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The State of Baseball is Strong. But it could be better. How do we make that happen?

Jan 29, 2014, 9:32 AM EDT

baseball grass

Tom Verducci has a very long but very well thought-out analysis of the State of Baseball as we enter the 2014 season. In a lot of ways it’s the intelligent person’s take on the “Is Baseball Dying?” thing. Being a creature of baseball he understands the current strengths and weaknesses of the game from a competitive, demographic and financial perspective so he isn’t trafficking in the alarmism and broad-brush paining of the non-baseball writers who make a sport of declaring the game dead each fall. As such, it’s an important read.

The facts:

  • While financially flush, the game is dependent on TV money to a huge degree and what happens if something radical happens in the structure of the TV business?
  • A lot of that flushness is based on increasingly local fandom, not national, and while that’s OK for most of the season, it really does bollocks-up the national showcases like the World Series and the All-Star Game and stuff;
  • While still extremely popular on its own merits, baseball’s fan demographics are somewhat worrisome compared to other sports. Yes, people “come back” to baseball when they’re older, but if fewer are with it as kids in the first place, there are fewer to “come back” later;
  • While baseball will never be a kinetic thing on the level of basketball and football, it is slowing down even by its own standards with fewer balls in play, longer games and more down time/farting around time during games;
  • Less quantitatively, there is something culturally anachronistic about the overall vibe of baseball. The fascination among those inside the game and many fans with a conservative culture and a disdain of youthful exuberance, style and attitude. There are structural reasons for baseball not appealing to the young like football and basketball do and we can’t do much about a lot of that stuff, but baseball is really making it harder on itself by insisting on a code of orthodoxy that punishes and shames the Yasiel Puigs and Bryce Harpers of the world while elevating and venerating old farts with 19th century moral codes.

How severe a problem any of these things are is debatable. How severe all of them taken together are is as well. And while it’s possible to acknowledge all of these as problems, even potentially serious ones, and to still think the game is healthy, it is also the case that anyone who cares about an institution should care about improving it and addressing its faults, even if everything is going well in general.  This is where Verducci is coming from here, and I agree with a great deal of what he says in the part of his essay in which he critiques the state of the game.

The second part is a bit more fun and is likely to be the focus of more talk. In it Verducci proposes some changes to the game to address the problems he identifies. Some are great ideas. For example, he talks about instituting The Summer Game. Sort of baseball’s answer to The Winter Classic in hockey, and I think it’d be terrific:

It makes no sense that in one of the few windows when baseball has the sports calendar to itself — the All-Star break in July — it goes dark for two nights after the All-Star Game. It needs an “event.” It should schedule one game for the Thursday after the All-Star Game, bill it as The Summer Game, and play it at an iconic American venue, such as the foothills near Mount Rushmore, the mall in Washington D.C., the Field of Dreams field in Iowa, Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y. . . . one regular season game out of 2,430 that is visually stunning, brings Major League Baseball to a place it never has been before, appeals to the “event” appetite of demanding sports viewers, and underscores baseball’s unique place in Americana.

This is fantastic.

Other ideas are not so good. Neutral-site World Series. Allowing managers to mess around with the batting order to send whoever he wants up to bat without losing players once a game. Starting hitters off with 1-1 counts. To be fair, Verducci knows some of these are never going to happen and acknowledges their flaws. He’s merely trying to get a conversation started about such things, and that’s a great idea.

I think one of the bigger things baseball needs to figure out — and how they do it I have no idea — is how to change its conservative culture, how to do better at promoting the game’s young stars and how to do better at promoting the game in general to younger fans. And how to do all of that without being gimmicky or lame.

I feel like this is hard because so much of the dynamic is dictated by baseball’s very structure. Almost everyone in baseball comes through a hierarchy. Even the big names. You do your time in the minors, where conformity and humility is drilled into you. The very socialization of a player into the game is dependent upon them learning to talk, walk and carry themselves like all those who came before. This goes for the coaches too. No one is given special treatment. In the rare cases they are, it’s head-turning. Between their education in the minors and their pre-free agency residency in the majors, it can be a decade or more before a unique personality or a true showman is able to shine through. And even then the showman is roundly criticized and given a way shorter leash if his performance falters than is someone who Plays The Game The Right Way.

Given all of that, how does a young star make the kind of splash a young basketball player or football player does? How does baseball market a cog who has every incentive to eschew a claim to uniqueness given the almost militaristic structure that produced him?

I don’t know how you crack that nut. I don’t know how one can come up through the system required to learn the skills of the game without necessarily losing that flair and that style. The rare cases that are able to bypass a long conformity-instillation process because of their talent — like Puig and Harper — had better be the absolute best right out of the chute. And even if they are, the scrutiny by their peers and the media is still pretty high. How do you sell these guys to young fans if they’re being punished for what’s so marketable about them in the first place?

I don’t have any answers to these questions. Most people don’t. But I like that Verducci has started this conversation publicly. I also like that those inside Major League Baseball — people you don’t hear from or see much of on a day-to-day basis but with whom I have some contact — are wrestling with these issues too.

Baseball is a great game. The greatest game. But so much of what makes it great is holding it up from a wider and deeper audience and could, possibly anyway, present problems for it in the future. I want baseball to always be the greatest, so I want to think about these things too. I hope you do as well. And that, as a community, perhaps we can come up with some small ideas of our own. Because, whether you believe it or not, those people in the game who are wrestling with these ideas are paying attention to folks like us.

