The score is 5-4, bottom of the ninth, two outs, runners on second and third base, game seven of the World Series. Here’s the payoff pitch. It’s a ground ball up the middle, the shortstop fields, he throws. Out! Ballgame over! World Series over!
But here comes the manager and he’s challenging the call. The umpires huddle. The crew chief puts on a headset and talks with the umpire in the tech box. We all wait, watching the replay over and over, but it’s clear the throw beat him. What’s taking them so long? The headset is off, here they come. Safe?
One more run does it. Up steps the designated hitter, a 250-pound meathead who can swing a bat really hard and do nothing else on a baseball diamond. He’s played zero games as a position player all season, but those awkward, lanky pitchers in the batter’s box are no good for ticket sales.
Here’s the first pitch, line drive into left field. The runner scores. World Series over. The home team wins. Good for them, I guess.
What was once a sport driven by romance and democracy has been overtaken by analytics and a thirst for dollar signs. All of the rule changes implemented to “improve” the game of baseball only include improvements of financial revenue, not what needs improvement the most.
The issue of fan engagement and outreach to younger audiences was handled by beginning extra innings with a runner on second base in order to curb the possibility of an overly long contest. Pitchers are now only allowed a certain amount of pickoff attempts to catch a baserunner off balance or inattentive. Time limits have been placed on visits to the mound from catchers, pitching coaches and managers to talk with an uneasy pitcher.
Designated hitters will most likely take over National League lineups come next season in order to produce more extra-base hits and avoid subjecting fans to watching so-called unathletic pitchers swing the bat.
If a fan’s attention span is so short that they are unable to watch and enjoy a game from first inning to last, their interest broken with a sacrifice bunt, a lack of home runs or uncertainty of time consumption, then baseball is not for them.
Baseball will never be perfect, but MLB marketing experts and analytics experts must realize there remains value in imperfection.
Your strong, stocky player may hit you 30 home runs in a season, but his poor defense limits him to playing first base.
The pitcher who can throw triple digits, change speeds and work both sides of the plate might get you two hits all season, but his advancing the runner with a well placed bunt gives your leadoff hitter a chance to knock him in.
A pitcher who can overcome a missed call by an umpire, or an offense that can rally after one, is what makes a great team. These are all fair and possible in baseball.
That purity is why we watch. Your team has to get a player from home plate all the way around the bases more times than the other team; your nine players against their nine players. You either score more runs than the other team, or you do not.
In a world where deeply intricate complexities render our minds angry and tired, an easily digestible ballgame helps us unwind.
Baseball is a simple game, but all of the changes forced upon us are making it anything but.