Everyone has an opinion of why Major League Baseball’s attendance and viewership is down.
“The games are too long. They need to shorten them.”
“The game is too dull, they need more in-game action.”
“The scores are too low, they need less strikeouts.”
“The strike zone is too objective, they need robot umpires.”
Well it’s time for me, the all-knowing and all-impartial baseball Dalai Lama, to weigh in on baseball’s biggest problem and speak directly to the staunch critics of Major League Baseball.
The problem is you.
That’s right all you iPhone addicted parents that can’t sit through two innings of their kids’ little league games without checking if Netflix has added anything new to binge watch. All you little Spongebob-raised pissants that need constant bells, blips, and boings in your face to stay awake for three hours. All you Kanye Kardashian-worshipping idolators that can’t get invested in a sport without a larger-than-life face of the game.
You are the problem.
Sure it may seem like a cop out to blame the consumer for not wanting to purchase the product. But this product was fun and exciting enough to be the most beloved sport in America for about a hundred years. The game didn’t magically change into some slogging, monotonous bore over the past couple decades.
You people changed.
And it’s not like the game never evolved with the times. Baseball has changed a lot more than basketball (now inexplicably the number two sport in America) has changed in the past few decades. Golf has remained pretty much exactly the same since titanium clubs came into the picture, yet I haven’t heard anybody screaming about its demise even though it’s now stuck with a depressed, whore-less (and consequently passion-less) Tiger Woods as its flagship star. So why is baseball being singled out as the one major sport that is plummeting toward its death knell these days?
Ratings peaked in the late-90s when casual fans creamed themselves over watching a bunch of anabolic super-mutants crush baseballs at alarming rates. Once the steroid bubble (and the careers of the Ken Caminitis and Brady Andersons of the world) burst, the soccer moms jumped ship, the politicians leapt atop their high horses, and ratings began to revert back to the levels baseball had seen back when the game was played by regular dudes. The residual issue here is that now people keep looking back at the ratings in 1998 and wonder how the game can get back to that level of viewership. And that ain’t happening until Colonel William Stryker relaunches the Weapon X program.
People were not tuning in to see baseball games back in those days. They were tuning in to see the T1000 eviscerate pitchers with a hand made of liquid metal. Tape measure bombs were being dropped at rates where people simply could not turn away from the freakshow. The ratings and attendance numbers back then were artificially created in the Balco laboratory like the swollen head of Barry Bonds. They were not an indication of the popularity of baseball games among American fans.
Ratings and business-wise, they say that baseball is not healthy right now. Medically speaking though, baseball is a thousand times healthier than it was twenty years ago. Mookie Betts and Christian Yelich, two guys who look like baseball players rather than World Bodybuilding Federation rejects, are the defending MVPs. It took about ten years after the publication of the Mitchell Report and the airing of the congressional steroid hearings before everyone stopped just assuming that all baseball players were on PEDs. Baseball underwent a national scandal and identity crisis that eclipsed the Black Sox scandal of 1919, and it has now finally come out on the other side a cleaner game that is actually more fun to watch than it was before.
That’s right. I said baseball is more fun to watch now. Maybe not for people that just want to see really big guys club things really far, but for sports fans that like to see talented athletes play the most difficult sport in the world at a high level, there has never been a better time to watch baseball. Sure, they started juicing the ball this year so home runs are through the roof again, but even when not taking the long ball renaissance into consideration, the game being played between the lines is better now than it has ever been.
Mike Trout is making a bid to be the best all-around player of all time. Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander have both streaked past Roy Halladay territory in the last two years and are now becoming icons on the level of Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax. Yelich, Betts, Aaron Judge, Nolan Arenado, Bryce Harper, Noah Syndergaard, Alex Bregman, Max Scherzer, Jose Altuve, Jacob deGrom, Anthony Rendon … these guys are all amazing athletes at the top of their game. And none of them are chubby first basemen or juiced-up DHs that are paid to strike out 200 times while hitting 40 bombs a year. But none of these guys are good enough to pay to go see live or to watch on your couch for free instead of Chrisley Knows Best?
Why? Because baseball has no mainstream crossover stars like Lebron James? Sorry if Mike Trout is just a good guy that wants to play baseball for a living rather than be a player/coach/GM/entrepreneur that builds up franchises on his way in and then destroys them on his way out. When did being amazing at a professional sport become an insufficient skill set for drawing a crowd?
And while we’re talking about basketball, somebody please explain to me why the NBA is such a better product to watch than MLB. Yes, the players are running all over the floor the whole time. Yes, the games are shorter. But how about those last five minutes? A game that should be played in an hour and a half generally takes two and a half because of all the timeouts, fouls, arguing and flopping at the end of the game. Up to 14 timeouts can (and usually will) be called in an NBA game. The maximum for an NFL game is 12. 12 timeouts per game in a sport where the players kick the crap out of each other for 60 minutes. Compared to 14 timeouts in a sport where guys are pretty much doing wind sprints and yelling at refs for 48 minutes. And that’s without factoring in all the game stoppages for every foul, argument, replay, and instance where a player lies on the ground for two minutes because he was breathed on by an opponent.
Obviously baseball has a lot more competition for viewership than it did back in the days when baseball was king in America. Not just in the world of sports, but with all fields of entertainment that can be consumed through a hundred different mediums in 2019. But one of the great things about baseball is how much of it you can miss. It’s the ultimate “background sport”. Just throw it up on the TV while you’re paying bills, doing the dishes, reading a book, playing with the kids, cleaning up, or anything else that doesn’t require a complete lack of outside stimuli. Just listen to the broadcast and look up if the play-by-play guy raises his voice. You could even listen with the sound off and look up at the screen every couple minutes to check in. The score, inning, count, number of outs, baserunning situation, and on most channels even the current pitcher’s pitch count is listed in the corner of the screen. You can get a complete update on the game status by glancing at the screen for three seconds. I do it all the time. You can catch 75% of your team’s games without making a significant time investment.
Bear in mind, I still think you’re a schmuck if you feel the need to consume baseball in this manner. Especially if you grew up a fan before turning your back on it because the game is not exciting enough for you anymore. The guys playing now are better than they’ve ever been before. The amount of pitching changes these days has slowed the game down, but they have also made the game much more competitive. There are more strikeouts and walks than ever before and less balls put in play, but that only accentuates the intensity of the pitcher-batter match-up. The personalities of the players are not particularly exciting, but the level of skill being displayed on the field has never been better. If you’re tuning in to sports contests to see end zone dances and press conferences with guys that wear funny hats and give saucy one-liners, you’re probably more of a pro wrestling fan than a sports fan anyway.
The NFL has eliminated defense and is being run by a Napleonic commissioner handing down arbitrary suspensions for domestic assaults and make-believe cheating scandals.
The NBA has yielded complete control of the league to the star players, who have decided to cuddle together on superteams instead of trying to beat each other. And now there are no more than three realistic title contenders every single year.
Baseball has finally moved past their humiliating PED scandal while incorporating the new juiced ball this year to appease fans of fair play as well as fans of the long ball. Most of the players are good dudes. The game is an exciting sport that can be “watched” without the demanding need of being watched. Fans have the privilege of watching a game six to seven nights per week for a season that runs seven months long. And you windbags are crying about a few less balls being put in play and a game that takes a little longer?
It’s the greatest game in the world. It does not need to change.
You need to change.