123 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. jarathen - Jan 29, 2014 at 9:39 AM

    I would do anything to drive an hour east and take my son to see real baseball in Dyersville. Do this, baseball. Do it yesterday.

  2. thebadguyswon - Jan 29, 2014 at 9:43 AM

    In 20 years, MLB will rank 4th most popular. It won’t die, but it continues to allow the pace of game-play to crawl along at a snail’s pace. No wonder so many kids find it boring.

    • gibbyfan - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:06 AM

      Agreed !! They have to do something to to significantly increase the pace and curtail some of the endless mind numbing repetitous commercials.
      When Bob Gibson pitched many years ago he often commented that he didn’t understand all the fussing, pacing and antics both hitters and pitchers went through during anat bat. His thinking was genrally that batters spend more time in the batters box ready to hit and pitchers should get the ball and pitch……..I think his average games were like two hours long and used to be pleasure to watch

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:06 AM

      What’s it going to be behind? The NHL? The sport that has a year long lockout every 3-4 years because the owner’s can’t stop spending money?

      It’ll never be behind soccer, at least for another 20-30 plus years. It’s not just the lack of following in the US, it’s the inability to watch the best play the game (who play in Europe).

    • pmcenroe - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:14 AM

      A lot can happen in 20 years. Who know what possible future rule changes related to concussion prevention could do to the NFL or heck even the NHL. What if either game becomes drastically changed? There’s a lot of factors at play for all sports, just hard to imagine baseball slipping that much considering how healthy the sport is currently.

    • ctony1216 - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:28 AM

      Verducci suggested a pitch clock — an actual clock — forcing pitchers to deliver a pitch within 12 seconds when the bases are empty. That’s a great idea.

      Baseball is great to watch at the stadium but can be slow and boring to watch on TV — just the opposite of football, which is great on TV but not-so-great live (due to all the commercial breaks, halftime, etc.). Speeding up a baseball game by making pitchers pitch would help.

      • jarathen - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:52 AM

        I think you could even extend the time allowed if it were actually timed.

        So 12 seconds is pretty dang fast. Give a pitcher 15 seconds, but yes, time it, or a ball is called.

        I think an unexpected side effect would be a bit more offense, as pitchers are under more pressure to get the ball out, especially with runners on base.

      • pmcenroe - Jan 29, 2014 at 11:02 AM

        I’ve never really been in favor of having pitch clock but I’m sort of coming around on it esp. in limited use like the one you mentioned. Based on last year’s numbers it would save about 9 and a half minutes per game, now its only about 5% of the avg game time but I think it may be worth it since it could also subconsciously train pitchers speed up even with runners on.

      • The Dangerous Mabry - Jan 29, 2014 at 11:30 AM

        The idea of a pitch clock sounds great until you realize it would put pitchers in a position where they’d no longer wait for a batter to be ready for a pitch. If that’s the kind of game we end up with, I guess it’s not awful, but that’s a different game than we have today. Now, it’s a pitcher who’s ready to throw, and a batter who’s ready to hit. With a pitch clock, you’d have guys just firing pitches in whenever they pleased, with the excuse that they’re on the clock and can’t wait for the hitter. I don’t like the sound of that.

      • bh192012 - Jan 29, 2014 at 12:10 PM

        I don’t like the idea of a clock. One of the best things in baseball is that there is no clock. It’s unique. Just give the umpire discretion to call a ball or a strike against a pitcher/batter who’s wasting time. Then the umpires should be advised that if they can count to 5 and a batter or pitcher is still playing tic/tac/toe in the dirt, he should call a strike or ball.

  3. abaird2012 - Jan 29, 2014 at 9:44 AM

    Baseball may see a boost in interest at the Little League level as mothers keep their kids out of football in droves in the wake of the recent concussion revelations.

    As for the “conservative culture” … well, it seems to be working for Duck Dynasty, and given the facial hair I saw on the BoSox during the postseason, MLB seems to be willing to capitalize.

  4. chacochicken - Jan 29, 2014 at 9:49 AM

    Football is on the cusp of dealing with a generational pandemic of brain trauma. A large group of the modern NFLers are going to be diagnosed with CTE in the next 3 to 5 years. These are the athletes that were being watched by today’s new parents. I’m guessing football in general is going to lose 30% of the participating children it has now. Northwestern’s football players are leading the charge to unionize NCAA football. In 10 years it may be unrecognizable from the billion dollar sport we now. Baseball will be absorbing a share of these kids. Sure some kids played both sports but a larger percentage will focus on a safer sport and hit the camps, off season training and winter leagues. Lots of money to be made as a major league baseball player too. I think MLB is remarkably well positioned going forward to take up the departing fans and new players.

    • jarathen - Jan 29, 2014 at 9:59 AM

      I’ll be interested in seeing if people ever start to care about drugs in football as well, since they run rampant.

    • countertrey44 - Jan 29, 2014 at 12:15 PM

      I understand what you are saying, however, participation does not equal later viewership. See soccer, played by a large amount of kids (equal to football) but it doesn’t translate later in life.

