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Strike Three: Baseball Is Dead

CJ Kelly is a longtime baseball fan who loves the history of the sport.

Pete Rose with the Phillies in 1979.

Pete Rose with the Phillies in 1979.

Thurman Munson

Thurman Munson

Change is inevitable. That cannot be argued. The question is whether the forces of change make something better, which takes time to assess. Over the past 20 years, Major League Baseball has moved from a game of movement and strategy to a static contest of boredom only interrupted by the occasional home run and even rarer base hit. Don Mattingly, Marlins' manager, had a blunt assessment during a recent interview on the state of the game. He called baseball "unwatchable sometimes...because nothing goes on." That must have sent chills up the spine of the Commissioner. Criticism is finally coming from inside the house. Why the game evolved the way it did and how to infuse it some form of excitement is finally being discussed. Before anything can be done, one needs to look where we've been.

Don Mattingly. He struck out only 444 times in over 7000 ABs.

Don Mattingly. He struck out only 444 times in over 7000 ABs.

Changing Times

In the 1989 baseball fantasy, Field of Dreams, a voice is telling Kevin Costner’s character, “Build it and they will come.” The saying has since become part of the lexicon. In some ways, the film ushered in a wave of nostalgia. Iowa became a tourist destination for baseball fanatics. Classic sports channels sprouted on cable. There has been a building boom of new retro ballparks throughout the past two decades. The parks became cash cows with ever-increasing ticket and concession prices.

It was Major League Baseball with a touch of the suburban mall and county fair: giant food courts, water slides, and various other forms of family entertainment. There were giant scoreboards that shot fireworks off into the night sky and jumbotrons designed to mesmerize the masses between innings. Bill Veeck would be proud. All that was missing was a petting zoo, giant squash competition, and a wedding show.

Baseball's future has become a fixation for MLB. The game has changed. So has the business of baseball. Gambling is now seemingly acceptable, except by the players.. But teams are now sponsored by sportsbooks and MLB primary gambling partner is the MGM Grand. As the game tries to reboot, many long for its past. Balancing the two aspects of a game so rooted in its history is priority number one for the Commissioner.

The Nostalgia Trap

Nostalgia has become hyper-monetized: Old-fashioned ads placed on outfield walls, and existing buildings incorporated into the complexes (i.e. Baltimore and San Diego). Throwback days have become yearly occurrences on the schedule with accompanying jersey sales. With apologies to Shakespeare, if what’s past is prologue, nowhere is that more true than Major League Baseball (MLB).

I’m guilty of the nostalgia trap myself. In recent years, I sat and watched Game 6 of the 1978 World Series on YouTube. What prompted me to do that? I don’t know. I was home sick from work. Maybe it was the death of Dodger pitcher Bob Welch that week. I became transfixed from the pregame to the locker room trophy presentation.

Joe Garigiola and Tony Kubek called the game while Curt Gowdy was the sideline guy (in the dugout). Gowdy was already a legend by this time and was consideed the best in the business. Can you imagine someone of Gowdy’s stature doing sideline work today? Picture someone like Jim Nantz, considered to be at the top of his profession, in a dugout asking a player, "How's the ankle?" Such was the importance of the World Series.

I remember watching the game that night with my family 37 years ago. Even my mother joined us, and she hated baseball. But it was the World Series. She would always comment to my father when Thurman Munson came to the plate, “There’s Thurm, John.” We were big fans of the Yankee captain. As I sat reliving the game, seeing him on the screen was sad. Every time he came up to bat or blocked a ball in the dirt, I kept thinking about his death 10 months later. My wife thought I was crazy. I gave her the same response she gives me when I ask why she is watching Pride and Prejudice for the 20th time: “You don’t get it.”

Attendance is currently calculated based on the number of tickets sold and not the actual number of people in the ballpark.

Attendance is currently calculated based on the number of tickets sold and not the actual number of people in the ballpark.

Growth and Stagnation

There are a million stories like mine. Half the time I can't remember what day it is, but I can tell you what the Yankee lineup was 35 years ago. Baseball was so ingrained in our culture that its popularity would affect the economy in dramatic ways. During Game 1 of the 1963 World Series, which started at 1 pm, trading volume at the New York Stock Exchange was so low, prices dropped to record lows.

During the past 20 years, overall attendance has declined slightly but not enough for it to be a crisis. The game even appears to have grown in some countries, particularly Australia and Europe. There’s a World Baseball Classic now. Even Uganda has started an increasingly successful baseball program that has won tournaments in Europe. And the cable TV packages are swelling owners’ bank accounts.

Giancarlo Stanton. At one time, one of the MLB's highest paid.

Giancarlo Stanton. At one time, one of the MLB's highest paid.

baseball-a-changing-landscape

Shifting Priorities

All that success is deceiving. Behind those numbers lay many hidden problems for Major League Baseball as a national sport. A graying fan base, increasing competition from other sports, and a general apathy brought on by a long season have all helped to shrink the sport’s following.

Changing Roles

Players get paid more, but seem to do less. Whole careers are spent as a DH. Nobody seems to care if you strike out anymore as long you can pop 40 homers. Having a high fielding percentage is considered "old school." And go ahead and ask someone to lay down a bunt; you may as well ask them to reprogram a supercomputer.

Until recently, relief pitchers could come in for one batter a game. A left-handed middle relief pitcher can work three times a week, pitch to three batters, and make a million a year. I don't begrudge anyone getting paid. But there is a tipping point for the equilibrium between input and output.

Longer Games

There's one more downside to all the pitching changes: The games are longer, much longer. A half inning late in the game could take 30–40 minutes. The average length of a game remains just over three hours. That business model cannot be sustained.

Empty Seats

Empty seats can be seen everywhere on weekday nights. Take a look at a Yankee game. The sections between first and third are vacant even on weekends because the average fan can’t afford them. The same is true of Citi Field, Dodger Stadium, Tropicana Field, and Minute Maid Park. Just name the venue. If filled, the corporate seats usually contain soulless fans that don’t care. Since official attendance is based on ticket sales, MLB is getting their revenue, but empty seats are never a good look.

An Aging Game With Aging Fans

The game’s biggest problem is its age. The average viewer on a local broadcast is over 55, and the average age of the season ticket holder is only slightly younger. Many defenders of the present state of the game would point to two issues to disprove my point: huge local TV deals and rising minor league attendance. That just proves my point further: The game is becoming regional in focus. A national apathy towards baseball is taking hold. Worst of all, kids are not playing anymore.

Since the end of the World Series last season, I have been reflecting on the state of baseball. As usual, I ask myself the same question every year: Is baseball still a vital part of the culture or just another sport?

Youth in Retreat

The baseball fields near my house lay empty on hot summer days except for the occasional Church softball games. The park that surrounds them is even devoid of kids most of the year. Flocks of doves and the occasional bald eagle circle the area. The rapids of the White River are all you can hear. The sound of a ball hitting a bat whether it be wood, aluminum and even Whiffle, that was so much a part of my childhood, is missing. You’re more likely to hear skateboards rumbling down the hill leading to the park. I can’t remember the last time I saw a kid walking anywhere with a baseball glove.

