Simply put, the game of baseball is an absolute mess right now. And it’s not just because of the cheating scandal involving the Houston Astros that has rocked the sport to it’s core. The quality of play and the sport’s popularity have been rapidly declining over the past decade. And all of this has happened under the watch of current baseball commissioner Rob Manfred.
Attendance is on the decline, the length of games continue to get longer with each passing year, and the pace of play has never been slower. And none of the measures that Manfred has taken in order to remedy these problems has fixed anything. If anything, all of the rule changes he has passed over the last several years have made things worse. That being said , it’s time for Manfred to step down as commissioner of baseball.
It’s time for the owners to find a dynamic leader who will find real solutions to what ails baseball right now instead of the Mickey Mouse measures that Manfred has taken to try and fix the game. Someone like a Peter Ueberroth who brought the game out from under the ashes to new heights of popularity in the 80’s.
This isn’t the first time that the game of baseball has been in crisis mode. It has survived and gone on to thrive after calamities like the Black Sox scandal in 1919, the drug scandals of the early 80s, one of its best players, Pete Rose, being found guilty of betting on baseball, and the steroid era of the late 90s and early 2000s.
And it will survive this cheating scandal with the Astros as well. But there is much more than this scandal that ails baseball right now and Rob Manfred has shown time and again that he isn’t the person to fix what is wrong with this great game. Below are a few instances of how he has failed the game and how his solutions to try and fix it are only not helping but, are damaging the game even further.
His Handling of the Houston Astros cheating scandal.
Manfred has been more interested in getting this story out of the media spotlight and sweeping it under the rug than he was in finding out the whole truth about what went on and handing out appropriate punishments. Stiff penalties were in fact meted out to the Houston Astros organization and their management. Manager AJ Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow were both given 1-year suspensions. The Astros will also lose their first and second round draft picks in 2020 and 2021 and they were fined 5 million dollars.
How about the players who actually participated in these cheating scams though? They will be getting off scot-free. No fines, no suspensions. And this gets to the very core of why it is that Manfred has mishandled this investigation. In a hurried attempt to get this out of the headlines, he immediately granted the players involved immunity in order to land bigger fish.
If Manfred was interested in doing a thorough investigation and punishing all those involved, giving the players involved in this case immunity would have only been done as a last resort.
The Long Ball is not the Answer.
Manfred seemed to be under the impression that more homeruns would mean better attendance numbers. Despite claims to the contrary, something has been done to the baseball to increase the home run rate. After several years in a row of home runs being on the decline, in 2019, 6,776 home runs were hit, 671 more than in any other previous season in the history of Major League Baseball. Fifteen teams broke their franchise record for most home runs hit in a season.
Yet attendance numbers have been steadily declining over the past four seasons. Since 2015, attendance is down 7%. In 2019 , it was down 1.62% from the previous year. Attendance had dropped 4% in 2018. Last year was the first time in 15 years that attendance dropped below 70 million and 14 out of 30 teams saw a decline in attendance. So it’s easy to see that the increase in offense and home runs hit didn’t bring people back to the game.
This is yet another illustration of how Manfred has failed to grasp what it is that is hurting the popularity of baseball. The problem is not a lack of offense or not enough home runs being hit. The problem is with the pace of play and the length of games.
Baseball will always be a slow-moving game. That is part of its charm. But there is a limit even when it comes to the most ardent baseball fan. Games are taking longer and longer to complete and are becoming less and less action packed. There is too much downtime because of things like more time in between pitches, less balls put in play, more strikeouts and less complete games. Also the fact that the stolen base is no longer used as a weapon on offense has meant less action, less excitement and less strategy.
Here are some numbers that illustrate some of these assertions and that point out why games are longer, move slower, and are less action packed.
2010 2019. Diff
HRs per game. 1.90. 2.78 . +48%
Swing &Miss rate. 20.9% 25.7% +23%
Time between 3:16. 4.17 . +31%
balls put in play
Pitchers per club. 24 . 31. +29%
Complete games. 165 . 45 . -73%
Per game. .50 . .31 . -38%
Per game. 1.68. 1.28 . -24%
Game . 184.4. 175.9. -5%
So simply put, all the numbers that slow the game down and make the game less action-packed are on the rise , and all the numbers that make the game more exciting and cause it to move along faster are on the decline. No doubt home runs are exciting and are magestic but, if baseball is nothing but home runs and strikeouts, which it is quickly becoming, and is devoid of excitement and strategy that comes with things like the stolen base, it becomes a very boring game for even the most hardcore baseball fan.