      • chacochicken - Jan 29, 2014 at 12:45 PM

        Viewership will change as better athletes start migrating to other sports. Baseball has seen quite a few domestic five tool players emerge that could have been college football stars but chose baseball instead. Byron Buxton could have played football. Just think in 5 years or so would Russel Wilson have focused on baseball or went back to football?

        Soccer just isn’t a analogous situation. We don’t have a meaningful soccer tradition in the U.S. or a particularly notable professional league.

  5. historiophiliac - Jan 29, 2014 at 9:53 AM

    I don’t even understand that Summer Game thing. What?

    Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of our focus on broadening the appeal is about what takes place on the field and all that. But, one great way to improve the image is to bring more diversity to MLB and team offices — and broadcasts. Increase the diversity of the office workforce and the product they put out will shift. I think a good part of why baseball is stagnating is because it doesn’t reflect enough the multi-culturalism of our society today (off the field). Conservative old white guys like Bud (and probably his successor) aren’t doing anything to throw off the notion that baseball is old fashioned. Watching Smug Bud interact with black players reeks of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in comparison to the interactions you see between management and players in other sports.

    • jarathen - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:02 AM

      Summer Game would just be the first game of the second half, a kind of second Opening Day, and it would be in a fun place where MLB isn’t usually played. Personally, I prefer something like Omaha or Dyserville, in states that don’t get current Major League Talent, over Pasadena, which would be an embarrassment of riches, but I think baseball could probably do a better job of kicking off the second half of the season than it currently does.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:08 AM

        I don’t think there’s any point to that. If they won’t watch the All-Star game, why would they watch a random exhibition game? If they watch the All-Star game (really, Some Star game — which might be the problem), then an extra exhibition game is pointless. I’m really not in favor of a solution that just puts more work on employees.

      • jarathen - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:20 AM

        The Summer Game in my mind is a real game that counts in the standings. It’s just that two teams start the second half a day earlier and get an extra day off after their series is over.

      • Francisco (FC) - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:50 AM

        It’s not an exhibition game Historio, the game is a real MLB game. Like the Winter Classic is another official NHL game just played in a special venue. This is similar to MLB opening the season in Tokyo with the Mariners and the A’s last year.

    • seeinred87 - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:18 AM

      I believe (but am not 100% sure) he meant that, like the NHL, it would be a regular season game and count toward the standings. I think it’s a phenomenal idea. I’ve been to 2 Winter Classics (Wrigley and The Big House), and they were incredible.

      I can’t even imagine how awesome it would be in baseball

      • historiophiliac - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:20 AM

        The Winter Game has never ever inspired me to watch hockey — in fact, I clearly don’t even know what it is. And the break is supposed to give players a little rest mid-season and allow for travel so more people will want to/be able to attend the All-Star festivities. I think it’s a dumb idea that would do very little to increase baseball following. People who watch baseball would probably watch but other people will not stay home from the lake or the pool just because you move a game to Mt. Rushmore (wtf?).

      • raysfan1 - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:42 AM

        The issue of hockey’s Winter Game isn’t attracting the non-fan like you, or making things better for die-hard fans. Pretty much all marketing in sports is geared toward attracting casual fans. They are the ones who can be won over by doing something a bit different.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 29, 2014 at 11:18 AM

        Ok, try it, but I don’t think that’s the solution to baseball’s status (and I WILL say I told you so later). But, you have to get the union on board with that first. If you can’t get big numbers for the All-Star game, a jazzed up regular game won’t do anything for you either. Also, why detract from the All-Star game.

        Y’all have fun with that — and btw, completely ignore my real solution — which has actual potential.

      • seeinred87 - Jan 29, 2014 at 12:08 PM

        Just to clarify, I wasn’t lauding it as a way to draw new fans. I wasn’t even considering that really. The idea just sounds like something that I, personally, would very much enjoy watching, so I’m all for it.

        The points you make are obviously very valid; I just think it could be a lot of fun to see.

  6. dirtyharry1971 - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:01 AM

    Here is what you do to make the game better, drop 4 teams from each league. Not just any 4 but the bottom feeders so in the AL I would drop Toronto, Seattle, tampa, and Houston. I the NL I would drop Miami, Brewers, Sand Diego, and Colorado. By doing this the talent base for the other teams would be stronger, there would be less games being played that nobody cares about, I mean lets face it nobody really wants to watch a team with a .457 winning percentage. And I believe it would give a boost to the popularity of the game and just the overall health of the game would improve. You easily end up with a better product folks is what im getting at. Now I know fans of those teams will be upset, I wasn’t trying to single anyone out now im just saying this is the conclusion I can to after a lot of thought and its for the best interest of the game. I bet you would find that these teams don’t draw very well and sell the least when it comes to merchandise so it is what it is.

    • ezthinking - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:13 AM

      Single worst idea offered.

      • indaburg - Jan 29, 2014 at 5:22 PM

        S the source. When you see the nan

    • stex52 - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:15 AM

      No question that there is some talent dilution with the size of the leagues and shrinking them might make for some better baseball. But your list included the fourth and sixth largest cities in the United States, two franchises in a rapidly growing Florida, and a really huge market in Canada. No way baseball walks away from that much potential market. Even if some of those teams are no good now, they will hang on with anticipation of much larger revenues. And I can’t speak for all of them, but I know Houston is not losing money, as bad as they are.

