intrigue and excitement to the game. The DH is an unnecessary addition to baseball. Scrap it.
More Interleague Play: Years ago, part of the mystique of the World Series came from the unfamiliarity between the American and National League champions. The Yankees didn’t play the Pirates in the regular season, so it was unique and refreshing when they met in the Fall Classic. Nowadays, you can flip on SportsCenter and see highlights from every team and every game. Teams can study and dissect film on each other whenever they want, so the mystery is gone. So why not get rid of the unbalanced schedule and expand interleague play? How much fun would it be if the Yankees and Dodgers played at least once a year? Or the Red Sox and Cubs? Make it happen, MLB.
The All-Star Game: I still have yet to figure out why Bud Selig freaked out in 2002 when the Midsummer Classic ended in a tie. I don’t remember an outcry from fans, and it wouldn’t have been a nightmare if future All-Star Games ended in ties. But the commissioner decided to reward the winning league receive home field advantage in the World Series. Because it makes perfect sense that a handful of representatives from each league should determine which World Series team gets the advantage.
Instead, why not have the team with the best overall record get the advantage? If the AL team wins 100 games but the NL team wins 90, why should the NL team have home field just because Joey Votto roped a double in the ninth inning of an exhibition game in July? Reward the team that proves itself over 162 games, not the league that plays better on one day.
Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.