(WTNH)–I got an alert on my phone the other day that made me want to go all Lou Piniella on MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.
“MLB exploring limiting use of relief pitchers,” it read.
I think I threw a couch pillow across the room like it was second base.
It’s not that limiting the amount of relief pitchers that can come into a game in an inning is a bad idea. It actually might be a good idea.
It’s just that, like eliminating the four pitch-intentional walk and the mind-numbing idea of putting a runner on second base to start extra innings, it shows a complete lack of understanding about the game’s real problem.
Manfred seems to be obsessed with the idea that baseball games are going too long, when the problem is quite obviously the inaction between pitches.
NBA games last two and a half hours. NFL games sometimes three-plus. Nobody ever complains about the length of those games, either because they’re action-packed (basketball) or because the action is exciting when it’s taking place (football).
Baseball, on the other hand, has the unfortunate combination of sporadic action and sometimes dull action.
You can suffer through a three-minute at-bat and watch a guy walk.
You can watch for 10 minutes while your team gets a rally going (two walks) and then see it come to an end with a weak ground ball to second base.
All of this happens on a beautiful Saturday afternoon when it’s 80 degrees out and you don’t want to be hanging around inside, watching TV.
That’s the real problem with baseball.
Even the announcers, who should be focusing on keeping your attention for as long as possible, instead conspire to make sure that everything is as boring as it can possibly be.
Here’s what I feel like is a typical sequence from the 4th inning of an afternoon game in May:
Play-by-play guy: And the 1-0. There’s a strike.
(15 seconds of silence)
Color guy: (Makes a somewhat interesting comment)
Play-by-play guy: (Ignores him)
(15 more seconds of silence)
Play-by-play guy: The 1-1…
How do you fix this?
First off, hire more Phil Rizzuto’s and fewer Michael Kay’s. That’d be a start.
Secondly, do everything you can to cut down on the dead time in between pitches. These simple changes would make a huge impact:
1. Institute a pitch clock.
It’s not asking too much for the pitcher to throw the ball 30 seconds after he gets it. Get on the mound, and fire that thing in there.
2. Penalize batters for stepping out of the box.
This is an actual rule, and yet virtually nobody enforces it. Tell umpires to make sure these guys stay in the box, ready to hit. They did it in the ’70s. There’s no reason they can’t do it now.
3. Shorten the time in between innings.
They’ll never do this, because….commercials! Right?
But just like the NBA stubbornly sticking to an 82-game schedule and the NFL refusing to eliminate preseason games, sometimes it makes sense to take a short-term financial hit if it’s going to help your long-term popularity. You know what makes up for lost commercial revenue? More money per commercial. How do you get that? Better TV ratings! It’s really not that hard.
4. Make offense great again.
Like it or not, the game was most popular at the height of the steroid era, and nobody was suggesting pitch clocks or complaining about the time between innings. We’re not suggesting to let the players blow up like Popeye again, but any changes that can help offenses in this watered-down era should be considered.
Sure, it’s not really fair to blame Manfred for considering other changes and not the ones above, which would actually help. The Players’ Association is probably the biggest reason why none of these have been implemented. Manfred has even come out as saying he’d like to see a pitch clock in the majors.
But instead of trying to come up with other work-arounds that will have little impact on pace of play, Manfred should be doubling down on the things that really matter. Make concessions. Negotiate. Advocate for these things.
Old-timers with house phones like to blame millenials for the decline in baseball’s popularity. But when you watch a game from the ’90s, when offenses were formidable, or the ’70s, when the game moved along briskly, you understand it’s not our fault.
We didn’t change (that much). The game did.
No, baseball’s not dying as a result of shorter attention spans and Snapchat. It’s hurting, but it’s still got a chance to get us back.
More fans than ever are packing ballparks each year. Hell, I’m watching a game right now.
So, if anybody believes that the length of extra inning games or the number of relievers coming into them are the real problem, I’d love to hear why.
I’ve got some time in between pitches.