    • ezthinking - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:19 AM

      Dumping 7.4 million in attendance in the AL and 9.3 million in the NL, yet somehow the idea ‘improves’ popularity. Colorado 10th in attendance, Toronto was 14th and Milwaukee 16th.

      Get a clue.

    • pmcenroe - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:21 AM

      “I mean lets face it nobody really wants to watch a team with a .457 winning percentage”

      Just checking, but you do know that no matter if they eliminate 8 teams or 15, someone still has to win and lose each game and that you will still end up with a similar win/loss distribution regardless of how the talent is dispersed .

    • themanytoolsofignorance - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:29 AM

      This has to be a joke. in the annals of farcical statements, this guy has really gone for it. Using this logic the league would have contracted The Pirates,The Dodgers, The Rays, The A’s, The Mets (and lord knows who else) not even 10 years ago.

      Please. Write more. Your clownish statements make me laugh.

    • canadiansportsfan77 - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:38 AM

      Well shocking you didn’t just single Toronto out but you still did make your usual statement to bash em. Beauty with the Jays is the MLB has taken a lesser popular sport in Canada and given one team for an entire nation to stand behind and support.

      The Jays represent the majority of Canadian baseball fans, and between the tv revs, merchandise, and stadium sales, they do quite alright for the game.

      You take away the Jays and the MLB most likely loses a very very large group of dedicated baseball fans and hence revenue. Baseball is very profitable in Canada.

    • raysfan1 - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:52 AM

      The contraction idiocy shows up again. First, the MLBPA will never agree to the loss of 320 major league jobs, and that is what you just proposed. Second, MLB would have to pay off those owners to give up their teams, none of which are in financial straits or even currently for sale. $8 BILLION would be a conservative estimate. Third, the loss of those teams would in turn result in lower TV revenues MLB wide as well as the lost attendance, lost merchandising, lost advertising revenue, etc, etc–again averaging $1/2-1 billion per team per year.

    • ryanrockzzz - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:53 AM

      You do realize sports are cyclical right? And that teams on the bottom now may not be the bottom feeders five years from now, so randomly picking teams to eliminate couldn’t have been come to with a lot of thought, could it?

      The talent pool is not the problem with basebal. The problem is an insanely long season, in which people don’t need to pay attention. Really, if you just paid attention starting in August, you’d be fine. Couple that with needing to watch 162 games that are usually 4 some hours long starting at 7:30 at night, and it’s just natural to shove people away who aren’t really into the sport. If you’re team is the Rockies for example, then you can stop caring in like June.

      That’s why football will always be popular in this country. It appeals to people who don’t even like the sport that much, and they find a way to make it special for the fans on a daily basis.

      Just a side note here- baseball is also insanely popular in Latin American countries and in Asia. And if baseball had any clue how to market its stars, the sport would also be better. Where’s the Lebron James of baseball? Or even the Peyton Manning?

      Also- if you WERE going to eliminate teams based on how poor they’ve played, why wouldn’t you get rid of Kansas City? They haven’t made the playoffs in forever. And actually, Tampa has made more playoff series during the last 10 years than say, someone like Atlanta, so why not just throw them in and cut their losses, allowing the rest of the teams to reap the Upton’s and that pitching.

      • jarathen - Jan 29, 2014 at 1:28 PM

        That being said, baseball’s lengthy season does help create a narrative and try to provide value to those regular games. I would appreciate a 154-game season that kept the playoffs out of November guaranteed, but I udnerstand it’s a lot of people you’d be turning away.

    • nbjays - Jan 29, 2014 at 3:07 PM

      “Not just any 4 but the bottom feeders so in the AL I would drop Toronto, Seattle, tampa, and Houston. I the NL I would drop Miami, Brewers, Sand Diego, and Colorado.”

      “I bet you would find that these teams don’t draw very well.”

      Harry, once again your profound ignorance about baseball comes shining through your obvious rabid anti-Toronto and anti-everyone-but-the-Yankees mentality.

      From the 2012 to 2013 seasons, fifteen teams experienced an increase in attendance while the other 15 experienced a decrease.

      The top 6 in increased attendance:
      Blue Jays +437K
      Dodgers +419K
      Nationals +282K
      Orioles +255K
      Reds +168K
      Pirates +165K

      The bottom 6 in increased (or top 6 in decreased) attendance:
      Marlins -633K
      Phillies -553K
      Brewers -300K
      Twins -299K
      Rangers -282K
      Yankees -263K

      In fact, since 2010, the Jays have increased attendance every year, whereas the Yankees have decreased attendance every year. In that time, yearly attendance for the Yankees has dropped by 486K, while the Jays attendance has increased by over 900K.

      But hey, if you are eliminating bottom feeders, I assume you mean those teams with the worst attendance in their league. In the AL last year, that was Tampa, Cleveland, Houston, and KC; in the NL it was the Marlins, Diamondbacks, Mets and Padres.

      So, all for getting rid of the Mets, are we?

      Facts are such pesky things…

      • Barb Caffrey - Feb 1, 2014 at 9:05 PM

        Considering the Brewers had nothing to play for in 2013 after Ryan Braun got suspended (much less the dreadful 8-22 month of May, when Braun was still eligible to play but was nursing a sore thumb), the attendance during 2013 was outstanding.

        Overall the Brewers draw well and are a fun place to play; the fans are knowledgeable and mostly are not rude, and Miller Park’s a great place to watch a baseball game.

