Apparently the Rob Manfred wants games to be shorter and more action packed so he’s proposed some ideas. The MLBPA shot them down because they don’t appear likely to work and could well be disruptive to players. So Manfred went on the warpath…and now the two sides are at each others throats.
In my opinion, and the players seem to agree, the ideas put forth will not “increase action” and “shorten the length of games.” They might do one but will not do the other. For example:
1. MLB wants a pitch clock – this seems smart on the surface but when you realize that a large percentage of Major League pitchers already pitch at the expected pace then how much time are you actually saving? Maybe a few minutes per game? Maybe.
2. MLB wants to limit pitching changes – okay, this one might save 4-5 minutes per game but it does nothing to improve the action or quality of product. Teams will simply adjust, specialist relievers will no longer have much value (mostly those crafty lefties who seem to last forever), and that’ll be that.
3. MLB wants to limit visits to the mound by players and coaches – again, this saves no more than a few minutes per game but late in important games sometimes those visits are critical. Infield defensive strategy is set, pitchers are calmed, etc. Just like the pitch clock, you might save a few minutes. I’d argue it’s not worth it.
*** Add up all the minutes saved so far and we’re talking maybe 12 minutes saved per game without improving the on-field product. Waste of time. ***
4. MLB wants to bring up the bottom of the strike zone – this will increase action, hitters will put more balls in play (important because MLB has been setting new strikeout records every year lately and K’s are up almost 40% since the early 80’s) but more contact means more hits, more hits means more runs and more runs means longer games.
By the way, this erases a chunk of the time “saved” with the first three initiatives.
The idea, according to the Commish, is that by doing these things they’ll attract new fans. Now, I think that’s just stupid. People who aren’t watching baseball now will not start watching just because games are shorter or have half a dozen more balls put into play than there are now.
That’s like selling someone on a movie they don’t like by telling them you’re going to show them a shorter version of it with two more explosions and a racy scene thrown in. They’re still not gonna like the movie.
Or maybe you have a friend that doesn’t like lasagna and you try to sell them on eating lasagna by cutting them a smaller piece and putting a meatball on top. They’re still not going to like the lasagna.
So here are ideas that will make the game better, maybe shorten them a bit and also grow the game with new fans the only way you really can…
1. Cut :30 from every commercial break and put those advertisements on-screen during game action (or with announcers reading the copy live). This saves 9-10 minutes a game off the top, gives advertisers a premium return because people won’t flip channels and miss the commercial that airs in-game (maybe do it like soccer does it?) and it doesn’t disrupt anything important in terms of how the game is played or managed. Same amount of action, less time.
2. Change the instant replay system – take it out of the hands of managers and umpires, give all authority on replay to someone (an umpire?) in a studio in New York or at the ballpark up in the press box. This takes out the dumb challenges (and the pauses in action while a manager holds up his hand so his staff can check the replay before he actually challenges), it takes out the ridiculous system where umpires go over to some old WWII radio kit so they can talk to New York and it keeps arguments from happening (because the replay official is not on the field). Saves at least a few minutes per game on average, I’d bet.
3. Raise the bottom of the strike zone two inches – I like this proposal. Too many damn whiffs. Pitchers throwing harder than ever, bullpens are deeper than ever and hitters are always swinging for the fences. A little more contact would take longer but we’re saving time on my other two proposals so that’s okay. I’m giving MLB what they say they want – more action in less time.
4. Multiply the money MLB spends on youth baseball programs across the country by a factor of 10. The only way to consistently create new generations of fans is to get them into the game when they’re kids. MLB already spends money in this area but they need to do more in the inner city and in any other areas that aren’t currently generating a lot of fans for the long term. Take whatever is being spent now, multiply it by 10 and count it as an investment in the future. More kids playing in areas where they’re not currently playing the game means more adults watching in 10-20 years. Eliminate the financial restrictions that some kids face. They have to do more than just building some fields. Heck, I’d even explore starting free fantasy leagues for kids only with fun prizes for them to win (team gear, autographed memorabilia, etc.).
Those four ideas streamline some action, improve the game short term and set it up to grow long term.
So why is the game’s leadership stuck on things that won’t have the desired effect long term?
I have to believe that there are tons of other creative, meaningful ideas out there somewhere in the baseball universe.