Baseball season started again last week, the beginning of a long, 162-game slog over a six month period. Die-hard fans settle in to follow every little sub-plot of major league sports’ longest, most grueling schedule. Casual fans will check in and out, maybe attend one game along the way, and glance at the standings here and there. In the fall, when eight teams remain for a month of playoffs, many of these casuals will suddenly become intensely interested, especially if their home team is involved.
I’ll tell you up front: I’m one of those casual fans. Back in the late 1970’s I was pretty serious about baseball, following the entire season through the TV and newspaper. Eventually I burnt out, lost interest. And with the exception of playoffs, I never got the passion back.
I guess, plain and simple, there are some things about baseball that I just don’t like. And though my ideas will probably be very unpopular, I have some suggestions that I think would make the game more enjoyable. Unfortunately, these suggestions involve changing fundamental rules of the game.
Serious baseball fans will declare the sport in some eras as being a hitter’s game, and at other times a pitcher’s game. You would have to ask one of them to explain in detail what this means, but essentially they are saying that for various subtle reasons, the game has slightly favored the batter or pitcher at certain points in its history.
To me, baseball is and has always been, a pitcher’s game. Allow me to explain:
Let’s face it, only die-hard, serious fans appreciate the subtleties of pitching. When we hear commentators say things like ‘He’s (the pitcher) really working the outside corner of the plate,’ it’s hard to understand the significance of this information. For non-athletes, it’s hard to even imagine someone having the ball control to work the outside corner of the plate, let alone understand how the placement of pitches affects a game overall. The experts, however, assure us that these things are important.
So, let me make my first point more clearly: you have to be a pretty serious fan to appreciate a good pitching duel.
My next point though, is even more important: casual fans don’t want to see pitching. Casual fans want to see hitting. Lots of it. And base-running. They want to see deeply hit balls, and lots of action on the bags. This is the most exciting part of the game, and unfortunately there’s damn little of it.
How do you fix this? I’ll tell you, but you have to promise not to freak out. You really need to listen. Here it is: we change one of the basic rules of the game. The whole notion of a caught ball counting as an out makes no sense. The exciting challenge of baseball is to hit the ball as hard and deep as possible. And what is more anticlimactic than unloading a sheer bomb into the outfield, only to have it caught and count as an out? It makes no sense, because it doesn’t reward the most important part of the game: the long ball.
Getting base hits then becomes largely a matter of luck: you happen to hit the ball into the exact spot where no one can get to it. Often it’s not too shallow, not too deep, that perfect spot reached when the ball flies over the head of the infielders but doesn’t quite reach the outfielders.
What I’m proposing is this: a caught ball no longer counts as an out. Every ball is playable, and batters will run the bases whether the ball is caught or not. What will this achieve? Everything. It will reward all deeply hit balls, and will put many more people on the bases. This creates a great competition between two important skills: base running versus throwing. Fielders will have to throw out runners. Either that or the pitcher gets strike-outs.
The fans in the stand will no longer need stimulants to get through games. Players will be hitting and running, fielders will be catching and throwing. And that will pretty damn exciting. And if this extends innings too much, then cut the game to seven innings instead of nine.
Think about it: it makes sense.
But I know: baseball is so steeped in tradition, people will never want to change it. Baseball is the one place in human history where jocks and nerds are on the same side. What would become of the beloved statistics accrued over the past hundred or so years? How would be compare modern players to Ty Cobb if we change the way the game is played?
What would be interesting would be to set up a trial period, either before, during, or after a season. Say you take a month to play by these rules. See how the fans and the players like it. We know the pitchers will hate it. To that I say: who cares. Pitchers are boring. Give me hitters any day.
And now all I can do is sit back and await the firestorm. I worry for my safety. Jocks and nerds are mobilizing, all to stop a common enemy: me.
Uh-oh. A big, black car has just pulled up in front of my house. Who is that guy getting out? He looks familiar. Oh my God, it’s Madison Bumgarner. Where’s my bat? Call 911!