        I echo what everyone else said about the cyclical nature of baseball, how ridiculous an idea it is to contract teams that did poorly the year before — you do know, don’t you, that Boston would’ve been contracted in 2012 due to its dreadful performance if that was the sole criterion, and never would’ve had a chance to go to the World Series, much less win it?

      • Barb Caffrey - Feb 1, 2014 at 9:06 PM

        BTW, nbjays, I agree with you. Somehow my comment posted in the wrong place . . . was disagreeing with the really terrible argument above, _not you_. (Sorry.)

    • doctorofsmuganomics - Jan 29, 2014 at 5:53 PM

      I hope you get kicked in the throat by Mark Buehrle’s pit bull

  7. happytwinsfan - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:02 AM

    i don’t think discouraging players from gratuitously embarrassing their opponent is a “19th century” value to be discarded. i think it shows a level of maturity that no other sport can match.

    sometimes it is taken too far or in the wrong way. i’ve read that the twins having been getting on byron buxton for hitting too many triples. they’re telling him that a triple is a “showoff double”. i guess a double is a “showoff single”. the players should be encouraged to use their athleticism to its fullest extent even if the result embarrasses their opponent. show off doubles yes, end zone dances and trash talk no.

    • chacochicken - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:07 AM

      I’m pretty sure the Buxton thing was a joke.

      • happytwinsfan - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:14 AM

        no, i’m not kidding. check out the story

        http://www.twinkietown.com/2013/8/2/4579530/twins-warn-buxton-triples-are-showing-off

      • happytwinsfan - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:18 AM

        i just re read it. you’re right. i feel dumb.

      • chacochicken - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:20 AM

        It is alright. I can’t imagine one’s brain working efficiently when the temperature is under -20.

  8. 14thinningstretch - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:05 AM

    I think it might be selling Puig, Harper, Fernandez, and others short to say that their personality is their most marketable attribute. I would think that “they are really good at baseball” is enough to sell them on; the league just needs to do a way better job at it.

    The biggest problem I see for baseball in the future is the slowing pace of games. I think enforcing pitch clock limits and perhaps limiting the number of times a batter can step out during an at bat would help tremendously. Maybe down the road MLB could try a public education campaign to teach managers that you don’t always need to switch to a left-handed pitcher against a left-handed batter.

  9. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:09 AM

    While financially flush, the game is dependent on TV money to a huge degree and what happens if something radical happens in the structure of the TV business?

    One might argue that MLB is well ahead of other sports in this venue, because of MLBAM. While blackouts suck for all sports, living in NC I can watch the Yankees on any device as long as I have an internet connection. Other sports like the NFL and NBA packages I need to have specific cable/satellite hookups to watch them, AND I have blackout restrictions.

  10. ezthinking - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:11 AM

    “the foothills near Mount Rushmore”

    Come to Rapid City, SD. We can offer up Floyd Fitzgerald Stadium where American Legion Post 22 plays baseball.

    http://www.post22baseball.com/

    P.S. Our varsity players have worn ‘hardhats’ for about 40 years.

  11. voteforno6 - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:16 AM

    I’m not sure what the problems are with Puig or Harper. It seems like the narrative is more media-driven with them, and people react to that rather than the reality of what they’re doing. I haven’t seen anything that they do that is all that different from players in the past. I think it has more to do with people around baseball being uncomfortable with the promotion of individual players.

    As for the pace of the game, I think someone did a study to compare a game from the sixties to one from today, and they found that the biggest different was the time between pitches. Essentially, the batters step out of the box a lot more now than they did in the past. Even if scoring stays the same, just having quicker at bats would improve the pace of baseball, I think.

  12. themanytoolsofignorance - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:26 AM

    Baseball has a trenchant problem that none of the other sports has. Its got a proper drug testing policy with real penalties and an emerging overwhelming culture of PEDs intolerance. This last so much so that players act against their own collective self interest. It is the last part of that that is the real problem. None of the other big sports does this. The net effect has players at pains to appear as normal as possible for to be seen as a freak athlete and called brash is to be suspected immediately of PEDs. It is only a matter of time before Harper, Puig, Trout, Stanton and numerous others come in for the same treatment that Bagwell, Piazza, Biggio, Tramell, and others get. You don’t see this happening to football, hockey, or basketball players.

    • adamst12 - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:57 AM

      This.

      Baseball has taken it’s biggest stars and most popular personalities and turned them into lepers. Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, Clemens, A-Rod, Manny Ramirez were all fun to watch. The chase to break Maris’s record captivated fans each summer for about a decade. Now it’s a wonder if someone hits 50 HR. And as noted rather than be awed by the performance, we wonder if the player is clean.

      MLB is doing a “Face of MLB” contest right now. What’s stunning is there isn’t a player, or set of players, who are the face of MLB. If you were serious about the face of MLB, you’d have to say Alex Rodriguez :(

      • themanytoolsofignorance - Jan 29, 2014 at 11:40 AM

        Its a shame. The games most compelling personalities. Its best talents.

        I was recently chatting with a disgruntled customer and we wound up discussing baseball when I made a “hit one into the cove” quip. He instantly, enthusiastically launched into a description of Barry Bonds clobbering baseballs. He went from irritated owner of one of our products (next time sir, don’t drop the thing. Its not rated to be used like a football) to baseball fan and student of the game.

