By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Hey, did you hear? The Major League Baseball All-Star Game is Tuesday night. But no apologies if you were unaware. The event ain’t exactly what it used to be.
Which is why we’re here to improve it.
Of course, MLB has tried its damnedest in recent years to make the All-Star Game relevant again, and we all know how that has turned out. There was the idea – doomed from the start – of granting home field advantage in the World Series to the league that won the All-Star Game, a notion that went over like a wet fart in church. Most people winced. A few laughed uncontrollably. And then everyone went right back to doing what they were doing.
Which is to say they ignored it.
Fact: entering tonight, the last two MLB All-Star Games have drawn the lowest television ratings of all-time – a 5.4 and 5.5 To put that into perspective: precisely 10 years earlier, in 2006-07, the numbers were 9.3 and 8.4; ten years before that, in 1996-97, the numbers were 13.2 and 11.8; and 10 years before that, in 1986-87, the numbers were 20.3 and 18.2.
If you dare venture back another 10 years, in 1976-77, the All-Star game posted a 27.1 and 24.5, courtesy of Baseball-Almanac.com.
The point? The game is literally dying.
Which is why we think MLB should use it as a laboratory to try some of that baseball must explore if the game is to ever evolve.
Here are just a few thoughts:
1. The 20-second pitch clock. An easy one, right? Already, baseball has experimented with a pitch clock in the Arizona Fall League and used it in the minors. So why do it in the All-Star Game? Because it’s not about the players. It’s about the fans. We’re not entirely sure, but we’re willing to bet that you’ve seen a major league game (in person or on TV) more recently than you’ve seen a minor league game. So why not put the pitch clock on display for all of America to see, and then let the public make its own determinations?
2. Starting an inning with a runner on second base. Again, this has been theorized, mostly as a way to shorten extra-inning games. But in the All-Star Game, for the sake of experimentation, why not intensify the idea so as to see the effect? In every other inning – the second, fourth, sixth and eighth, for starters – start the inning with a runner on second. (The simplest way to do this is to have the player who made the final out in the first, third, fifth and seventh take his place at second base.) Placing a runner on second for multiple innings will give us a larger sample, and help assess just how much such a tactic can help shorten a game.
Crazy? Maybe. But it’s worth a look because everything is worth a look at this stage.
3. Shorter at-bats. In case you missed it, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated recently noted the astonishing fact that, on average, nearly four minutes now pass before a ball is put into play in a major league game. That’s not four minutes between hits. It’s four minutes between any ball put in play, meaning you could spend more than 11 or 12 minutes watching a grounder to second base, a popup to catcher a fly ball to left field.
So, just for a night, do something radical: excluding foul balls, a maximum of five-pitch at-bats. Three strikes and you’re out. Three balls and you walk. (Why do pitchers get an extra pitch to waste anyway?) That might not sound like much to start, but it will eliminate some waste pitches and help tighten up at-bats.
Admittedly, this is a more radical change than others.
But aren’t we at a stage where the game needs some progressive thinking?
Oh, and send along any ideas you have, too.