There’s still Little League and rec leagues. A team from Auburn even made the Little League World Series in 2012. That seemed to be the last gasp of the game around my area. My nephews don’t play. No interest. For others, the cost of playing is prohibitive: from tee ball through high school the “pay to play” system has become astronomical because parents use it to get into better schools and colleges. The kids have to show up at special camps in the offseason; then have to re-tryout for their travel team and high school every year. Some charge just to tryout. The personal coaching business has exploded to disgusting proportions. Baseball cards are big business now, kept in fire-proof glass cases instead of shoeboxes and sold by unscrupulous dealers who make PT Barnum look like Mother Theresa.

The spectacle of the Little League World Series as broadcast on ESPN makes me sick. If there was ever an event that signals a declining moral compass, it just might be the LLWS. Kids posing after they hit home runs, making rude gestures and then ESPN replaying the kids' errors over and over. Getting emotional during a game is fine, but it always crosses the line these days into taunting.

I don't think Carl Stotz, the man who started youth baseball in Williamsport, PA during the Great Depression, ever envisioned this disgusting corporate largesse. So when I heard recently that Little League participation was decling rapidly in Upstate New York, I had mixed feelings. I've been railing about boys not playing the sport, but maybe we're getting what we deserve. In Newburgh, NY, a city on the west bank of the Hudson River, about 60 miles north of Manhattan, only 79 kids signed up for Little League in 2015. That's down from 200 in 2009. A 60% decline in 6 years.

While not as steep, Little League participation nationally will soon face the same crisis. During the 1990s, when participation peaked, there were almost 3 million kids playing. As of April 2015, that is down to 2.4 million, with no signs of abating. One California Little League had to drop from 8 teams in the 10-12-year-old major division to 3 teams by 2015. In Corvallis, Oregon, there's been a 25% decline in kids playing. There were approximately 800 kids registered in 2008. By 2012, that was down to 600. Like landlines and ticker tape, youth baseball is fading away.

The reasons vary. Economic factors play a role. Many families have never recovered from the recession. While important, tough times never affected baseball in prior years. Choice is probably a bigger factor. Are the kids playing other sports? Well, yes and no. They’re playing organized sports, for a time. The choice to play a particular sport is made by the parents long ahead of time now. But I put a lot of focus on what kids choose to do in their free time.

Playing in pick-up games of all sorts was what I did with my free time. That’s how I learned about life. Picking teams, negotiating over balls and strikes, as well as outs. These were life skills. The structure of the game facilitated that process. I don’t see kids doing that anymore and it plays into the greater narrative about the changing sports landscape. Everything costs more, schedules are tighter and neighborhoods are scattered. Within a two-mile area in my old neighborhood in the Bronx, there had to be 40,000 residents along with three elementary schools, two junior high schools and city parks everywhere. Catholic areas with lots of kids. Playing nine on nine was never a problem. And lots of African American kids playing as well.

Savior of the game: Babe Ruth as a Yankee in the early '20s. In the wake of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, Ruth's exploits kept fans coming out to the park.

Savior of the game: Babe Ruth as a Yankee in the early '20s. In the wake of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, Ruth's exploits kept fans coming out to the park.

The Paradox

I’m still trying to figure out why this still bothers me. Similar to my own Catholicism, I’m a lapsed baseball fan. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made jokes about the Church, but as soon as someone from outside the church attacks it, I attack them. It’s a knee-jerk reaction. And I’m the same way with baseball. I’ve had foreign friends and even some Americans make fun of the game. I get furious. So I’m a man in the middle. In a weird paradox, I am both pulling away from the game and longing for it.

I don’t consider myself “old school.” Over the past 20 years I’ve become so much of a fan of the English Premier League that I consider it my second favorite spectator sport behind the NFL. The World Cup is a far better event than even the Olympics. I’ve embraced modern technology. I’m on all the social media sites, have a blog, a website, and text with my family and friends constantly. At least I think that I seek opportunities to grow and change. In today’s competitive environment, one has no choice. Even as I kid, I played street soccer with my friends, which was highly unusual for the time.

Still, there is something about the diminution of baseball within our culture that makes me sad. I speak to guys in their 20s who have never taped up a bat, never broke in a new glove or even worn a cup. One of my fondest memories from childhood was breaking in a new glove with 3-in-1 Oil or Vaseline, tying up with string for the night stuffed with at least one ball. It was a skill learned from your dad. If I mention Vaseline, string, and balls in the same sentence today, someone will get the wrong idea. Such is the modern mindset: everything is a double entendre. Even breaking the beak of a baseball cap is over.

Gone are the street corner arguments that raged all year over who was better at what position. Growing up there were loud disagreements over who the better Yankee catcher was: Berra or Munson. My dad loved Bill Dickey. Even Elston Howard’s name got thrown in occasionally. When I was a teenager, I remember saying to one thirty-something in my building that I thought Munson was the greatest. He was livid and nearly stained his already greasy white T-shirt with his Italian ice from Jerry’s Pizzeria. We fit the stereotype: lots of hairy guys in sweaty, white V-neck tee shirts running around the block yelling about the Yankees. There was always an ostracized Mets fan too. No one gave it a second thought. It was like a Scorcese movie.

MLB has apparently taken notice. New Commissioner Rob Manfred said recently in the Wall Street Journal that "The biggest predictor of fan avidity as an adult is whether you played the game." Participation is key. But the world has changed, very rapidly and apparently kids have moved on for good.

Stats Ahoy

Gaylord Perry

Gaylord Perry

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

Arguments about a guy's stats still occur, but now they sound like corporate meetings with enough acronyms to rival a Pentagon briefing. Plain old stats like E.R.A. and R.B.I.s have been overshadowed by the new Sabermetrics terms: VORP, WAR and UZR. They sound like characters from Star Wars. Cue the Cantina Band or Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes.

Sabermetrics is a statistical analysis of baseball, which was popularized by the Society for American Baseball Research (hence the acronym SABER). Virtually all conversations about the game have been hijacked by these stats commandos. I don’t even think many of the media know what they mean but just feel smarter spouting statistics. I have nothing against nerd culture, but sometimes it sucks the life out of an activity. The efficacy of this kind of heavy-handed statistical analysis needs to be examined. Statistical analysis is bleeding the game of action. What was once a slow trickle is now becoming a rising tide.

Sport is very much like art, ephemeral in nature. It’s in the moment, not requiring constant analysis. One wouldn’t measure the angle of a ballerina’s kicks during a solo, and then determine how the next performance will go. Maybe the choreographer would, but the audience should never be thinking that hard.

The rise of sabermetrics has also taken away many of the fundamental aspects of the game. How many leadoff men bunt to get on anymore? The drag bunt was one of the most exciting plays in baseball. Hit king Rod Carew would not last today. His unconventional batting stances changed every few years. I'm surprised that Ichiro Suzuki managed to have such a long career. If a player gets 200 hits a year for a decade, that's Hall of Fame worthy. Yet there are those who still debate his candidacy. The sabermetricians consider him marginal at best. They rank him only 629th in career on-base percentage and of course, his slugging percentage is low. He can run, get on base and play defense. And he's criticized for it. It's like going to the Sistine Chapel and saying the paint job is nice but the building is too small.

