Sunday, May 25, 2014

Baseball's Chance to Come Back from the Dead

Baseball is dying.  Usually I include a photo of a game with a post on baseball but I haven't been to a single game yet in 2014, and the season if more than a quarter done.  It is poor form to extrapolate from your own experience across the entire population but for the topic of baseball, I think it is appropriate.

The buzz on baseball here in Chicago is zero.  Absolutely zero.  I don't hear people talking about baseball, or even mentioning baseball.

There are some semi-unique circumstances in Illinois tied to the fact that the Blackhawks are still in the playoffs and there is a lot of excitement about the Bears.  On the other hand, NBA basketball suffered with the loss of Derrick Rose (again) and college football here is nothing compared to what you'd see in SEC country (Division Zero as Dan and I refer to it).

Not only are the games for Chicago mostly terrible (the White Sox are more competitive than expected, and the Cubs' fate is worse than expected, but neither are close to being contenders), the games usually seem to be very long and on late at night.  When I check my mobile in the morning I can see the updates that I get every 3 innings and at the conclusion of the game and they often end after midnight, especially if the games are on the West Coast.  There seems to be a lot of bad, slow moving, cold and night baseball being served.  As a fan, that's an awful concoction.

Some good news for Chicago fans is that Mark Buehrle, a great former pitcher for the White Sox, is now tearing it up for the first place Toronto Blue Jays.  He is 8-1 with a great ERA.  He had a rough couple years with the disaster down in Miami but Toronto is doing well and so is he.  I hope that he makes it to the Hall of Fame in the end, even if it isn't with the White Sox.

Mark Buehrle represents one way baseball can crawl out of its hole - fast performance.  The White Sox games I saw when Buehrle pitched were the fastest moving games of the year.  Time flew by as there was no wasted motion and he just got the ball and pitched right away and generally tried to throw strikes instead of nibbling at the plate.  If somehow baseball could move all the games to that pace it would hugely increase fan attention at the game.

Another way would be to appoint a media savvy commissioner to try to arrest the decline of the sport.  There are rumors that the CEO of Disney, Iger, is interested in being the head of baseball, instead of the lifeless, inert Bud Selig.  This would be an enormous improvement since Iger effectively knows everything about media, how to reach people, and how to structure entertainment.  Baseball could never pay him what he would be worth in the open market, but if he was willing to take on the role out of love for the game this would be a giant ray of hope for baseball.  The rumor is that the head of the White Sox (and Bulls), Jerry Reinsdorf,  is the guy who is pushing for an outsider to come in and save the sport, instead of riding it into the sunset as ancient Selig wants to do with an insider that will likely just ride the current trajectory into the ground.

Not that anyone will listen, but here are my tips for saving baseball:

1. Get games closer to 2 hours than the typical 3 1/2  to 4 hours
2. Play from May to August (100 games) instead of 162
3. Start the playoffs in September and end them by early October
4. Effectively break the union (like the NFL and NBA did) and take the costs out of the player side to offsite what the owners will lose in lost game revenue, so it nets out on both sides
5. Break with tradition where it makes sense to add appeal to the game; some sort of home run derby or shootout instead of extra innings
6. Limit substitutions on pitchers and institute the DH rule instead of having pitchers bat
7. Have many games in normal hours and weekends so that kids can see them
8. Fold terrible, useless franchises like Houston and Kansas City if they can't field competitive teams

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

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