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Major League Baseball is a slow game. The playoffs don’t need a 5 to 7-game series to decide, the regular season is pointlessly long, and individual contests lasted about 3 hours as of 2022, while only producing about 4.25 runs of action per contest. — Zzz.
Not to mention, a lot of people stopped actually going to games about 25 years ago. The money in the league today is all about broadcast rights, which are a hot, though yet profitable mess. To try and turn things around as attendance and viewership decline, the 2023 version of the MLB includes new rules, all designed to make the game go faster. These include a pitch count clock and restrictions around when the defense can shift.
While the changes are a welcome relief to many who have struggled through an MLB game since Y2K, it’s not enough. What baseball needs is an infusion of offense and entertainment value, much like what the NFL has worked to build in the last few decades. I’m talking high-scoring games and home plate celebrations — the highlights of the game are elevated and amplified for the ultimate fan experience.
Here’s how I think the new MLB rules make the game better, and a couple of extra-base hits on ways to improve the fan experience further.
Why the pitch clock and shift control make the game better
The rules of the new pitch clock are simple. The pitcher has 15 seconds between plays to deliver the next pitch; 20 if there are runners on base. Further, the batter must be in the box with 8 seconds remaining on the clock. If a pitcher has not started their motion before the expiration of the clock, they will be charged a ball. If a batter delays entering the box, they will be charged a strike.
The purpose of these new rules is to shorten the length of MLB games and so far it is working. The average game length is down to ~2 hours and 38 minutes in 2023 spring training. So, the MLB is becoming a bit less of an endurance sport for fans. It’s a step in the right direction, but it falls short of solving the underlying issue with the MLB, which is that it’s just not that exciting to watch.
In order to make the game more compelling for fans, both in-stadium and at home, the MLB needs to evolve into a more inclusive celebration of the game. Fortunately, there’s a business model that’s been proven to make content more compelling in 2023.
More runs scored = greater fan experience
The highest scoring decade of baseball came from 2000 – 2010 when average runs per game reached 4.75 — a full half-run, or ~10%, higher than previous periods. Why did that happen? The short answer is probably steroids, which is a damned shame, but at least the games were watchable.
Over the past 25 years, the MLB’s bigger cousin, the NFL, has purposefully adapted its game to create the kind of higher-scoring affairs that fans enjoy. QBs are protected and WRs let run freer today because of those changes, resulting in more wide-open, higher-scoring games. To achieve the same success as the modern NFL, the MLB needs to go a similar route, e.g. figure out a way to get more runs on the board. Want a few ideas?
For starters, make the DH a universal thing. The two-system approach is garbage. Secondly, standardized field sizes. In no other major league sport do you have to wonder about field dimensions on the bus; it’s asinine. Please don’t talk to me about tradition unless the tradition is losing fans — make the damn fields the same size. Finally, limit the amount of pitching changes per game; this could allow teams to carry fewer pitchers and add more batting talent.
Most importantly, can we please find a way to make MLB a little more fun?
Celebrate good times, come on!
I am old-school NFL. I love TD celebrations. The Lambeau Leap was a revelation, the Dirty Bird brought Morris Day back, and Griddy’s and end zone team snaps are modern-day marvels. Likewise, when a guy knocks one out of the park in MLB, I wanna see him dance on home plate with the whole dugout in choreography. I’m serious. Livestream it on ESPN+ if you don’t want it as part of the broadcast. Insert some energy into the game and give fans something more than a cable subscription fee or $15 beer.
I’ll go further: MLB owners need to open the gates to their mostly empty stadiums and offer $5 bleacher creature seats routinely like it’s 1985. Rally caps and community donations should get you in free. TV announcers need to get about 20 years younger on average. It would be great to see more than a few token women on air or in the dugout. Can we bring This Week in Baseball back on Saturday mornings like when I was a kid and loved the game and my heroes on the diamond?
There are a lot of ideas to make baseball more interesting. Most of them begin with hard change and sacrificing some amount of revenue in the name of creating a better, more sustainable product. So far, MLB seems willing to make quick fixes to shorten the game, but what the league does to make it more engaging and fun for fans is what will determine the future of baseball.