Breaking Point

Balls in Play

I challenge anyone to tell me how the game on the field is better because of the use of sabermetrics. The reliance on data has led teams to value certain skills more than others; analytics encourages power pitching and power hitting. Skills, like hitting the opposite way, drag bunts and stealing bases, are no longer valued.

As a result, the number of balls put into play has been declining rapidly. Batted balls in play is based on the following formula:

Baseballs In Play = (At Bats + Sacrifice Flies + Sacrifice Bunts) – (Home Runs + Strikeouts).

This should not be confused with the Sabermetric calculation of Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), which measures how many of an individual hitter’s balls in play go for hits, excluding home runs.

In 2009, batters put 130,217 balls in play or about 27% per game. By 2017, that was down to just over 121,400. For the 2018 season, the number was projected to be around 120,000, barely 25% per game. It surpassed that number very easily, reaching 120,698. Once again, there was another drop in 2019. That does not bode well for future fans. May as well watch batting practice, there’s more action. A 7.5% decline in less than a decade is a sharp drop.

baseball-a-changing-landscape

There are a multitude of reasons for the change. Blogger Chuck Bannon noted that while home runs have increased, strikeouts dramatically increased, by almost 25% over the past decade. It’s only getting worse. In 2018, for the first time in the history of the game, strikeouts exceeded hits. There were 41,019 hits in 2018 compared to 41,207 strikeouts. That disparity widened in 2019, as there were 42,823 strikeouts compared to 42,039 hits. Those concerned about the game saw this coming and the numbers are startling:

baseball-a-changing-landscape

The strikeout issue has the Commissioner concerned. Fears that there is a correlation between the lack of action and attendance may have some foundation. For the first time in 15 years, total attendance dropped below 70 million; 17 teams experienced a decline in 2018. MLB blames much of that on historically bad weather, particularly in April. But with the average game time still over three hours, fans did not want to chance a long night.

Solutions might be hard to find. Pace of play initiatives were introduced in 2018 such as limiting mound visits and a faster replay process. There is talk of banning the shift, pitch clocks and limiting pitching changes. However, the new power paradigm has become ingrained even in the minors. Any changes will be fought by the players’ union. But if TV ratings and attendance keep slipping, change will be inevitable.

Holding Steady: Runs Scored

One area that has remained relatively consistent is runs scored. There have been some large dips on an odd year or so, but the changes appear to be statistically minor. Like everything, there are multitude of reasons for this phenomena. In 2009, a total of 22,419 runs were scored, with a league average of 4.61. In 2019, 23,467 runs scored with a runs per game average of 4.83. Despite the dramatic rise in strikeouts and drop in balls in play, the increase in home runs has evened things out a bit. Either way, there is a stat upon which we can build.

A ray of hope

A ray of hope

Room for the Unconventional

Is there no room in the game anymore for slap hitters who are great defensive players as well? Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese, Billy Martin, Bucky Dent, Brian Doyle, Freddie Patek and Bernie Carbo would have no place in the game if sabermetrics had come along earlier in the 20th century. The oddball and the lesser talented always had a home in America's pastime. No more thanks to the madness that is sabermetrics.

I would even make the connection between the rise of steroids in the 1980s and 90s with the increase in statistical analysis of the game. Although I'm not particularly bothered by PEDs in general, but it is representative of a greater trend which trickles down to the youth leagues. No longer could the undersized second baseman follow his dream and work his way into the major leagues. Now he has to muscle up and make sure his OPS is good enough. When you have to look like a wrestler from the WWE to play first base, there's a problem.

Then there is the classic case of Pete Rose. He was a first ballot Hall of Famer if there ever was one. One of my idols as a kid, I watched him at Shea Stadium many times, even during his famous hit streak. The streak captivated a nation. No player wanted to win more. But how do you quantify a guy like Rose in today's metrics? You really can't. Using one of sabermetrics most famous measurements, Wins Against Replacement (WAR), his 1980 season with the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies would be a statistical flop. A horrible -0.4. Anyone who watched Rose that year and in the Series, knows that his contribution to that team was immeasurable. There should always be a place in the game for a guy like Rose. Hopefully, his banishment will end soon.

And just a side note, albeit a snarky one: one of the leading proponents of Sabremetrics, Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane, does not have a World Series ring. The guy even got a book written about him, Moneyball, which was made into a movie of the same name. I have not read the book or seen the movie. I’ll wait for the sequel: Goose Egg.

What's happened to baseball mirrors what has happened to the American worker in many ways: they have become numbers. Once the sport is reduced to a spreadsheet, it loses its soul. There are now dire predictions that within a decade 30% of the American workforce will lose their jobs due to automation or robotics. In professional sports, especially baseball, players seem like robots. Year round training and pressure does not allow these guys to have fun or look at the big picture. We've all lost that.

America's Pastime

Baseball was born 170 years ago. Played in every city, small town and farm field, the game was a reflection of the country: one man at the plate against nine, trying to hit the ball where they ain’t. The odds were stacked against him, but we were Americans. Odds didn’t matter. Myths were created. Writers began to wax poetic about the game. Ernest Thayer’s Casey at the Bat achieved instant popularity. Orphans like Babe Ruth became icons, beer magnates such as Jacob Ruppert bought teams, and black entrepreneurs started their own league. Presidents started coming to opening day. Parks became the new Cathedrals. Paris had Notre Dame, but New York had Yankee Stadium. Flying buttresses could never compete with home runs.

There was an ugly side too. The game was segregated at the dawn of the 20th century and remained so until 1947. Not everything was great in the “good old days”: childhood diseases ran rampid, little safety net for the poor and in many cases, ethnic and racial strife consumed everyday life. But through it all, baseball remained a steady hand, able to weather the times. Even a shortage of men during WWII couldn’t stop the public’s appetite for the sport. A women’s league, the AAGPBL, was created that lasted until the early 1950s.

The game has survived numerous challenges and disasters including the 1919 Black Sox scandal when several players from the Chicago White Sox conspired to throw the World Series. Within a decade, baseball was even more popular. It defied expectations. Babe Ruth’s emergence had a lot to do with that. Little League, American Legion ball, schools, churches, and even foreign countries, particularly Japan, helped spread the game. In the modern era (post 1968), we’ve had several players strikes, lockouts, the cancellation of the World Series in 1994 (due to a strike); one of the game’s greatest, Pete Rose, banned for gambling and of course, the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs over the past 20 years.

So what is different now? Is it money? Pace of the game? Steroids? TV? Fatherless homes? More choices? Combination? I don’t know. All of those factors have contributed to the hollowing out of the fan base. But I can’t just blame modern society for the lack of participation and viewership.

