For the game that is known as “America’s past time”, baseball is trending toward becoming just that. A thing of the past.
As a former baseball player and such an avid sports fan, you would think I am a big MLB guy. However, I am anything but. I did grow up enamored with the MLB though. To put it in perspective, I have an entire closet filled with unopened sets of baseball cards that I collected throughout my childhood (and thought would be worth more than what I paid in college tuition fees by this point in my life, but that’s beside the point).
Recently I watched “The Long Gone Summer”, which was all about the historic home run chase between Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa in the 1998 season. Although I was barely alive in ’98 and definitely don’t remember the HR chase, I do remember the atmosphere and excitement around the sport during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Watching the 30 for 30, I was reminded of how much I used to love watching baseball, and how exciting the MLB used to be.
To be honest I had really given up on the sport and more importantly the league for a while. But after watching The Long Gone Summer, I began to reconsider my stance. I started thinking about how the game could be saved: what the league was missing, changes that needed to be made, whether or not Rob Manfred was the right commissioner, just about any idea you could consider I probably entertained the thought.
In this article I outline some of the issues the game faced over the last few decades, how my taste for the game and sport has changed, and most importantly, how to fix baseball.
After the steroid era, fans were left constantly wondering. Wondering who was clean and who wasn’t. Wondering what teams were full of juicers and what teams were primarily, or at least partially innocent. Wondering if it was okay to still like a player after being busted for steroids. Wondering how your team was going to be affected. And above all else, wondering what baseball was going to look like going forward.
I had an appetite for the league and still watched almost as frequently as I did before (although I’m not sure how much of that was due to the fact that I was still playing and identified myself first and foremost as a baseball player). As years went on though, and I saw my favorite players like Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Derek Jeter, Prince Fielder, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez and many more retire, I slowly stopped watching and never picked up new favorite players.
For a while I have wondered why I gave up on the MLB. I think part of it was simply the fact that I was not able to continue playing in college for a variety of reasons (another story for another time) and every time I watched the game it made me want to play. I think another part of why I gave up was because the league as a whole was simply not producing the quality of baseball that it had been for the first 10-15 years of my life. The Yankees and Red Sox rivalry had lost its luster (both teams had some down years for the first times I could remember), and the pure star-power that had given the game so much life was no longer present.
Now, I know I obviously do not represent every single baseball fan out there and plenty of people still admire the game and the stars it has, but the ratings do not lie. Baseball is on a very significant decline that should make all fans, avid-casual extremely concerned. Sure, the MLB does okay still in markets that have a team or teams, but when you get outside of those cities (and the suburbs/smaller surrounding cities) people don’t care about baseball very much. Believe me, I am in a state with no MLB team and the vast majority of people, and even sports fans, could not care less about the game.
In 1980 the World Series averaged over 40 million viewers per game. In the early 90’s the WS was averaging just over 30 million until the abysmal 1994 lockout that caused a lot of fans to abandon the MLB. The steroid era helped usher fans back in just as quickly as they left though, and from ’95-’99 the WS averaged ratings right around 25 million. From 2005-2010 ratings roughly dropped to a mere 15 million viewers (blow-back from the steroid era). Over the last decade however, ratings seems to sit right around 15 million on average. Sadly though, with this year being only 60 games and many big-name players opting out, combined with the fact that baseball is coming off the most scandalous off-season ever, ratings are going to plummet. I am talking ratings so bad that it is going to look like the stock market when COVID-19 hit the US. Baseball is in an incredibly dark and treacherous place, and I fear it is going to get far worse over the following years.
That is why I am writing this article today. Although I know nobody from the MLB will probably ever lay eyes on this or care to, I have formulated a well-thought-out plan that I guarantee would get baseball back on its feet.
Step 1) Get rid of Rob Manfred
The league’s decline over the last few decades is due to poor management at the top, no other way around. If there had been: no lockout in 94, actual rules in place about HGH prior to the entire league doing it, better enforcement of the pine tar crap that everyone was doing for a while, an earlier stopping/prevention of the catastrophic sign-stealing scandal, and better management to save the season this year, baseball would probably be fine and not known as a dying sport. All of that mismanagement combined with the shortened attention-span of Americans and increased appetite for dramatics makes a perfect recipe for the end of baseball as we know it.
Step 2) Get all of the damn cheating out of baseball
This goes hand-in-hand with step one, but is probably the most important step. It would be step one if I felt Manfred could do it, but I have little to no faith in him. Roger Goodell is not the best commissioner in the world, but look how he has handled and prevented cheating over the last decade in the NFL. It has happened in various capacities (probably by the Patriots), been handled with stern punishment and prevented from happening going forward. I never thought I’d say this, but previous MLB commissioners Francis Vincent Jr. and Bud Selig, along with current commissioner Rob Mannfred all could have taken a page out of Goodell’s book over the last three decades.
Step 3) Shorten the season to 100 games
Yes, I know this is baseball blasphemy but hear me out on all of the pro’s and con’s before all you baseball purists blast the idea and call me an idiot in your head (that is exactly what I would have done if I read this article 5-10 years ago). The number of games has been changed before (from 150-162 in __ year?), just not as drastically as this. And just to be clear, the calendar baseball season would not have to change, teams would just get occasional days off instead of playing nearly every single day with no break.
- Best pitchers are on the field at all times.
- Rotations would look like they do in the playoffs
- Top tier bullpen guys would pitch in a higher % of games
- Stats for pitchers would not be impacted hardly at all (keeping the baseball purists happy)
- Roughly same # of starts and same time to rest after each start
- Won’t have to carry as many pitchers which will result in freed up $$$
- Healthier players, resulting in the best players being on the field more frequently
- Every single game will matter
- Exponentially increased TV Ratings (resulting in a potentially increased salary cap down the road)
- Better ticket sales, higher ticket prices, and more sold-out stadiums (which should almost cover the financial losses that will come with 62 less games, or at least come damn close)
- Hitting stats will be messed up
- Stats will have to be given on a “per 162 game basis”, similar to how some NBA stats measure “per 48 minutes”
- Less games and higher ticket prices for fans wanting to attend games
- Less games for die-hard fans to watch
Step 4) Either get Mike Trout the hell off the Angels or get them into the playoffs SOMEHOW
- Ratings and ticket sales are never going to be as good as they could be if your best player, superstar, and face of the game is on a mediocre team that can never make the playoffs
- Imagine if LeBron was on the Knicks his whole career and they could never get above .500, the NBA would be nothing compared to what it is now
- I don’t care if it takes some CP3 trade-stopping-esque moves to get it done, just get it done
Step 5) More drama, more flare, more entertainment
- Baseball needs more old school Red Sox vs Yankees dramatics
- Baseball is simply better when they are both in the hunt for October and it feels like a massive brawl could break out at any moment
- People weren’t just watching for the baseball, they were watching for the entertainment (much like the NBA and NFL currently)
- The game needs larger than life personalities like Jeter, Griffey, Big Papi, Sosa, Randy Johnson and so many others that entertained so well on and off the field
- I am not saying turn the MLB into the WWE, but I am saying it is bland and needs a little bit of a spice to entertain better
Long story short, the problems baseball has faced are due to poor management at the top. I really do believe the league can be salvaged and baseball can once again be one of the most popular sports in the country. It is going to take a hell of a lot of work and the right person running the show for it to happen though. *cough cough* Not Rob Manfred.
Thanks for reading. Please let me know what you agree/disagree with and any other ideas that I might not have included!