Baseball’s Future

With the drumbeat for change louder and louder, and with the field of traditionalists shrinking more each year, it seems inevitable that changes, some major, will be made to the sport of baseball in order to increase fan interest and watchability by, among other things, speeding up the game. Indeed, in my youth a two-hour game was seen as the model, with most clocking in around 2:30. Now, anything under three hours is considered unusual, and four-hour marathons are not uncommon. Beyond length, the other common objection is lack of action, as batters try for home runs, pitchers for strikeouts, and fun things like triples, hit-and-runs, bunts and steals have become rarities. Not to be left out of the discussion, therefore, I herewith offer my suggestions, as a long-time traditionalist, of changes I would like to see to save, if not improve, our former national pastime.

1. Electronic Strike Zone. Keep the home plate umpire, but have balls and strikes called by an automatic ball-strike technology. Now that every TV broadcast shows whether and where a pitch actually crosses home plate, it is frustrating for the viewer, let alone the player, when the human umpire calls a bad pitch a strike, and vice versa. It detracts, rather than adds, enjoyment to watching the game.

2. Curtail Shifts. Require a team to keep two infielders on each side of 2nd base. I was hoping that players would end the unfortunate practice of overshifting simply by hitting to the opposite field, or even bunting, but Max Kepler insists on trying to hit a home run every at bat and seeing his average fall toward .200. To the extent that the shift takes away offense, which is its purpose, it takes fun away from the game.

3. Pitch Clock. Experts say this is the surest way to speed up a game, and certainly no one enjoys watching pitchers who dawdle and belabor every delivery. If, say, the pitcher has 20 seconds from receiving the ball to delivering the next pitch, the clock runs until the pitch is thrown, not just the windup or stretch. By eliminating the pitcher’s holding the ball for five seconds to throw off the baserunner’s timing, you will also get rid of the batter’s asking for time, stepping out and starting the whole thing over. A suggestion has been made to have a clock for the batter, as well, but I don’t think that’s necessary. If the pitcher has a 20-second clock, he should be allowed to throw the pitch any time after 15 seconds, regardless of whether the batter is ready.

4. No DH. I’m the last one to come around on this, having grown up a National League follower, but the pitcher’s time at the plate is generally the least interesting part of a game. It also disrupts the action around it, hurting the chances for the number eight hitter to get a good pitch and putting a crimp in one out of every three offensive innings.

5. Eliminate Replay for Oversliding. When a baserunner beats the tag at second or third but his foot separates from the base for a split second, instant replay will show if the fielder maintained the tag and the runner then gets called out. First, this is an injustice: if the runner beats the tag he should be awarded the base. Second, it discourages the safer feet-first slide and rewards the hands-first slide, which results in injuries and is a bad model for kids. Third, it slows the game as it leads to time-consuming instant replay review. Unlike the bang-bang play at first that gets reversed, there is no satisfaction here in “getting the call right.” It’s not a call that, before instant replay, was even a part of the game. My fix: allow replay only when the umpire has called the runner out, which would prevent injustice. If the umpire doesn’t detect any separation in real time, no replay.

1 reply
  1. Bennett Beach
    Bennett Beach says:

    I agree with most of your ideas, Bob, but I’m not sure about curtailing shifts. Shouldn’t Major Leaguers be able to hit to the vacant half of an infield? I’m sure it’s tougher than it looks, but I’d like to see them work on that. I’d also like to see the networks reduce the between-innings ad time.


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