Foul Territory

The men who run the game, executives, union reps and journalists, share this responsibility. They’ve turned a blind eye to the changes going on around them because of their greed. I expect the owners and union to just look at the bottom line. They really have no choice. It’s the media members for whom I have higher expectations. We see almost everything through a media filter. Despite the variety of social media platforms available today, reporters and columnists still have a large role to play in questioning authority and shaping public discourse. That line is getting blurred more and more as the muckrakers go to work for those in power.

Baseball writers cast themselves as the last stalwarts against the barbaric hoards; decrying the changes, but still making money off it. These writers are more powerful than reporters covering other sports. Much of it has to do with their large numbers and the Hall of Fame voting in which they have a stranglehold. I’ve seen print reporters who had strong opinions similar to mine go to work for ESPN or FoxSports. Once ensconced in their juicy positions, they cease the criticism and muckraking that should be the hallmark of the profession. Essentially, they became employees of MLB. Others get book contracts to write the authorized biographies of players, sans the foibles and illegal activities of their subjects.

These same “journalists” made Jose Canseco into a paragon of truth, albeit unintentionally. Canseco, a 16 year veteran of the major leagues, never hid his steroid use. He also had various other run-ins with the law ranging from DUIs, domestic violence and even smuggling illegal prescriptions from Mexico. After his playing career was curtailed for various injuries (some probably related to PEDs), he felt ostracized by his former teammates and MLB in general. Payback came in the form of him naming names about who was using. His book Juiced is probably the most honest look at the Major Leagues since Jim Bouton’s Ball Four and Sparky Lyle's Bronx Zoo. He embraced the image of a pariah. Deemed a “rat” by most of the league and a lot of media members, they all had to eat their words when the Mitchell Report, commissioned by MLB, revealed the depth of PED usage in the sport. Despite the derision and pillorying by everyone in the baseball-industrial complex, not one defamation suit has ever been filed against him or the book’s publisher. He did the job that the baseball writers should have been doing all along.

On the flip side, there are writers who are so hard-headed in their purity they can’t see their own hypocrisy. You have such closed minded writers who would never think of voting Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens into the Hall of Fame while at the same time never acknowledging the less than upstanding citizens who are already in the Hall. Their arrogance and parochialism borders on the ridiculous. Some players, like Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell, are kept out because of “suspicions.” If there was a John Birch Society of sports writing, the BBWAA would be it. The list of players and managers/coaches who should be in the Hall is endless. The delay for some is disgraceful. And it has nothing to do with steroids; just power arrogantly wielded by simpletons masquerading as intellectuals. Even writers that I respect, like Bill Madden of the New York Daily News, just take it too far. Purity tests help no one.

So we’re left with a compliant media faction and a defiant media faction. It’s like Congress; division doesn’t get us anywhere. Neither of these two factions can help move the game in the direction it needs to go in order to survive and thrive.

Lastly, I can’t absolve the players’ union from their complicity in trying to stall any reform. I would never condemn union reps for doing everything and anything to advocate for their clients. It is their professional responsibility. But there is a bigger issue here and one that could have easily been resolved had they taken a pragmatic approach in drug testing. Regardless of the moral and legal arguments for and against, the public wanted it. This was personal to the fans. It was their game and in many minds, the union's intransigence was staining it. For a group of guys who claimed to be on the side of the working man, their insensitivity to the average American's perspective was shocking. The rhetoric and absolute nonsense that spewed from the likes of Donald Fehr, Gene Orza and even Marvin Miller during the late 80s and into the 2000s, was astonishing in its shortsightedness. Like the owners, they lived in a bubble, never realizing the damage they had caused to the reputation of the game. Miller is now dead. Orza is retired and Fehr has gone on to the NHL players’ association. They got a lot of guys paid, but at what price to the future of the game? We will see in 20 years.

Fay Vincent, the "Last Commissioner." He should be in the Hall of Fame.

Fay Vincent, the "Last Commissioner." He should be in the Hall of Fame.

Bud Selig, the 9th Commissioner of Major League Baseball.  He helped destroy the game, hence his derisive nickname, "Bottom Line Bud."

Bud Selig, the 9th Commissioner of Major League Baseball. He helped destroy the game, hence his derisive nickname, "Bottom Line Bud."

1990s: The Game Hung in the Balance

You're Out

There was a tipping point in the downward slide. If I could point to one event that set the current state of the game in motion and from which it has not recovered, it is the resignation of Commissioner Fay Vincent in 1992. He’s known as the last commissioner for various reasons. After the sudden death of Commissioner Bart Giamatti in 1989, Vincent, the deputy commissioner, was thrust into the spotlight.

He was a brilliant attorney with a passion for the game. Preserving the sport for future generations was his goal. But his sense of mission and high moral character contrasted sharply with the bottom-line owners. Within two years, a large majority of the owners gave him a no confidence vote. Much of their anger was based on his intervention into the 1990 owners’ lockout of the players. There were other issues too; the owners spent most of his term trying to build up momentum for an ouster. Vincent’s concerns were justified; much of what he portended has come to fruition. And that’s a shame. Here was a man who said no to being a puppet and paid with his job.

One of the leaders of the opposition to Vincent was the Milwaukee Brewers majority owner, Bud Selig. He eventually became acting commissioner and then received the actual title a few years later, just having retired in 2014. The seemingly feckless Selig has presided over the sinking of the baseball ship for 20 years. Now, in the ultimate slap in the face, this man has been elected to the Hall of Fame. He turned a blind eye to the tide of problems facing the game. How a man like that could reach such heights says something about our society. His sordid story would take another article. I digress.

An argument is frequently made that the problems I’ve cited exist only at the major league level. That reasoning is flawed. The game’s place in our society at every level, in one way or another, is determined by the decisions that come from the Major League Commissioner’s office. His decisions touch everything from ticket prices, ballpark atmosphere, licensing, concessions and even the minor leagues. The tone of the game is set by the man at the top. MLB may not be responsible for the overall cultural shift in this vast nation, but a high profile organization can still play a powerful role in defining it.

World Series: Sinking Numbers

Since 1986 when it reached 36 millions viewers, World Series TV ratings have steadily declined.

Since 1986 when it reached 36 millions viewers, World Series TV ratings have steadily declined.

Ratings, Not Sabermetrics

Regardless of the inflated attendance figures, and the monumental local TV deals for teams like the Angels and Dodgers, this game will be little more than a niche sport by 2040, very much like the NHL is today. It’s not extreme pessimism, just extreme realism. One needs to look no further than the ultimate bellwether of our modern society: television ratings.

For the past 30 years, national television ratings for both the Game of the Week, playoffs and World Series have been plummeting. In 1986, the Mets-Red Sox Series garnered nearly a 27 average share nationally. Game 7 alone came close to a 40 share. New York and Boston practically shut down that night. You could hear pin drop and that's saying something when you live in the Bronx.

As the centuries changes, so did viewing habits. The average this century for the Series is between an 8 and 10 share. One game in 2008 received a 6.5. The inverse relationship is clear. As expanded cable television became ubiquitous, national baseball ratings dropped. Add the internet or mobile, and the choices became endless. NIelson is just now developing a way to measure the streaming services, so those numbers are not available But most experts believe that any loss to streaming is barely a blip for TV ratings.

