We here at MojoFiction recently thought that maybe we should stop referring to ourselves in the plural. But don’t count on it. We have lots of thoughts, most often after a beer or two. Guess how often those come to fruition?
Anyway, let’s talk baseball.
Ah, baseball. America’s summer sport. We have loved baseball ever since we realized we were no good at it and, therefore, might enjoy it more as a spectator. We were right because it turns out you can’t wolf down a Maxwell Street Polish Sausage and nachos and play baseball at the same time (thanks a lot Red Sox), which was a prerequisite for us to play the game. So we watch and eat instead. But lately the staff at MojoFiction has heard grumblings about baseball’s myriad issues, ranging from the length of games to the actual excitement they provide to the television ratings that hang over MLB’s head like grapes on a vine too high.
So, how to fix baseball? To be clear, when we say “fix,” we are not talking about gambling or neutering (maybe neutering, we’ll see). We’re talking about Wrigley Field. Yeah, you knew we were going there. But more on that at the end.
First, we have to ask ourselves, what is Major League Baseball? And, more importantly, what does it want to be?
BASEBALL IS A LEISURE GAME
According to a little-known document recently put on display in Cooperstown, the Mayan’s once played a version of baseball and, in fact, the Mayan word for baseball literally means “That sport that even our out-of-shape uncle Toby can play because he’s a pitcher in the American League.” Baseball has been considered America’s pastime because it was truly a game for everyday people and still is. Kids played it after school and during the summer instead of video games. Adults in Chicago still play softball in the parks along the lakefront. Baseball is a game you get out of the house for and go to the park. People used to embrace leisure time and baseball is a leisure game. It’s why people like the “old ballparks” so much. It’s not nostalgia. It’s a getaway. It’s simplicity. It’s Zen. But we seem to think we don’t have leisure time anymore, and so we don’t know how to deal with a leisure game.
BASEBALL WANTS TO BE FAST AND EXCITING
So, what does baseball want to be? Football.
MLB sees the dollar signs that come with big television contracts and running their own cable TV channels. They see the glitz and the glamor and theme music sung by country stars. But baseball has 162 games every season. The anticipation just isn’t there through the dog days. On the other hand, go out to the game and suddenly watching the whole thing doesn’t seem like such a chore. Because of this, baseball, in its current incarnation, can’t be football. The excitement waxes and wanes and the television lure isn’t there.
Here’s another problem, of course. Player salaries. As salaries go up, so do ticket prices. As ticket prices go up, people are less inclined to go to the ballpark, which is where baseball needs them to be if they can’t generate television excitement. Market conditions in America’s current economy means teams need to seriously consider how much they’re doling out to players.
How can baseball fix these issues?
It they don’t want it to be a leisure game anymore, we think there are two things that would solve a lot of problems right away and speed up games:
1. No visits to the pitcher’s mound unless the manager attends (and keep the rules about managers attending mound meetings). Think about the time saved by having no more catchers walking to the mound three times during one pitching sequence.
2. A foul ball for strike 3 is a strikeout. Or, if strike 3 was a foul ball, they get one more (another foul is a strikeout). This is beneficial in two ways. First, it speeds up the game. Second, it cuts down on pitch counts, which may help save pitching arms over the long season.
Now the game is faster and you didn’t have to eliminate innings.
Here’s a few other fixes:
Kill replay. Keep it for the playoffs.
Want to expand the playoffs? Cut games from the regular season. Like about 30 of them.
IF BASEBALL DOESN’T WANT TO BE THE NFL…
What if you want to keep baseball the same leisure game that it is?
Make people interested in coming to the ballpark. Wrigley field may have obstructed views, but even the farthest reaches of the upper deck still feel like they are right on top of the ball game. That’s just good design. And stop building stadiums out by the interstate where you can only drive to the game and have to suffer through an hour-long wait to exit the parking lot.
Contract. A few teams in Florida could stand to go (sorry Florida). This would allow the scheduling of more games within divisions, which are more meaningful. The talent pool would also look better for the remaining teams.
Stop paying players 10-year/$250-million-dollar contracts and make ticket prices attractive again. MLB complains that youth doesn’t care about baseball. Well, if families can’t afford to take their kids to the games, the youth will go to the local basketball court instead. Let’s face it, basketball is the people’s game right now. It may not be a pastime, but anyone can play at their local park or Y or whatever.
We’ve heard that MLB is setting up a committee in the off-season to figure out how to fix their sport and make it prominent again in the public eye. It’s about time. But if they don’t first ask themselves what they want to be, if all they do is say, “How can we make more money?” they’ll never figure it out.
And now a word about Wrigley Field. (Read at your own risk)
We here at MojoFiction are just fine with the proposed Wrigley renovations. They are long overdue. However, we are on the “no giant television scoreboard” bandwagon. It goes back to what baseball is. Without getting into the whole maximizing revenue thing (which we’d be fine with if the Cubs would use some of that revenue to lower ticket prices), as a fan we just want to say that if we wanted to watch TV, we’d stay home. We don’t need to see a TV at the ballpark. It distracts from the game. If the scoreboard actually draws paying customers to the park, then more power to them. But we don’t think a scoreboard will sell one more ticket, except maybe in that first year when people are curious.
On the other hand, if they want baseball to be more like the NFL, more like a video game, with strobing lights and flashing graphics, if that’s their vision, then the scoreboard will fit right in. But they better do everything else to make baseball fit the new vision. Otherwise, they just have a distracting giant TV.