The homerun also loses it’s a luster if it happens so often that it becomes more of a ho-hum thing. Part of the thing that made the homerun exciting was the fact that it’s something that you didn’t see with a lot of regularity. And while exciting, it also slows the game down.
So Manfred’s solution to increase the popularity of baseball by making the home run more prevalent has failed on two levels. 1. By increasing the frequency of home runs to the point where it is no longer a special thing to see, he has cheapened it. 2. As a result of teams now being geared to think of nothing but hitting the long ball, strikeouts are on the rise which further slows the pace of the game and causes the game to take longer to complete.
I think there are two simple solutions to fix what is perhaps the biggest on-field problem in baseball which is pace-of-play. 1. Increase the size of the strike zone. The strike zone seems to be shrinking every year. The result is more walks and therefore more pitches being thrown which of course increases the length of games. If you increase the size of the strike zone, you have less walks, which means that pitchers throw less pitches, which means pitchers can stay in the game longer , which means that less pitching changes are necessary, which means that this 3 pitcher rule which will be discussed later , wouldn’t be necessary .
Also by increasing the size of the strike zone, you force teams to swing the bat more . Which means more balls in play. Making the strike zone bigger will also make it harder to hit home runs because batters can’t be as selective at the plate. The net effect of all of this will be that fewer teams will implement a strategy of constantly trying to hit the long ball. Teams will have to rely more on manufacturing runs by doing things like stealing bases, using the hit-and-run more often and moving runners by hitting the ball to the right side of the infield.
2. Players are no longer allowed to step out of of the batter’s box once the at bat has started. If he does , it’s an automatic strike. I can see why players want to step out of the box during an at-bat. Hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in all of sports. Therefore it takes a lot of focus and concentration. Sometimes as a way to alleviate the stress, players need to step out of the box and get themselves refocused.
It’s totally out of hand now though. Batters step out after every pitch to fix their helmet, adjust their batting gloves, adjust the mountains of padding that they now wear at the plate. If you want to know why the time in between balls in play has increased over the last decade, this is a big reason why. If you want to increase the pace of play, you have to have guys stay in the batter’s box for the whole at-bat. The only time they would be allowed to step out would be during mound visits.
And there would have to be a no tolerance threshold right from the beginning. It can’t be one of those things where you call the automatic strike all the time at the beginning but then you let up as the year goes on and then guys go right back to stepping out of the box all the time. It has to be an automatic call every single time. It would be messy at first because it would take a while for players to adjust to it. But once they did, the pace of play would be much faster than it is now as a result of there being a lot less time in between pitches.
Three Pitcher rule does nothing but remove a basic element that makes baseball the game that it is.
Baseball is very much a thinking man’s game. For those of us who love it, a lot of the fun of watching a game is the strategy of it. A lot of the entertainment that comes with watching baseball is all the thinking that goes on in between pitches. Strategies and mindsets change after just about every pitch. The complexion of an at-bat can completely change after one pitch. The difference between a 3-1 count and a 2-2 count is huge. The approach of the hitter is completely different, what you throw in those situations is usually completely different, whether or not you hit and run, steal or bunt depends a lot on what the count is as well.
Pitching changes are also a very strategic part of the game of baseball. Do you leave the starter in to face one more batter, or is he out of gas and therefore you need to bring in a reliever? Do you try and get the starter through that half-inning because his spot in the order is coming up in the next half inning? Or do you do a double switch because the starter is out of gas? As a fan, part of the fun of watching a game is trying to think along with the manager as to what the right move is in each one of those situations.
With this three batter rule, Manfred has come up with a very superficial, not very well thought out, Mickey Mouse way of trying to shorten the length of games. You don’t come up with a solution to shorten the length of games by taking away one of the things that makes the game so much fun to watch.