        If you want younger fans, you need more Bonds, McGwire, Clemens, Sosa, and Manny. Trout and Harper need to be bigger deals. Puig needs to stop getting carted off in handcuffs and start being seen as a rising young star. These guys need the personality to match, too. If that means they showboat a homer, then that’s what they do. And if Brian McCann doesn’t like it, he can try picking a fight with one of them. That too would draw fans.

  13. ctony1216 - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:41 AM

    One problem of the future is a the ability of a family of four to pay for a day at the ballpark. Baseball needs fans to experience live games (because the TV experience sucks) — and if you don’t have that shared experience as a youngster — maybe you don’t watch on TV as an adult, or go to games with your kids as a parent.

    Making admission affordable to families is crucial . Now that teams are raking in cable money they could and should lower ticket prices — or somehow encourage pricing that makes it possible for families, college kids, young adults, etc., to afford to see more than one or two games a year.

    I’m old enough to remember general admission and bleacher seats at Yankee Stadium costing $1.50, then $4.50, about the same price as a movie ticket at the time. If baseball made sure that they had plenty of decent seats available that cost about the same as the price of movie ticket, they’d ensure that a wide demographic could see their games.

    • ezthinking - Jan 29, 2014 at 12:32 PM

      ^^^ What a horrible argument. New York City movie prices start at $15 and head up from there, especially on weekends. Bleacher seats at Yankee stadium? Starting at $15. Head to Stubhub or find a friend and get them for less.

      1 1/2 hours of a movie you can own for $15 or $1 at Red Box for a night, or an event the kid will remember for a lifetime.

      Choose wisely.

      If you don’t go because of the price, please God tell me you aren’t going to a movie. These same movies that pay actors $20 million for 30 days ‘work.’

      • ctony1216 - Jan 29, 2014 at 1:19 PM

        StubHub is selling tickets to a Yankees-Angels game on a Saturday in April for the following prices, rounded to the nearest dollar:
        Grandstand Outfield (Sec. 431): $20 — 5 tickets available, not exactly great seats.
        A bunch of Bleacher Seats with obstructed view: $20-$25 range.
        Bleacher Seats, not obstructed view: $25 and up.

        Those are some of the least desirable tickets, and none as low as the price of a movie. And this doesn’t include parking/transportation. The cheapest tickets to the Yankees-Red Sox weekend series start at $45 each.

        So, yeah, if you want to go to the least desirable games, and sit in the least desirable seats, you might find 4 in the $20-$25 range. Or, you can do something else with your time.

      • ctony1216 - Jan 29, 2014 at 1:31 PM

        By the way, movie ticket sales have been declining fairly regularly since 2002, so maybe even movie prices have become too high a benchmark.

      • ezthinking - Jan 29, 2014 at 3:30 PM

        Well Astros-Yankees is going for under face value right now with all the fees included.

        And I suppose you don’t have to park for a movie. (P.S. you brought up the movie price deal).

        Games are affordable if you want them to be. Friends, work, specials, all drive the price down. You can get there if you really want to. Figure it out.

        My guess is you don’t really go to games anyway and this is just a worn-over argument you thought might get some traction.

      • ctony1216 - Jan 29, 2014 at 4:54 PM

        Well, your guess is wrong. I’ve been going to baseball games, taking friends and family to games, for decades. Now I pay to go to far fewer games. And given the declining attendance at Yankee Stadium, declining ratings of Yankees baseball, I’d say I’m not the only one finding other, less expensive options.

        The only people I know who argue that ticket prices at Yankee Stadium are a good value are people trying to re-sell their tickets.

        You also have to pay to watch Yankees games on TV too. So there are generations of kids who won’t watch Yankees baseball on TV or at the Stadium because, for their families, it’s prohibitively expensive. Long term, that’s a bad trend.

      • ctony1216 - Jan 29, 2014 at 7:37 PM

        By the way, those “below-market Astros tickets” available in August are midweek games in obstructed view bleacher seats, and there are only 2 of them.

  14. xdj511 - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    Having a game on the “field of dreams” field would be cool. The only thing about the “neutral site” suggestions is that the capacity would be almost nothing compared to a major league stadium. The upside to the NHL outdoor games is that instead of the 20K or so fans they could fit into an arena, they can put anywhere from 50K to 100K fans at a baseball or football stadium. So while I like the idea, it’s not going to make sense for MLB financially.

  15. js20011041 - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:46 AM

    I think that the two biggest threats are the pace of the game and that much of the action (strikeouts) isn’t much action at all. The pace of the game is an easy fix. Get on the umpires to force batters to stay in the box and pitchers to keep the game moving. Assigning balls or strikes to offenders, I believe, is already on the books.

    The harder problem to fix is the ever increasing strikeout rate. Part of this is that I’m not sure anyone knows what’s causing it. Most likely it’s a confluence of several factors. Pitchers are throwing harder than ever. Hitter’s don’t cut down on their swings, playing only for power. Part of the problem may very well be that we’re seeing an unusually high number of elite arms at this time. I’m not sure how you fix it, but I do think it’s a real problem. Watching strikeout after strikeout after strikeout is going to make it very hard to attract new fans.

    • themanytoolsofignorance - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:57 AM

      I think the ever moving strike zone victimizes the batter more than the pitcher. Of the 3 people in the area of home plate the person least likely to have the reflexes, eyesight, & experience of hitting a pitched ball, is the umpire.

