Perhaps my favorite of the current crop of national-level baseball writers (Boswell is my hands-down favorite, by a large margin, but he’s a DC local guy) is Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci. His writing is excellent, and his sense of traditionalism coupled with his respect for the validity of statistical analysis makes his columns just about the only ones I go out of my way to find and absorb. As an added bonus, he’s the only large-audience guy that is unequivocal in his non-relativistic stance against PED use.
This week, SI published his column about the current state of the game in conjunction with Tuesday’s yawner on Capitol Hill. According to Verducci, the financial state of the game has never been healthier, but that there are storm clouds on the horizon. The storm clouds are being driven by the upcoming generation of baseball fans coming of age in a rapid-fire, sound bite-driven short attention span society. With the contemplative, deliberate nature of baseball, he sees trouble.
I can’t say that I disagree with him.
He goes on to propose ten “conversation starters,” ideas for adapting the game to make it more appealing to our burgeoning cell phone culture. I’m going to use this platform to weigh in on the conversation, and invite you to do so as well, in the comments section below. Let’s get started:
1) The Bonus Batter: At first read, I was against this, but on reflection, I think there is some possibility here. Certainly, it adds an entire layer of strategic options to a manager’s late-game calculus. The possibility of batting for a reliever without having to take him out of the game breathes new life into bullpen strategy, and couples well with his #9 point about limiting pitching changes. The biggest advantage of the bonus batter is that opens the door for my personal Holy Grail, the eventual elimination of the DH. My vote: Yes.
2) The Summer Game: It seems like an artifice that will take a long time to gain traction, but I see it as a good way to bring big-league baseball to parts of the country that don’t have a franchise. However, I don’t see it as being important to the long-term health of the sport. My vote: Yes.
3) Bracket-style Home Run Derby: Long overdue, in my mind. The current format is about as compelling as the Pro Bowl. My vote: Yes.
4) Best-of-five LCS: The increase in playoff games with the wild card rule has been good for the sport, but the playoffs are already in competition for viewer eyes as the football season is ramping up. The World Series has always been a special game, and should remain so by being the only best-of-seven series in baseball. My vote: Yes.
5) A neutral site World Series: To me, his proposal covers the bases, but beyond Scott Boras’ bleating about the ratings boost being only regional, I don’t see a need for it. The Super Bowl is rapidly becoming inaccessible as a live event, unless your bank balance has a couple of commas. Plus, I don’t want to lose more of the sense of region that I remember in this country from 30 years ago; accents are disappearing almost as fast as bookstores. Lamentable, in my mind. Keep the raucous, partisan nature of the World Series the way it is, please. My vote: No.
6) Fund college baseball: The current NCAA policy of only funding 11.7 scholarships is abhorrent. Title IX gets a lot of undeserved bad press, but 11.7 scholarships for a 25-man team? It seems punitive, and if the league has the resources laying around a metaphorical bank vault, why not? The availability of more scholarships will make it easier for baseball to attract truly gifted two-sport athletes, and more athletes with college educations seems a laudable goal. My vote: Yes.
7) Install a pitch clock: Here, Verducci compares apples and Pontiacs. Yes, by the rules, a pitcher is supposed to deliver the pitch within 12 seconds, but that’s after he gets the ball back. He is deliberately inflammatory by implying that the current average of 27 seconds with runners on base is a flagrant violation of the rules. The 27 second average factors in the actual plays that result from the pitches, pickoff attempts, etc. I enjoy watching the tactical standoff between pitcher and batter. It is a treat to watch a pitcher who works quickly, but because I like seeing him keep the hitters off balance. I also enjoy seeing a batter call time to ice down a pitcher, especially in a clutch situation. My vote: No.
8) Limit timeouts: As long as we’re discussing manager/coach or catcher visits, I can see some merits to this rule. The pitcher should be able to think on his feet and react to the developing situation. He shouldn’t need his batterymate to review the tendencies of the next hitter. I’d be OK if the catcher was limited to one mound visit per inning, or if a catcher’s visit counted the same as a coach visit. One more and the pitcher has to come out. My vote: Yes, but qualified.
9) Limit pitching changes: An absurd form of small ball, to be sure. I like his suggestions, especially the one about one change per inning. That single change will really speed up the clock. It’s tough to watch a late game past the seventh inning. If I knew the number of pitching changes (and the damnable ad breaks that they come with) was going to be drastically reduced, I’d be more tempted to watch until the final out. My vote: Yes.
10) Start every batter with a 1-1 count: I’m not even going to dignify that suggestion with reasons why it’s ridiculous. My vote: No.
There you have it, folks. Two cents’ worth of opinion. For good or bad, baseball fans’ attention span is shortening. Can the game keep up with the times while maintaining its dignity? Let me know in the comments.