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Deaden the Ball and Give Baseball New Life

August 11th, 2020 · 2 Comments · Baseball

We have far more serious things to worry about than the future of Major League Baseball. A pandemic, for example. The growing threat of climate catastrophe. Etc.

But we can make a little room on the side for ball, which still likes to be known as the national pastime, even if it has been eclipsed by the National Football League and now the National Basketball Association, as well.

Baseball’s record season at the turnstiles was 2012, when it drew just shy of 31 million paying customers. In 2019, attendance was down to 28.3 million after a fourth consecutive season of declining numbers at the gate.

This is a game in trouble. Or will be soon if it fails to realize Something Must Be Done.

First, let’s figure out where baseball is losing fans, and then we will have a very concise explanation of how to fix it.

So, what is wrong with the game? Plenty.

The No. 1 problem is too many home runs. “Hey, wait a minute,” you say. “That’s one of the few attractions at a big-league game, homers. And you think there are too many?”


Never has the game produced as many homers as it did in 2019, when the 30 MLB teams averaged 1.39 homers per game.

Baseball has been nuts for the Big Fly since Babe Ruth, a century ago, and now the game’s practitioners seem to spend a lot of time figuring out how to get even more homers while limiting those slugged by the opposition.

However, the surge of homers — to 6,776 (!) 600 more than the previous record, in 2017 — came at the expense of nearly everything else we might find compelling at an MLB game. Unless you like to watch strikeouts and walks. The latter were up to 3.27 per team per game, in 2019, and whiffs are through the roof — a record 8.81 per team per game. (Ah, nothing like seeing a musclebound oaf put the ball in the seats — or drag his bat back to the dugout without ever looking in the stands.)

Meanwhile, everything else interesting is on the wane.

Sacrifice bunts? Gone the way of the Passenger Pigeon — 0.16 per game, a record low. To put it another way, if you want to see a bunt executed correctly, with the runner on the base paths advancing, you would need to go to six MLB games, on average, to see even one of these.

Other fun things can happen on the base paths, and used to, but not as much as before. Doubles are down, and triples are as rare as sac-bunts — 0.16 per game per team. Bunts are for chumps; haven’t you heard?

Steals? Now there is some fun. Will he make it? Will the catcher gun him down? Well, pay attention with a runner on first because successful steals total less than one per game. This is counting both teams. One. Steal. Per. Game. (Maury Wills or Ricky Henderson or Ty Cobb used to steal a bag by the second time through the order.)

Another significant factor in baseball’s shrinking audience is the pace of the game. Nine innings seems to require three hours (or more), and 21st century humans do not have the attention span to watch all those obsessive-compulsive homer hitters fiddling with their batting gloves before every pitch. Get the ball and throw it.

So, you begin to see the problems facing the game. What we once enjoyed, watching ballplayers running the bases, playing “small ball”, launching a couple of doubles into a gap, legging out a triple (the most exciting play in the game!), the two-hour game … well, most of that has gone away.

Luckily, we can fix this. And it can be very simple.

Deaden the baseball.

The last time baseball faced a crisis like this was in 1968, the Year of the Pitcher, when the average on-base percentage was .299, worst in the game since the height of the Dead Ball Era — .297 in 1908. Batting averages were a pathetic .237, and only one player in the American League (Carl Yastrzemski) hit .300 — and it was .301.

So. What baseball did was reduce the strike zone and lower pitching mounds to 10 inches of height. And, voila, offense came back, in 1969. The message? MLB can fix its game if it wants to.

The abominations breaking down the game we are watching now are a function of the mania for home runs. It is all about launch angles and bat speed, blah blah blah.

Well, it we take 5 or 10 percent of the life out of a baseball … I bet we can cut down on home runs but see those other categories of the game come back — steals, bunts, running around (not jogging) the bases.

MLB has a commissioner, and he can earn some of his pay by going down to the Dominican Republic — where most baseballs are made, these days, as I recall, and get some pointy headed engineer to make some measurements and launch baseballs into a can until it comes back significantly less lively than it is today.

This is a game-saving moment. Not enough happens at the modern ballgame, and we all should be happy to give up a batch of home runs to get back the game that really was the national pastime.


2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Doug // Aug 11, 2020 at 5:27 PM

    Couldn’t agree more. Not enough base hits and the shifts make it even more difficult.

  • 2 David Lassen // Aug 11, 2020 at 8:12 PM

    With you on this. In the meantime, I have come to prefer minor-league baseball. The shift is rare and there are fewer homers, so you still have strategy and small ball and baserunning. Oh, and everyone hustles because they’re playing to get promoted.

    Of course, there’s no minor league ball this year and the majors are going to kill off a bunch of teams, but when the minors come back, I’ll go see them more often than I go to a big-league park. (And it’s way cheaper, too!)

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