Major League Baseball (MLB) had been an integral part of the U.S. national culture since it came into existence in the latter part of the 19th century. Fans of all ages had been fixated on the diamond for over a century, and this fixation propelled baseball to be the most popular sport in our country. This obsession with baseball has come to a crossroads. From 1985 through 2015, the MLB’s popularity has gradually declined while the NFL’s popularity has exponentially skyrocketed. Every year since 1985, the Harris Poll has asked American sports fans to name their favorite athletic league. In 1985, the MLB and the NFL each received 24 percent of the vote, with the remaining votes being divided amongst other sports (college and professional). Over the last 30 years, those numbers have changed. By 2015, the NFL received 32 percent of the vote, while the MLB received a mere 16 percent, with the NBA right on its heels. Baseball’s decay is unmistakable, not only illustrated by the aforementioned statistics but also expressed by those who play it. Bryce Harper, one of the game’s most popular superstars, recently said that baseball is a “tired sport.” This sentiment is becoming increasingly commonplace, as professional baseball in this country has gone from being the preeminent sport to being just another game.
Although baseball’s popularity has unquestionably dwindled, the MLB still set a record for revenue in 2015, with nearly $9.5 billion. From a business perspective, baseball is flourishing. So why change anything? Well, according to the Nielsen ratings, 50 percent of baseball viewers are 55 years of age or older. That is a jaw-dropping statistic considering that baseball is often said to be a children’s game. Another statistic that may be even be more staggering is that over the past 10 years, according to the Nielsen ratings, kids aged 6-18 have made up less than five percent of baseball’s postseason television audience. Put simply, baseball does not appeal to the younger generation. There needs to be change in order to place professional baseball back onto its well-deserved pedestal. The following three radical ideas could revive the MLB, particularly among the younger generation.
The first change baseball should put in place involves eliminating the warm-up time in between innings. Rather than having the pitcher throw ample warm-up pitches and the fielders half-heartedly having a catch, the next half-inning would begin as soon as the third out of the previous inning was recorded. If the pitchers or fielders genuinely feel as though they need to loosen up their arms prior to taking the field, they would go into the tunnel and have a toss with a teammate. By implementing this rule, games would have more of a flow to them and watching a baseball game would suddenly not be such a burden. This past season, games averaged two hours and 56 minutes. Of these two hours and 56 minutes, the game-action itself took only 18 minutes, and that is clearly too much wasted time. By eliminating the excess time in between innings, games would not take as long and fans might actually have the patience to watch an entire game.
Another benefit of eliminating the time between innings, and thus the warm-ups, is that pitchers would not be throwing as many pitches. With the epidemic of Tommy John surgery, pitch counts are to baseball coaches what iPhones are to teenagers. Like clockwork, once a pitcher reaches the 100-pitch threshold, he is shortly removed from the game. However, these counts never count the warm-up pitches. Typically, pitchers throw 8 to 10 warm-up pitches per inning; granted they are not the same as in-game pitches, but six or seven innings of that will put unwanted stress on their multimillion-dollar arms. By eliminating warm-ups between innings, not only do the fans benefit, but teams are more likely to keep their pitchers in good health.
The second radical change that baseball should implement would increase the degree of strategy. Throughout the game, each team would have three substitutions with which they would have the ability to send any player on their roster to bat. For instance, it’s the bottom of the ninth inning and the bases are loaded. The Red Sox are down by two. Their number nine hitter is up to the plate. If they had yet to use all of their three substitutions, they would have the ability to send David Ortiz, their best hitter, to the plate in place of their batter at the bottom of the lineup. This would make baseball far more exciting. Managers would have to gauge certain scenarios throughout the game and determine when to utilize their substitutions. This rule would also make the game more appealing to fans because quite frankly, who wouldn’t want to see David Ortiz come to the plate seven and eight times in one game? Baseball is the only major team sport in which a player’s opportunities are so limited. In basketball, if you have a good shooter, you allow him to shoot whenever he has a good look. In football, if you have a good receiver, you throw him the ball and let him make a play. In baseball, if you have a good hitter, he gets only a few more at-bats over the course of a season than the shortstop hitting .200. Implementing this rule would increase fan interest and reward teams with superior hitters.
The third and final radical change that baseball needs to make is to put forth a system that makes regular season games more meaningful. Currently, each MLB team plays 162 games. I am not advocating that the season be shortened, although I wouldn’t be opposed to it, but I do feel that more should be awarded to the teams that finish higher in the standings. Currently, in a seven-game series, the team with the better record gets four of the seven games at home. That is a minuscule advantage for finishing ahead of an opposing team in the standings. MLB should instead reward the team that finishes higher in the standings with the entire series at home. If this were the case, teams would take each regular season game more seriously, as no team wants to play an entire series that decides their fate in an opposing ballpark. This would not only make the regular season more intriguing, but there would be no off-days in October because teams would no longer need to travel in the postseason. This atmosphere of game after game, day after day would heighten fan interest monumentally.
Baseball is at a crossroads. MLB must take some risks in order to preserve the great game of baseball. Eliminating warm-up time between innings, allowing for three substitutions per game, and raising the stakes for a dominant regular season are just three ways in which baseball can gain traction and get back to truly being America’s Pastime.