It has continued to worsen. 2020 now ranks as the worst year ever for World Series ratings. Many would chalk it up to the pandemic but you basically had a captive audience. Still, the viewing public said "no thanks." Total viewers dipped below 10 million for the first time since they have been measuring aggregate viewers in 1973. It took the lowest rating, a 5.1 share, since 1963.

To be fair, the 2016 Series had some of the best ratings in years due in part to the Chicago Cubs' nationwide following, their 100 year plus drought, and there was a Game 7. Plus their opponent, the Cleveland Indians, had not won a Series since 1948. So you had two fan bases crying out for a long-awaited victory. However, if you breakdown the ratings per game, they really were not very good. Ratings were in the teens with around 20 million viewers. Game 7 received a 21 rating with just over 40 million watching. Thirty years earlier, Game 7 between the Mets and Red Sox had over 56 million hanging on every pitch; times have changed.

The 2017 Series also went seven games and was somewhat compelling, with two extra inning games. Having the Dodgers and Astros meant that MLB got the second and fourth biggest markets in the country. But overall ratings fell slightly with Game 7 attracting just over 28 million viewers. By 21st century standards, not bad.

Sadly, the 2018 and 2019 Series stopped hope in its tracks. Ratings fell 23% from the prior year and fell again in '19, albeit just slightly. That set the stage for the disaster that was 2020. Despite these drops, Fox is paying huge money again for the MLB broadcasting rights. Someone is making money off a declining product..

The English Premier League is grabbing viewership every Saturday and Sunday morning.

The English Premier League is grabbing viewership every Saturday and Sunday morning.

Behind The Curve

It’s not just the changing technological landscape. The game itself both on and off the field is hurting. Slow play is partly to blame. Bad marketing strategy on the part of MLB is a big problem. They don’t market their stars very well and the players themselves don't' appear interested in expanding their base. Mike Trout, probably MLB's biggest star, has declined a multitude of marketing opportunities. He doesn't need the money, and there are no incentives for him to aid in the expansion of the game.

But the biggest culprit of all might be late games. How can kids on the east coast watch a west coast game in April and May on a weeknight? When the Astros were inexplicably moved to the American League last year, they now had to play the Angels, Mariners and A’s 12-18 times on the road. More than half of those start times will be around 9PM Central Time. That’s a lot of games kids under 12 in southeast Texas probably won’t see.

The attenuated circumstances in which MLB finds itself lay in stark contrast to the National Football League. The NFL has done a marvelous job using different platforms to market its product to a society with minuscule attention spans on the one hand and stats geeks on the other. You can watch games on a mobile device and the Red Zone package on the NFL Network is addicting. Now Amazon is getting on board with Thursday Night Football.

Fantasy leagues are much easier for the NFL fan than a baseball fan. Less to do. Even women have joined the madness. In my office, there is a group of ladies who spend hours a week discussing their rosters. If you had told me that a decade ago, I would have laughed.

And then there is the video game goliath, Madden NFL. It has a stranglehold on the gaming world. Every year the launch party is like a movie premiere. Who will be on the cover? What new capabilities does it have? I was just at the mall and they had set up a kiosk for people to come up and start playing.

The NFL was always ahead of the curve, looking 20 years down the road. Rules changes that they put in place back in the early 80s helped create the dominate position it holds today. It might be unfair to compare the two sports because the NFL and the NCAA products fit the modern viewer much better. But foresight is free; all it requires is an open mind. Apparently it’s not free enough for MLB, who are forever playing catch up.

The threats continue to increase every year. Timing is everything. Cartoons are not the only programming on Saturday mornings anymore. You can get up early on Saturday and Sunday (before the NFL starts) to watch the English Premier League on the NBC Sports Network and NBC Network (the former home of MLB game of the week for 40 years). This will pay off for soccer within 20 years. All of the NFL games, with the exception of Monday Night Football in the east and central time zones, are viewable during kid-friendly times. ESPN starts their college football pregame hours ahead of the first kickoff. If I’m 10 years old, and I’m watching ESPN on location in Tuscaloosa, Alabama with funny signs, mascots and cheerleaders, what am I going to gravitate towards as I get older?

Beautiful Safeco Field, one of the finest parks in the nation. Everyone needs to go at least once.

Beautiful Safeco Field, one of the finest parks in the nation. Everyone needs to go at least once.

Safeco, a view from the visitors' dugout.

Safeco, a view from the visitors' dugout.

Solutions

I don’t begrudge players their money. If you can get it, take it. It’s the management of these organizations that think short term. Hubris and greed erase common sense on a daily basis. Eventually the overpriced tickets and late night TV games erode your base. Some long-term thinking would save our pastime. Is there hope of reversing this trend toward irrelevance? Yes. But it will take courage and innovating thinking:

  • Start with the kids. Set aside some summer day games for children 12 and under at very low prices. I don’t mean small groups.10,000 kids per game should be the goal for these events. Put them in the outfield sections or bleachers. Maybe 3-4 games a summer. Prior the game, the players spend at least an hour talking with them. Run the bases too. Players can skip batting practice that day. Every kid gets a baseball to take home and a yearbook. It will mean something a decade from now.
  • Lower food prices and other concessions. I know the concessions are done through a vendor but you can add changes to the bid each year that would allow for discounts. Families need to be able to come out more than once a year. So you make a dollar less per beer. The mark up is about six times cost. Gimme a break. How about discount concession nights once a month? Half price for one hot dog and beverage. Things like that matter to the average fan. Stop the greed. Corporate fans are soulless. You want local families.
  • Enforce the time limits between pitches. Be strict about it. If the traditionalists don’t like it, I don’t care. They’ll be just angry old men sitting in the park yelling at others about baseball while no one knows what they are talking about. My fear is that some little boy will listen to his grandfather talk about the game 50 years on, and the boy will ask “Grandpa, what was baseball?”
  • Start the regular season after April 15th and end it by September 30th. Waiting two weeks to start might avoid some ridiculously cold, rainy and sometimes snowy days at the start of the season. Ending the season early is common sense, as it avoids some NFL games.
  • Put teams where they belong. If a team is in Texas, they belong in the central division. The Astros should go back to the NL Central. The Rangers, which have been in the AL West since their move from D.C. (as the 2nd incarnation of the Senators), should go to the AL Central. Do they have this great rivalry with the M’s, A’s or Angels? No. Put the Tigers back in the AL East. Or the Cleveland Indians. Mix it up. There are so many teams with really no tradition at all (i.e. Marlins, Nationals, Rockies, Rays, D-backs, etc.), no one will care if they switch leagues.
  • Make the regular season mean something. Both World Series teams in 2014 were the fourth best in their respective leagues to get into the playoffs. That’s happening more and more. Award the team with the best record home field throughout including the Series. Give them a bye in the first round.
  • Embrace the Latino player. Language barriers exist in marketing many of MLB’s best players. The Caribbean is still a hotbed of talent and fandom. Mexico and Venezuela play the game too. Facilitate that interaction with the Anglo fans and those players.
  • Embrace the Asian Player. The most exciting players are now coming from Japan. Their passion for the game combined with their Hall of Fame skills make them the ones to watch. Taiwan and South Korea are also ready for increased MLB signings.