      At this point, giving the umpire some access to technology wouldn’t be a bad idea.

  16. wonkypenguin - Jan 29, 2014 at 10:51 AM

    I grew up in NE Iowa so I am 100% in favor of Dyersville hosting a “Summer Game” from a selfish standpoint. I also feel the need, though, to weigh in with the fact that I enjoy the length of games. Sure, it’s fun that my NBA games are done in under 2.5 hours. But baseball needs to be long, lazy, and drawn out for me – it’s the nature of having an attention span and nowhere to go.

    Has anyone done a comparison between the average MLB game and the average NFL game? Not the WSJ article about the amount of time something is actually happening in either game. Just the general length. I would presume football has to average 3-3.25 hours per game and MLB has to be close to that (if you throw out Yankees/Red Sox games…) Just a curiosity.

  17. roadryder - Jan 29, 2014 at 11:01 AM

    I’m not a Verducci fan (I consider the “Verducci effect” to be the sense of nausea I experience whenever I hear his name) but he does have some suggestions that I think should be implemented yesterday:

    install (and enforce) a pitch clock
    limit pitching changes
    limit mound conferences (including visits by the catcher)

    I’m not sure I agree with all of his proposed implementations for these things but he’s got the right idea. I would propose limiting the number of pitchers that can be carried on a roster. These 11- and 12-man pitching staffs are just way too much and give managers way too much room for playing match up games with their relievers and slowing down the game. I think the game would be better off with less specialization in the bullpen. If that leads to more offense because pitchers need to dial back their stuff to last longer and face more guys who they don’t have good platoon splits against – well, so much the better.

    • ezthinking - Jan 29, 2014 at 12:34 PM

      If your mind can’t stay in the game, go watch WWE.

      • roadryder - Jan 29, 2014 at 1:28 PM

        My mind can stay in the game just fine dickhead. If you don’t have anything intelligent to say – and from your “comment” it doesn’t appear that you do or that “intelligence” is a concept that’s even vaguely familiar to you – then go do something useful like choking on your on vomit.

      • madhatternalice - Jan 29, 2014 at 2:21 PM

        http://bit.ly/1bg5BIQ

  18. thomas844 - Jan 29, 2014 at 11:02 AM

    The Summer Game sounds like an amazing idea. It sounds kind of like what they are doing now with the regular season’s first game being in Sydney, but I think having The Summer Game at an “iconic American venue” smack dab in the middle of July makes it all the more special. Perhaps they could even make special uniforms for that particular game depending on where it is played.

  19. hisgirlgotburrelled - Jan 29, 2014 at 11:05 AM

    One thing I think MLB does very poorly is opening day. Last year opening day was one game on a Sunday night, Houston vs Texas. How many people watched, knowing Houston was going to be an awful team? Then day 2 of opening day, and there were only 12 games. We still have 4 teams that haven’t played in the first 2 days of the season starting. Day 3, surely this is the day every team plays, right? Wrong. It takes 4 days until you get a full slate of games. By now the luster of opening day is all but gone, and it’s Wednesday.

    Then there’s the Japan series. I don’t get it. There’s no shortage of baseball popularity in Japan. So let’s send 2 teams over there for a couple games, make them come back, wait a few days, mix in an exhibition game in the middle, then start their season again. How many fans in the US got to watch those games in Japan??

    Start the season on Sunday. Everyone plays. Stagger starts of games so you have at least 4 different times for first pitches… Make something out of opening day… Maybe instead of having the Thursday game after the All Star break, you do one of the opening day games at an historical or different location, like the 8pm nationally televised game.

    • spudchukar - Jan 29, 2014 at 12:29 PM

      But keep the bunting.

  20. chip56 - Jan 29, 2014 at 11:09 AM

    My two favorite sports are baseball and hockey because of the skill level involved. If the hardest thing in sports is to hit a round ball that is changing direction and moving at 90 mph with a round bat, then the second hardest thing is to move a piece of frozen rubber, avoid being hit by other players and do it all on ice skates while wearing 15 lbs of equipment.

    It’s harder to “sell” young stars in baseball than it is in the NFL because of how regional the sport is. Mike Trout is a fantastic ball player and, from all evidence, a great kid, but I’m not staying up until 1:00 am in New York to watch the Angels play the Astros in July. That said, if I’m buying Yankee tickets I might opt to get games against the Angels so I can see Trout, just as when I was a kid we used to get games against the Mariners to watch Griffey.

    I don’t think that the sport needs more gimmicks (starting hitters with a 1-1 count, managers arm wrestling for the right to hit first or last) just play the games. If television fails it fails and they’ll find a new medium.

  21. spudchukar - Jan 29, 2014 at 11:27 AM

    The longer the games the more commercials. Good luck changing that.

    • 18thstreet - Jan 29, 2014 at 1:10 PM

      The time between pitches does not allow for more commercials. Thus, there’s a good reason to think that it’s a change than can be made.

      No one goes to commercial when batters step out of the batters’ box or when catchers visit the mound. Me, I’d ban all mound visits except by the trainer to check on an injury. Everything else can be deal with by (a) catchers using fingers to call for a pitch and (b) managers using a phone for pitching changes. If the pitcher is having a problem, he and his team shouldn’t be able to stall until the team figures out a solution. Play ball.

