Play Ball!

One summer evening in the 1980s, I left work on the second shift in Denison, and on my way home to Vail I turned on the radio to listen to the Kansas City Royals hosting the Texas Rangers. It was the top of the ninth inning and the Rangers were ahead six to nothing. I could have turned it off, believing the game was ‘virtually’ over, or listened to music. However, my love of baseball (and the Kansas City Royals) kept me interested. When I pulled into the driveway at home, I turned off the car and kept listening. The Royals came back in the bottom of the ninth inning and won the game seven to six.

The late Yogi Berra, Baseball Hall of Fame manager and player, quipped the infamous phrase in 1975: “It ain’t over till it’s over!” Yet, thousands of people seem to leave major league baseball games a little over half-way through the game. Hundreds more appear to leave their seats during the final two innings. Why is that?

Occasionally, I receive a survey from Major League Baseball (MLB) asking me a few questions about the game. It’s obvious that MLB wants to make the game more attractive to younger fans. I’ve heard game broadcasters and analysts make statements about how MLB needs to attract a new generation of fans. Do you mean, those so-called fans whose experience with baseball is limited to playing a nine-inning game on X-Box that takes twelve minutes to play? To actually watch and enjoy a major league baseball game you must have a smidgen more than the attention span of goldfish. When trying to attract those fans, MLB is losing its dearest and most dedicated fans – people like me.

Those who leave games before the final out are not baseball fans, and as such, should not have a voice in what baseball might do to attract them further.

Jeff Montgomery, a former Royals pitcher and now an analyst for the Royals Baseball Network, entertained listeners this year by talking about his major league debut. Discussing a rookie’s debut with his parents in the stands, Montgomery told the audience that his parents did not get to see his debut because they left the game early to beat the traffic and felt that if they hadn’t seen him earlier in the game, he probably wasn’t going to play that evening. Montgomery was a closer, the last pitcher who enters the game with his team holding on to a close lead, anticipating that he can end the game without allowing runs to the opponents. A closer is the final pitcher for the winning team in most cases. At least Jeff smiles and chuckles when he tells the story.

MLB is making silly attempts to speed the game up. A nine-inning game fifty years ago might last a little over two hours. There were a lot of factors then that are not present in games of 2022. Starting pitchers used to play the entire game. There was no set time between innings because a commercial or two (or 3 or more) had to be broadcast. Today, games typically last just over three hours (“In Major League Baseball this year, the average nine-inning game is taking 3:05” https://www.mlb.com/news/how-pitch-clock-is-working-in-minor-leagues-in-2022 ). Is that too long? Compare: The normal National League Football game lasts three and one-half hours.

A technological change to speed up the game was the introduction of a device called the Pitch Cam. Rather than a catcher making signs with his finger (1 finger = fast ball; 2 fingers = curve ball; 3 fingers = slider; etc.) a remote control-like box on the wrist or shin pad contains buttons that transmit the projected type of pitch and location to the pitcher, two infielders, and center fielder. Of course, like the initial stages of any technology, we have witnessed so many incidents in which the transmitter or receiver are not working. Because of flaws or low batteries, it creates an adverse effect on the time of the game. Many catchers and pitchers have gone back to the system of using fingers.

The Wall Street Journal conducted a study in 2010 on the amount of live action in several different sports. Although the study was conducted over ten years ago, Todd Boss, a blogger who wrote an article on the statistics, keeps the figures updated.

“Baseball games feature 17 minutes and 58 seconds of action. NFL games feature about 11 minutes of action.” Note: Soccer and Hockey are loaded with action.

The reason many people think baseball is boring is that they don’t totally understand the game. There is more strategy going on between pitches than you might think. Managers, base coaches, catchers, and even infielders are constantly displaying signs for teammates to decipher. Some signs are deceptive and designed to distract or mislead the opposition. Attending a game, you may notice that the outfielders are not standing in the same place for each hitter. Sure, they may move over two feet to the left or right, but that pinpoint positioning has more significance than you can see. There is more to baseball than a pitch and the swinging of a bat. Spoiler: MLB is much more advanced than Little League.

Next year, MLB wants to outlaw what is called the “shift” in today’s game. Based upon scouting, a team can, within feet, often predict where a batter will hit the ball. It’s strategy and it is based upon analytics. And, in my opinion, the infield shift has improved the game. And it wasn’t a rule that changed it. But it is a rule that will prohibit it. How it will be enforced is another matter.

There are other proposed changes coming. One change that has already been implemented is the use of humidors to store baseballs. It’s like hitting a wet blanket – literally. Another proposal will adopt an automatic strike zone, taking the umpire out of the picture. If that change is made, MLB might just as well do away with other human elements of the game. The pitcher could be replaced with a pitching machine. Avatars and robots could move about the field like a golf ball picker at a driving range, retrieving balls and hurling them wildly toward bases – or unsuspecting fans.

And what is it with all these interviews with players and coaches during the game? That’s what pregame and postgame programs are for. I want to watch a baseball game! In-game interviews reminds me of a joke: I went to boxing match and a hockey game broke out. (I went to an interview and a baseball game broke out.)

But the major change MLB is considering is a pitch clock. Really? It is supposed to cut up to twenty minutes off the time of a normal nine-inning game. What can you do for twenty minutes that is so important that you need to get away from the ballpark so soon? Traffic isn’t going to move any faster, and so-called fans will still leave early. All to the detriment of devoted fans who lived for decades without major changes.

I want America’s favorite pastime to return to the Good Ole Days! Please!

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1 Response to Play Ball!

  1. Laird L Vergith says:

    ” Excellent observation ; However, I had to leave before the last paragraph !

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