A concerned mother recently published an article in defense of Little League and organized sports in general. The basic theme was that sports mirrors life and has intrinsic benefits:

My son's team lost 16-7. It was a weekend of highs and lows. That's sports. And that's life. There's are plenty of good ways for kids to learn that lesson. Organized sports is one of them.

I couldn't agree more.

Vote

Hope Springs Tenatively

On a brighter note, kudos to MLB for their urban youth initiative that helps get inner city kids back into baseball. How effective it will be remains to be seen. But it’s a start. My parents couldn’t afford the increased fees to play senior ball, so I had to stop. I always missed it. This program will help.

If I had one piece of advice to the new commissioner, it would be this: think long-term, not short-term financial gain. In other words, do the opposite of Bud Selig. Baseball was once the fabric that bound us together as much as the flag. It is part of the American culture, and just treating it like a consumer good does us all a disservice. I want baseball to matter again. Right now, it's just another series of highlights.

Baseball will never be the national pastime again. That time has passed. However, it can still matter again, still have social relevance. The players have enormous power and influence; their salaries are guaranteed. Change comes through action. If the players care about the long term health of the game, they can force the owners to take action. Lobby for the kids, talk about the greatness of the game and express concern about its future. Unlike years past, speaking out won't cost these guys a thing. But it might just save the game.

Author's Note

Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell were finally elected to the Hall of Fame. Piazza was inducted in 2016 with 83% of the vote. Bagwell's turn came in 2017 with just over 86% of the vote. At least that's two wrongs that have been righted. We continue to wait for greats like Bonds and Clemens. Some writers have been speaking out about the issue. There appears to be some dissension beginning to emerge in the BBWAA. Members are beginning to break with their hardheaded colleagues. We can only hope.

Sources

Books

  • Bouton, Jim. Ball Four. World 1970
  • Lupica, Mike. Summer of ’98. New York: Putnam 1999
  • Canseco, Jose. Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big. It Books edition. 2006.

Print Articles

  • Bannon, Chuck. "Swing and a Miss - Analyzing MLB's Declining Balls in Play." Qlik Blog, May 18, 2018.
  • Miller, John W. “In Africa, Out Of Nowhere, There Is Baseball.” Wall Street Journal, December 25, 2014: online edition.
  • Smith, Claire. “Team Owners Take A 3d Strike at Vincent.” New York Times, August 24, 1992: C7.
  • Smith, Claire. "Haughty Owners Are Not a Measure of Vincent." New York Times, September 13, 1992: S5.
  • Costa, Brian. "Why Children Are Abandoning Baseball." Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2015:http://www.wsj.com/articles/why-baseball-is-losing-children-1432136172. (Life Section).
  • Chass, Murray. “Prepare for Lockout In Spring of ’93, Fehr Is Warning Players.” New York Times, March 31, 1992: B14.
  • Chass, Murray. "Vincent, Bowing to Owners' Will, Resigns as Baseball Commissioner." New York Tines, September 8, 1992: A1.
  • Janes, Erika. "In Defense of Little League." Parents Magazine, June 2, 2015. From Parents Perspective section: http://www.parents.com/blogs/parents-perspective/2015/06/02/the-parents-perspective/in-defense-of-little-league/
  • Kirkpatrick, Cliff. "Several factors contribute to youth baseball's declining numbers." Corvalis Gazette-Times, June 29, 2012. www.gazettetimes.com. (Oregon)
  • Ray, Mike. "Sports Chatter: Little League seeing decline in participants." Colfax Record, April 9, 2015. www.colfaxrecord.com. (California)

Web Sources

  • Adler, David. "MLB Announces Pace of Play Initiatives for '18." MLB.com. February 19, 2018.
  • Bannon, Chuck. “Swing and a Miss – Analyzing MLB’s Declining Balls in Play.” Qlik Blog. May 17, 2018.
  • Brown, Maury. “Why MLB Attendance Dropped For The First Time In 15 Years.” Forbes Online. October 3, 2018
  • http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/news/mitchell/index.jsp
  • http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alicia-jessop/youth-baseball-participation_b_5702009.html
  • http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/mark-mcgwire-apology-steroids-part-worldwide-lie-article-1.462884
  • hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2014/10/29/bill-james-not-a-statistical-guru-not-impressed-by-war/
  • Hirsch, Sheldon. "Does Ichiro Belong in the Hall of Fame?" www.realclearsports.com/articles. December 30, 2014.
  • Kepner, Tyler. “More Strikeouts Than Hits? Welcome to Baseball’s Latest Crisis.” New York Times (online). August 16, 2018.
  • Lindgren, Hugo. "The World Series: Angles vs. Giants." Slate.com, October 24, 2002.
  • "Strikeouts Reach Record High for 11th Straight Year." SI.com. September 29, 2018.
  • Nielson.com
  • Peters, Justin. "Good Riddance to Little League." Slate.com, May 26, 2015.
  • Scocca, Tom. "Fox Really Did Ruin Baseball: World Cup Game Matches Ratings for World Series." Slate.com, June 28, 2010.
  • Scocca, Tom. "Failed Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig's Exciting Playoffs Reach All-Time Ratings Low, Again." Slate.com, November 2, 2010.

Comments

CJ Kelly (author) from the PNW on August 07, 2020:

Hi Bill, Keep the thoughts coming. Love it! But yes, they have walk up music and sound effect most MLB parks. Now, here in Seattle, the M's all choose their own music before coming to the plate and the relief pitchers have some tunes as well.

Not sure if my Yankees still do that, I know Mariano had enter Sandman, etc. Been a while since I've been at other parks. But I believe they all do it. Not my fav, but there are worse things like not getting a base hit with runners i scoring position, no stealing, no bunting, etc. The music is silly but I'd ingnore it if the games were more interesting.

In between innings, there is so much noise, between the scoreboard doing boat races, etc., nuts. They treat us like we're all seven years old and can't sit quietly for a few minutes. :)

Maybe they should all use Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence."

Thanks again, Bill. You need a podcast!

Baseball Bill on August 07, 2020:

CJ, I wanted to toss another thing at you: I only go to minor league baseball games, about 20/year, so I may be unaware of what's happening in the pros. But there are two things that really annoy me. First, the "walk up music," that is each and every player gets his own 15 seconds of the song of his choice. It's a good thing I'm not playing I'd have "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer"! The other is the sound effects (like the sound of breaking glass after a foul ball over the backstop or samples from an 80s movie). In some parks the sound effects taper off as the game goes on, but still annoying. Almost every Hot Stove I attend, we're told that it enhances the game day experience. However, when you're close to the action like you are in the minor leagues, that means you're also close to the blaring speakers. Thus, all this factors in to whether I go to a game or not.