      • spudchukar - Jan 29, 2014 at 1:21 PM

        Hard for me to see how the game will be significantly shortened by accelerating time between pitches.

        If you really want to shorten games, enlarge parks.

        And just one man’s opinion but, no baseball game has ever been too long, nor boring to this fan.

      • 18thstreet - Jan 29, 2014 at 2:10 PM

        Assume there’s an extra 5 seconds between pitches that can be shaved away, and that’s conservative. I mean, Josh Beckett takes roughly 45 minutes between pitches, but he’s been hurt so people forget that. And assume there’s 300 pitches in a baseball game to make the math easy.

        300 pitches times 5 seconds per pitch is 1500 seconds, also known as 25 minutes.

        You wouldn’t miss it. Trust me — I’ve seen Nomar adjust his batting gloves. It’s not that interesting.

      • spudchukar - Jan 29, 2014 at 2:13 PM

        An attire adjusting school that Skip Schumaker must have attended.

  22. cohnjusack - Jan 29, 2014 at 11:40 AM

    Judging by the usual top movies at the box office, we can deduce that America likes it’s entertainment loud and stupid. Here are some suggestions to put it back on top.

    1. Have the baseball transform into a f**king robot. America seems to love that.
    2. Have more things explode. There doesn’t have to be a reason, just some random explosions for no discernible reason.
    3. America loves sex, but the sport has lacked a sexual icon since Willie “Sweet Nips” McGee retired. Fix that.

    • themanytoolsofignorance - Jan 29, 2014 at 11:59 AM

      “Sweet Nips”??

      I think I have a front runner for the name of my fantasy team

    • spudchukar - Jan 29, 2014 at 12:33 PM

      Well done Cohn. An entire satirical post on the “sprucing” up of the game hollywood style would be downright hilarious.

    • nbjays - Jan 29, 2014 at 9:18 PM

      Random explosions for no apparent reason? Sounds like we need to put the Mythbusters in charge of on-field entertainment.

  23. anxovies - Jan 29, 2014 at 11:49 AM

    After watching the two-hour program about concussions in high school and college football and the NFL on Frontline last night, it might be football that is in trouble. There are things that MLB can fix without changing the basic nature of the game but the kind of plays that cause CTE are fundamental to football.

    • jarathen - Jan 29, 2014 at 12:03 PM

      I will be interested to see how parents react. I feel like the voices of concern are like those who dislike the name of the Washinton Football Team. We’re vocal, and we’re concerned, but there is a massive silent majority that ultimately doesn’t care.

      Football players are modern gladiators, and I think most fans are okay with them paying the physical price the game so aggressively takes.

  24. Francisco (FC) - Jan 29, 2014 at 12:19 PM

    From Tom’s Article:

    (You can add performance-enhancing drugs to this shift in sporting values, too. Since 2006, the NFL has had 172 percent more PED suspensions than baseball, 87-32, and yet baseball, with the far better testing program, is mentioned far more often as the sport with the drug “problem.”)

    I get where he’s coming from, but because roster sizes are different (NFL teams carry what? 55 players? vs 25 by MLB teams?) I think just the absolute number of suspensions is not a good comparison. I would like to see instead the % of players suspended vs the player pool. Also does Tom’s comparison include the minor leagues? I’m not clear on that.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 29, 2014 at 12:44 PM

      It’s a lot closer than that. The NFL gameday roster is 43 players, with something like 6-8 in reserve that can practice but aren’t eligible on the day of the game. The MLB JDA is subjected to a team’s 40 man roster* and players can be tested at any time. I don’t know if the NFL reserve players are subject to testing though.

      BTW Verducci’s #’s on the NFL are wrong. Since ’06, there have been 89 suspensions per this list(1); however, the list doesn’t differentiate between PED suspensions and drugs of abuse suspensions (alcohol/cocaine/weed/etc). The number is still higher than MLB, but it’s not as drastic as he’s making it seem.

      * – I used the 40 man roster because these players aren’t tested for weed, while the NFL does. The remaining MiLB players are also tested which significantly increases the MLB testing population.

      1 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_players_and_coaches_suspended_by_the_NFL

  25. countertrey44 - Jan 29, 2014 at 12:19 PM

    A salary cap would be huge. Most years fans of KC, Pittsburg, Miami, Baltimore, TOronto, San Diego, and numerous other teams are disinterested by Memorial Day. I understand that small-market teams make it occasionally, its different when you KNOW that your team (Boston, NY LA, etc.) will be in the hunt each year and hope to get lucky knowing that your window will be a year or two. I don’t think it will ever happen, but I think it will have a large effect on the fan base.

    • ezthinking - Jan 29, 2014 at 12:47 PM

      Painly clueless about baseball aren’t you?

      The money is still there. Salary caps are for the owners profit, not for competitive play. Caps cause greater player movement for the benefit of who? NY, Bos and LA.

      Get a clue.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 29, 2014 at 12:47 PM

      Boston has made the playoffs once in the last four years, the Mets haven’t been above .500 since ’08, Miami has more titles since it’s inception than most of the teams in the league…

      All a cap does is put more money in the owner’s pockets. If Revenues = X, and Costs = Y, leaving Profit Z, when you reduce Y and leave X the same, Z goes up. Why should the owners get a larger slice of the pie?

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