Beyond the Game

Dead ball era: My beloved baseball is striking out and I am sad

By Ken Waltz | Mar 02, 2019

As I sat half asleep, yawning up a storm and sliding off my couch waiting for, I believe, the 47th inning of Game 3 in the 2018 Major League Baseball World Series between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, two troubling, actually, depressing, thoughts, popped into my exhausted brain like a high-and-tight inside fastball:

The first, what the heck was I thinking staying up until 3:30 a.m. to watch a stupid sporting event — even an epic marathon game in the Fall Classic — and the second, and more important, I realized baseball has a major league problem.

Make that many problems and this coming from an old man who has ate, slept and drank baseball for about 55 of his nearly 60 years on this earth. A man who played baseball in high school and college — even attended a tryout camp for the Philadelphia Phillies — and taught the game to players of all ages.

My beloved sport is, I believe, dying. A slow, agonizing death and I am not sure anyone or anything can stop it.

Perhaps we can keep it on life support for another few decades or so, but, alas, this great game, which has been around and so important to our social fabric since its origins in 1869 in Cincinnati, Ohio — it is, in fact, called "America's Pastime" — may be on its last legs.

Perhaps baseball is truly past its time.

Perhaps 150 years is the life expectancy of this great game. Perhaps the game's strategy and slow pace does not fit well in this fast-paced, instant-gratification, see-how-many-things-I-can-seer-into-my-brain-at-once society.

In this day and age, there is no time to savoir anything. To stop and contemplate. To digest. Fleeting is fantastic. We are in an era where no one wants to be alone with their thoughts. Connections 24-7 mean no time to be alone. To take in life and its meaning.

And because of that, baseball, I fear, has less a place in life's hectic pace. I thought the game was timeless, but it appears that time — the overall slowness and pace of play — has not translated well to this generation and probably those that follow.

All one had to do was watch a game on television in 2018 and the problem, or the cause and effect, of the problem stared one straight in the face. Empty seats. Lots and lots of empty seats. At every ballpark across this great country.

Even beloved, fabled and historic Fenway Park, which is a destination simply for the atmosphere, had plenty of empty seats, something unheard of even in recent seasons.

Sellouts night after night, April to October, were common for the Sox, no matter how cold or hot the weather. Fans turned out in droves. Getting a ticket to a game was difficult, at best. Not so much anymore.

One statistical graphic I saw somewhere really slapped me in face. A reality check of sorts. A measure of the popularity of the game. It clearly pointed out that even the Fall Classic was not immune to the problems facing baseball.

Take a bite of the follow, swish it around in your mouth and try to swallow it if possible. More likely you will want to spit it out.

In the 2016 World Series, the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians drew an average game television viewership of 23.4 million people. That was the year the Cubs won the championship for the first time in more than 108 years.

In 2017, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros squared off for the title, and an average of 18.9 million watched each game.

In 2018, the Dodgers and Red Sox played for the coveted trophy, and only 14.1 million viewers tuned in game to game.

Do you see a troubling trend here?

That means from one year to the next, viewership dropped 25 percent and this year's World Series was the fourth-lowest ever watched. Wow. Why? What the heck is happening to my game?

This in a year where the Sox, historically one of the most cherished and supported team in professional baseball, won a regular-season franchise record 108 games in its 117-year history, and, ultimately, 119 games en route to a fourth championship in 14 years.

The Sox should have been must-see TV, but, often, they were not.

How do you grow a sport for a generation of children and young adults whose attention span is that of a gnat, who feel in-depth communication with another human being is a one-sentence tweet, followed by an Instagram post followed by a thumbs-up on Facebook? So meaningful and profoundly moving.

The problems with baseball are many. The games are too long. There are too many delays and pitching changes. Defensive shifts are chocking the offensive lifeblood from the game, taking away hit after hit, which sounds great in theory (hit 'em where they 'aint, right?), but it is making the game boring. No action. No life.