CJ Kelly (author) from the PNW on August 03, 2020:

Hi Bill, great timing. Just logged on and saw your post.

The pace of play issue is very difficult, but why was the game faster (significantly) 30+ years ago. Some of it is the constant pitching changes, but not all. I can watch a World Series game from the 70s with commercials and it is still over in less than 3 hours. Baffling. Maybe there are more commercials...I'm still researching.

The game is not family friendly anymore. Stadiums filled with expensive seats that go unfilled and the teams don't care because they received their $$ already. If you want more people to use your products, take the Microsoft approach, give it away cheap and get folks hooked. But the owners don't care.

Thanks for stopping by, really appreciate it. Best of health and here's to the NFL:)

Baseball Bill on August 03, 2020:

Great story - so many problems with baseball where does one begin? How about a family that goes once a year and there's a rain delay. They're going to play the game, but nobody knows when. Now it's 8:15pm and they're rolling up the tarp and the game starts at 8:45pm. That family has probably been at the park for 2 1/2 hours by now.

Next, the pace of play, the league has known about this for 20 years and the only change has been the intentional walk which trims 20 seconds off the 3 hour game. I can't watch anymore. Minor league has gotten just as bad. Maybe start with a 1 and 1 count like my softball league does. Maybe get rid of the homerun like we did in my backyard when I was a kid because there was a German shepherd in the neighbor's yard and the batter had to get the ball.

CJ Kelly (author) from the PNW on July 27, 2020:

Hard to believe MLB could get more ridiculous, but your story just added to it. Greed.

Stay well, Tom. Safe travels.

Tom Lohr from Magdalena, NM on July 26, 2020:

CJ,

I live half the year in Pittsburgh and half in New Mexico. The weird thing is , in Pittsburgh only the Pirates are blacked out despite lots of other teams being close.

In New Mexico both the Rockies and Diamondbacks are blacked out. Denver is a 5 1/2 hour drive and Phoenix a 71/2 hour drive. Makes no sense

CJ Kelly (author) from the PNW on July 26, 2020:

Hi Tom,

Thanks for commenting.

1. While I agree with the players' stance on the issues, I do wish we were able to keep the political statements out of the game. Just to get a break from the constant barrage of news. The country does need an escape.

2. You live in New Mexico and you're subject to the blackout? Amazing. That is ridiculous. Also, MLB Network should not be part of a premium package, you should be able to get it on your expanded cable TV package. Big mistake by the MLB. With declining interest in the game, restricting access for those that want to watch is bad for business.

Tom Lohr from Magdalena, NM on July 26, 2020:

Now, when America needs baseball the most, MLB is more concerned with virtue signaling with the entire BLM nonsense than doing something to increase the fan base. Lifting the blackout restrictions for the 2020 “Season” would have been a smart move. They missed that boat completely.

CJ Kelly (author) from the PNW on July 22, 2020:

Thanks, Bob. Please elaborate. Would love to hear your take.

Bob on July 22, 2020:

Goodbye baseball. We will not miss you.

CJ Kelly (author) from the PNW on February 19, 2020:

150 games would be fine w/me. But don't start the season prior to April 15. Make it the 3rd Monday in April. Finish up by third Monday in September. There would be a loss of revenue temporarily, but better games = more ratings and attendance.

The key is balls in play. Batted balls in play is way down for years. Strikeouts have outnumbered hits for 2 years in a row. That's crazy. I know sabremetricians would call me "out of touch," but I want action in my sports. Spreadsheets are for work.

Will on February 19, 2020:

When I hear people try to "fix" baseball, they point to the fact that pace of play is to blame for lack of interest because the American population nowadays have shorter attention spans, and want more instant gratification so they need to speed it up. I will agree that it's part of the problem but it's not one of the main problem.

The problem I say is that Baseball has been banking too much on it's prestige image and nostalgia. The thing is that, they have been losing that image since the 90s. the Lockout didn't help. The PED scandal didn't help. The "untainted" greats are mostly mentioned are mostly from the 40s-70s. Who now can relate? And the contemporary ones are given a black mark, and always questioned, so even if they are great by their own effort, the general perception won't change, and the closest you can get to the "pure" baseball great is stuck in an era that is getting more displaced as time goes by.The thing with the Astros doesn't help either, because now another generation is probably not gonna view it positively and this generation is the bridge you need. Imagine a way to have your game spread globally, to anyone with even a crappy internet connection instantly, and dropping the ball on it.

The Revenue model is giving you a skewed impression. Yes, having 10-15year TV contracts is great, but it isn't so great if no-one is watching TV anymore. Most kids who are born in the 80s,90s, 2000s, ( so, you could say new homeowners/kid-bearing age, those already entering the work force, and in college) 3 generations don't consume as much TV media, but the amount of media they consume overall is exponential compared to older generations. Appealing to the 18-25year olds now won't help, since you've been off their radar when their older brother, sisters, cousins, and uncles who were kids back then were barely on your radar. You need to appeal to the future 18-25year olds of tomorrow which means the young adults and teens of today. And this is gonna be exponentially hard since you've waited for the slice of the pie to be cut way too much.

There needs to be some visible action combined with the complexity. You need something to make you feel like you're in the moment. Yes, football and basketball are action packed, but the way the set up their plays is very complex. Tennis, even if it's long, you can feel the duel between 2 players. Soccer might seem boring, and goals might be rare, but you still see the ball being advanced. Hockey has "sanctioned" fighting, so you might see a bit of a light brawl going on so you can say "something's happening'

You need an ambassador for the sport. Someone who shows pure love about the game, is enthusiastic and not afraid of sharing it around the world. Super Bowl 3 with Joe Namath was the turning point for football to start being accepted as "the sport". It still took years later, but we've seen the results. The NBA sent out it's dream team, with Bird, Magic, Jordan and it awed the international crowd and the hip-hop culture resonated with the African-American community. Hockey is more known as a "Canadian Sport", but the US upset victory in the 1980s Olympics, some hockey movies, and the Hockey Goat moving to LA gave it some thought. Guess what? California, not much of a hockey place has 3 Stanley Cups since then. It might still not be super popular, but it's staying stable. Soccer used the 94 World Cup, MLS, and it's wild run in the 2002 World Cup, to make one of it's greats at that time David Beckham going to the US and putting the US as a decent soccer team. They used to be a joke. Now not getting past to the top 32,sounds disappointing. Plus you can still see some of the fan favorites but slightly out of prime players on US MLS teams. And the level here has increased.

Easier access to the games. Make it fun for the casual players. Have a rec league, maybe intramurals, summer afterschool sport, even a streetball version with loosened up rules might make things more interesting. You want the kids at the end to smile and say " I had fun" even though I had no idea what's going on. I want to learn more about it. Would you rather get to catch a football once, and run for a touchdown with your buddies, even though you're panting like hell. have one of your amazing relative maybe teach you a basic crossover move, and you finally made one wide open basket, maybe see how your friend who's good at soccer pass you the ball to score a goal,over a goalie and you say wow, see the weird bounce a hockey puck bounce into the corner of the net and go, I didn't know it could do that or get yelled at by a 30yr old minor league drop-out coach, your own team's parent getting mad at you for screwing up some unknown rule, and the other team's parent's calling you horrible names? It makes you want to never play the game again and leaves a very bad taste in your mouth. Specialization has made it into too much of a zero sum game so there's very little ground in between.

