Ideas for Making Baseball More Interesting
By Stephen J. Dubner
When I was a kid, I loved baseball more than anything, and I’m afraid I mean that literally — more than my family, my friends, even more than my dog. If given the opportunity, I would have played baseball 24 hours a day. And when I couldn’t play it, I would watch it on T.V.
Now I can barely sit through a whole inning of a game on T.V.
Judging from the World Series T.V. ratings for the past 40 years
— they’ve slipped from a 22.8 rating/57 share in 1968 to 10.6 rating/18 share in 2007 — I am not alone.
Why? Maybe I and a lot of people have adult-onset A.D.D. and need more stimulation than baseball can offer. Maybe there are just too many other forms of entertainment.
Or maybe the game is just too boring.
Is it more boring than it was in 1968?
No, but it hasn’t changed much since then either. If you are a traditionalist, which I am in many ways, this could be good news. But since sport is entertainment, you have to keep in mind that people get bored watching the same game play out every day.
Football and basketball may be more innately exciting than baseball, but just as important, they’ve also changed a lot over the past 40 years. They are full of innovation.
What is baseball’s biggest innovation of the past 40 years? Steroids maybe. Or the specialization of the pitching staff (yawn).
You may not like all the changes in other sports, but it does keep things interesting. Baseball, meanwhile — well, if you have watched enough of it, you know exactly what’s coming at just about any point in the game. You can predict what the manager will do in a given situation. You can predict what the commentators will say after the play.
has written a nice piece in the Wall Street Journal
about how a few baseball managers are trying some new things
, however marginal. Here are a few examples from Everson’s piece:
1) Having a relief pitcher play the outfield for a batter or two and then come back in and pitch; this gets around the archaic substitution rules — you can’t take a pitcher out of the game and bring him back in — while still letting you practice situational pitching.
2) Putting an infield shift even on a right-handed batter like Vladimir Guerrero
, which means asking any of the three infielders who might field the ball to make a long throw to first.
3) If bad weather is forecast
, don’t waste your starting pitcher; instead, start a bullpen pitcher. More broadly, use relievers to start the game but have them pitch only a few innings, bringing in your “starter” to finish the game off, including innings eight and nine.
4. Have your pitcher bat eighth instead of ninth so your ninth-place hitter can set things up for the top of the lineup.
I particularly like what Bill James
had to say in Everson’s article about why most managers do the same thing in baseball:
“A blunder by a manager is a move that is A) unconventional, B) doesn’t work, and C) occurs at a moment of focus in the game,” says Bill James, senior baseball-operations adviser with the Boston Red Sox. “If you put those three things together, you have a blunder. As long as you do what’s conventional, you won’t be accused of a blunder.”
While none of the above examples are earth-shattering, they’d certainly make the game a bit more fluid and fun to watch. I am guessing that you all can come up with at least a few dozen other potential changes, including rule changes, that would make baseball better without damaging its great tradition.
A lot of these changes might not have to do with how the game is played but rather how it is presented on T.V.; the long commercial break between each half-inning, for instance, is a gilded invitation to go watch something else.
I understand that the game is the game and that you don’t want to start installing trampolines in the outfield, for instance. But aren’t there some things that could be done to make people like me who used to love the game want to watch it again?