For those not familiar with the three batter rule, in a nutshell it is this. When a team brings in a reliever from the bullpen, he has to either face a minimum of three batters or finish the inning. This takes away from the strategy of the game for several reasons.
One of the more interesting elements of baseball is the cat and mouse game that goes on between two managers when pitching changes are made. This three pitcher rule will take away from things like watching the manager of the team on the field waiting for the other team to announce a pinch hitter before bringing in a reliever to face that specific batter. Then seeing if the manager of the team at bat decides if he wants to burn another player on his roster by bringing in yet another pinch hitter without the original pinch hitter even getting an at-bat
It also takes away the ability of the manager of the team in the field to use the best possible matchups. He can no longer start the inning out with a right-handed pitcher facing a right-handed batter, and then if the next man in the order is left-handed, he can’t bring in a left-hander to face him. Taking away a basic element of what makes baseball a great game to watch which is it’s strategy is not going to improve the game and it’s not going to increase its popularity. Sure it takes a little extra time to make these extra pitching changes but, it’s time well spent because it’s something that keeps you engaged in the game.
In my opinion, this 3 pitcher rule would be the equivalent of not allowing NFL teams to substitute players in between plays. How much less strategic would football be if teams were not allowed to do that? And how much less interesting would the game be as a result of that?
Instead of a solution like this three pitcher rule that takes away an element that makes baseball fun to watch, how about taking away something that delays the game but adds nothing to it and that is teams being allowed to challenge every play on the field other than balls and strikes? The only thing instant replay should be used for in baseball is on home run balls. Whether or not the ball was fair or foul and whether or not the ball cleared the wall. Plays like whether or not a runner was safe or out on the base paths eventually even themselves out and they don’t have as big an impact on the game as a disputed home run.
Adding the DH to the National League.
This rule has yet to be implemented, but based on all the scuttlebutt going around Major League Baseball, it’s only a matter of time before it happens. And this is yet another short-sighted, not very well thought out, Mickey Mouse non solution by Manfred.
It would be yet another rule that would take away from the strategy of the game while also making games longer. A strategic move like the double-switch would pretty much become extinct. You’re also taking away the element of a manager trying to decide whether he should keep a pitcher in the game or pinch-hit for him.
It will also increase the length of games. The DH means more offense which of course means the games will take longer to play. There are also more pitching changes when the DH is in play because those changes don’t affect the lineup at all. Because of all of these factors, on average, American League games are three minutes longer than National League games.
A lot of people say that it should be the same in both leagues. You either have a DH in both leagues or you have no DH in both leagues. I actually like the way that it is now. Only having the DH in the American League adds an element of strategy to the World Series. When the game is being played in the National League Park, it’s interesting to watch whether the American League team puts their normal DH in the field or do they put him on the bench in favor of a better defensive player. This also makes home field advantage more important. Each league is at a major disadvantage when it plays in the other team’s park.
The proposed new post season format is a joke.
This is yet another example of how Manfred is coming up with yet another gimmick to try and increase interest in baseball. And it’s another not very well-thought-out proposal. The reason why baseball had added an extra playoff team a few years ago was because too many wild card teams were going on to win the World Series.
Thus the regular season was made less meaningful and there was very little reward and therefore very little incentive to try and win ones division. As a result, baseball added an extra playoff team and made the non division winners have to play a single elimination game before moving on to the division round.
Manfred is now looking to reverse that by adding even more teams to the playoffs but also increasing the chances of a division winner losing in the early rounds because the division series is going from 5 to 3 games. How would it be good for baseball for a sub .500 team to win the World Series? Here is the one that takes the cake though. Teams would be able to choose who their opponents would be in the playoffs. I’m not positive but, I’m pretty sure that never in the history of the four major sports in North America has a league allowed a team to pick who they play in the playoffs.
If Manfred wants to attract new fans to the game, how about playing the weekend World Series games during the day? With postseason games usually not starting until around 8:30 and not ending until past midnight, kids can’t stay up to watch the World Series. You’re not going to attract younger fans to the game if they can’t watch it when they’re young.
Manfred is turning baseball into a circus. All of his solutions have or will do nothing but hurt the game and cause its popularity to continue to dwindle. It’s time for him to step down and it’s time for baseball to find a new, truly innovative commissioner.