Like you say, if it's passed from dad to son or daughter, and if that's a core part of the culture, and what determines the culture is the youth today and early 20s adults, it's not so anymore. Baseball has gone out of the window as a method of parental bonding.

Shorten the season. 162 game make it lose its tension.

CJ Kelly (author) from the PNW on February 18, 2020:

Excellent points! Really great stuff. Manfred is now in the weeds so far, I don't think he can recover. Complete disaster.

$$$ is the real culprit here. Both in ticket prices and entry into the game itself. If you have a son who wants to play at a high level, it's expensive. In high school, you now have JV, Varsity, and "Select." You have to pay to try out and there's mandatory camps in the offseason. My buddy takes his son all over the northeast it seems for "clinics." Nuts. Travel, equipment, hotel stays...expensive.

Golf and tennis are cheaper to have your kids involved in now. Imagine if we told my dad's generation that in the 1930s?

Many say I'm an alarmist about the game, but it's in trouble. Unrecognizable starts. Attendance #s and $$ are suspect because of how they are measured. Seem skewed by local data, talking about individual teams in isolation. The marketing is awful.

Baseball writers/reporters are not helping. These "keep baseball boring" folks are not helping. They are very provincial about the game, taking an almost nativist-like attitude towards people like me.

I'm all for crazy new ideas. Why not?

Will on February 18, 2020:

As I put more thought into it, I think baseball has had many chances to entrench itself into the American psyche, but it keeps holding on to the old ways way too much.

1) Today's America is not 1980s America anymore, so you could say baseball could be a "new sport" to many people since we have a much more diverse population.

2) The anlaytic snobs went too far in the other direction, it is a human game, so it needs some human aspects, and some mistakes can be entertaining. Also, the traditionalist viewing any change as desecrating the sport is holding it from evolving. Some rules need to change, and you can test out other changes to see if it fits, and if it doesn't, repeal it the next season. the NFL, NBA,NHL and MLS have all done this.

3) Make it more friendly for the casual viewer and those just new to sports in general. This is what will give momentum to the sport and keep the game alive. If one generation has no love for the game, it might take 2-3 generations for that love to be regained or it might be lost forever. You can start to see it now. More likely you'll see kids carrying a football, or basketball instead of a baseball and bat to hang out with friends. Look at boxing today. It used to be extremely popular, but now it's reduced to maybe 1-2 "matches" that you can see a year.

4) Like you said, if you don't play the sport ( whether it was in Little League, or a pickup game with friends), you probably won't get into it, and the world now has gotten smaller, sports viewing has become more specialized. You can stream almost any sport around the world. So, if there's a sport you enjoy, you'll more likely to watch that instead of the only game on TV.

5) Market in a way that the youth can identify with. Which means catching up to current technology. Twitch, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Don't forget about video games, tv series, anime, cartoons, and movies. But for the latter, you need an identifiable face. Who is the face of MLB? It doesn't have to be one person, it could be a team.

6) Admit to your mistakes. Just accept that there was a PED scandal, and say our fault, we'll fix it instead of running away.

7) Try to expand your horizons. Some international exhibitions would be great.

8) Needs some more individuality at times. You don't need to be super showboaty, and taunting fouls do exist in all the other sports. Why wait only until the last inning to celebrate, or the when you win the world series? I mean, even a thumbs up after hitting a home run would be exciting.

CJ Kelly (author) from the PNW on February 14, 2020:

HI Will, thanks for reading. The demographic issue with regards to both TV and ticket sales is troubling. Marketing is part of it. The guys don't feel is necessary outside of their product endorsements to do anything more. It is hurting the game. I know Mike Trout scoffed at the Commissioner when he complained about players not marketing themselves. But it's part of life as a pro athlete, particularly in the modern sense.

The NBA has done a great of that over the past 30 years. MLB has to catch up.

Will on February 14, 2020:

Very interesting article. You should also add in a the demographic change too. Baseball seems to be stuck in the middle of not popular enough right now to reach a wider younger audience, and not niche enough that it can hold it's own ( Tennis, Golf and the such). I find that baseball has been hungry for that one charismatic guy, and the last one they had was juicing so it ruined the image.

CJ Kelly (author) from the PNW on January 03, 2020:

Hi Jack,

I'm open to a lot of stuff to "Improve" the game. I still have arguments with the sabermetrics crowd as well as the "keep baseball boring" curmudgeons who don't seem to get it.

But I would be very radical:

1. MLB -

A. Retract teams and reduce the schedule. Scarcity will create a need. Get rid of the FL teams. No fan base of any merit. Everyone down there is a fan of other franchises anyway.

B. Reduce schedule to 150 games. Revenue hit? Yes, but attendance will keep dropping anyway. It is so expensive to attend a game, can't imagine having to take a family of four.

C. More kids days at the ballpark with reduced pricing

D. Move teams between divisions that don't have natural rivalries. Move the Blue Jays to the central. Move the Rangers to the NL. Move the Rockies to the NL Central.

E. Expand the rosters. Having more players might reduce the need to mega contracts.

F. No shift allowed. Ridiculous what's going on. Unwritten rules are dumb. Hit 'em where they ain't.

G. Mandatory marketing guidelines within the contract with explicit language that requires the players to make more appearances both locally and nationally. Star players are able to avoid this through contractual loopholes and they don't care because they are getting paid.

2. Little Leagues, etc. = Massive funding increase. MLB should take it over completely.

3. More $$ for minor leagues, not retraction.

Thanks for reading. Good luck to you. Get out to a game.

Jack on January 03, 2020:

I’m 20 years old and I love baseball, but I can’t sit through a whole game though. How do you propose we fix baseball and the MLB how do you solve the problems with the game.

CJ Kelly (author) from the PNW on August 19, 2019:

Hi Bill, thanks for commenting. I agree w/you. I was actually in favor of interleague when it started, thinking it would be once every three years eventually. But now when I see the Yanks playing LA in August, takes away from the pennant race. I think that's a good compromise anyway: play every 3 years. Do they really get more ticket revenue from interleague?

Why not move teams between leagues. Dbacks, Rockies, Marlins, Rays, Rangers, etc. Teams with very little tradition, if any.

Bill Hare on August 18, 2019:

Another Solution: One thing I have hated since 1997 in MLB is Interleague Series in the Regular Season. Reggie Jackson was right in stating the special mystique or mystery from 1903 to 1996 of both the American League Teams and National League Teams during the MLB year only facing each other in the World Series has been taken away with Interleague Series Games scheduled in the MLB Regular Season. Both the MLB Team Owners and Bud Selig got this wrong big time establishing Interleague Series Games in the MLB Regular Season.

Paul Carusso on