There are home runs, for sure, which are great and crowd-pleasers. But also boatloads of strikeouts, which, somehow, are considered a good thing because it only accounts for one out and not possibly two if the batter had hit into a double play.

When I was a player back in the 1800s, if you struck out, you failed. Your job was to put the ball in play, make the defense make a play. Now, if one strikes out, all is wonderful with the world. One did not really do one's job by actually putting the bat on the ball, but the strikeout was, by today's measurements, the lesser of two evils. So good job K-boy.

The game action is few and far between. Not much first-to-third running. Not much movement. Just static non-action.

Too much dependency on Sabermetrics and not on the eye and sniff test. Now it is all about WAR. As Edwin Starr sang in 1970: "War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing."

There are defensive metrics that tell one who are the best defensive players. I do not need stats to tell what my eyes confirm that, for example, Jackie Bradley Jr. is a better all-around outfielder than Mookie Betts (and Betts is awesome), but metrics tell me Betts is a more accomplished fielder than Bradley, who may be the best defensive outfielder the Sox have had, and that includes Dwight Evans, Fred Lynn, Reggie Smith and Carl Yastrzemski, to name a few.

Baseball is in such dire straights it still cannot have the designated hitter, which has been in the American League since 1972, universal throughout the sport, so we have to watch pitchers, who cannot hit, bat. How stupid is that? Forget the strategy and double-switches and all that BS that no DH allows, just put the DH in both leagues and be done with it. Baseball needs more offense, not less.

And, the game has a major marketing problem. While most who watch the National Basketball Association or National Football League know the stars, no one knows anything about baseball's best, Mike Trout and Betts, for example. I wonder how many children know the jersey numbers of those players.

When I was kid, I knew every player's jersey number, statistics and could even copy their batting stances.

And now we get back to my original point. As I sat on my couch in the wee hours of the morning watching Game 3 of the World Series, I also thought one other important thing: How many children were fast asleep with no chance to see all this nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat baseball?

How many were snug in their beds dreaming of other things while this old-fashioned game played deep into the night and morning, missing another opportunity to spark the interest in the game for a young viewer.

But, no, the most important games of the year have to start late at night and go all night. There is, of course, no sense playing games in the afternoon or early evening when children, the future of the sport, might actually be awake to watch. That might mean a few less dollars.

What is going on here?

My favorite sport, the one that helped shape a large chunk of my life and provide so many happy, exhilarating moments, is on life support and needs a defibrillator to shock it. To revive it. To perhaps reinvigorate and reinvent it. To some how, some way, keep it alive for future generations.

Ah, but the calendar has turned to March and baseball is back in Florida and Arizona as the prospects of a new season beckons. Hope springs eternal. Unless your baseball, which, I fear, has failed to find a way to engage the future.

And that, ultimately, may leave this once great game standing in the batter's box with the bat on its shoulder — while the rest of the world rounds the bases on a proverbial home run trot to the cheers of an engaged and adoring fandom.

Comments (4)
Posted by: Joe Link | Mar 03, 2019 07:30

The problem is obvious.  All professional sports (yes all) have been taken over by the God Almighty dollar!  The average fan (me at least) is tired of all the spoiled (but talented) players waving their multi-million dollar contracts in our faces and then---demanding more.  Then crying about how hard they have to work for it...  sob, sob.  Good riddance and good-bye.

 



Posted by: Gayle Murphy | Mar 02, 2019 14:12

Pace of play is rhe biggest issue.   That is caused by two things. First, the strike zone which is now the size of a pie plate. Fix that!

 

Second, ban batting gloves . . . Because, you know, they have to be readjusted after every single pitch.

 

John Murphy



Posted by: Daniel Purdy | Mar 02, 2019 10:53

Also, you see hotdogging on the field. After a good inning, multiple players do a dance together. Everyone says that they want civility, we get hotdogging.



Posted by: Linda Hillgrove | Mar 02, 2019 09:49

....Kluzewski, Snider, Williams, Mantle, Mays, Ruth, Musial, Spahn, .....the "originals" have ALL left the building___B.H.

 



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