Last week I discussed my addiction to sports, and focused primarily on my favorite sport, baseball, and my favorite team, the Boston Red Sox. What I didn’t mention — and it makes me very sad even to bring this up — is the fact that baseball is getting really tedious these days.
At first, I tried to ignore this problem. But then I had a conversation with a guy I know through work, who is a lifelong Red Sox fan. When I asked him what he thought of the previous night’s game, I was stunned when he replied, “I haven’t watched a single game this year. Baseball has gotten so slow-paced, so boring, that I just can’t watch anymore. It’s like watching paint dry.”
I countered by reminding him how exciting it is when the Red Sox and Yankees both have good seasons and fight it out for first place, which is happening this year. He said, “Are you kidding?! Red Sox-Yankee games are the worst. They never finish in less than four hours!”
His words really shocked me. I’ve always said that I personally prefer a crisp 3 to 2 ballgame that takes a little over two hours, rather than a long, drawn out 12 to 9 game with a dozen walks that takes four-plus hours to conclude. But the powers-that-be in the Major League offices have determined that fans want a lot of scoring, especially home runs, so the game has been modified in recent decades. The most notable changes have been smaller playing fields with “short porch” outfield walls, significantly livelier baseballs, and tighter strike zones. I just accepted it as part of the evolution of the game. Everything now is geared for home runs, but the byproducts are more walks, more strikeouts, more 12-pitch at bats, and more pitchers getting pulled in the 5th inning because the pitch count topped a hundred.
After my Sox fan friend revealed that he doesn’t even watch anymore, I said to myself, “You know, he’s right. Baseball has gotten WAY too tedious. It takes forever to complete a game nowadays.”
The very next day a story appeared in many news outlets. Here was the headline: “MLB attendance drops to lowest in 15 years.” So far this season, attendance is down 6.6 percent compared to last year, continuing a downward trend.
Hmm, it seems my friend and I are not the only ones noticing. Fans are expressing their frustration by not showing up. (The $76 average ticket price — twice that at Fenway — might be a contributing factor, too.)
If it were up to me, I’d institute some changes to speed up the game, such as a 20-second pitch clock, tell the umps to call the real strike zone, and get rid of the DH. I think folks will realize a crisp 3 to 2 game that ends by 9:30 p.m. is more fun than staying up way past 11 watching your closer walk the bases loaded.
But, of course, it’s not up to me. So, in the meantime, let’s have James Earl Jones do a reading from the Gospel according to Saint Doubleday (from the climactic scene in the movie “Field of Dreams”):
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game — it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again. Ohhhh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”
I’m sure baseball will survive. I just wish they’d pick up the pace a bit.