By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Major League Baseball is going to suffer, perhaps more than any other sport. If and when the four major sports all return this summer, after all, there is the very real chance baseball will have more competition than ever before.
Basketball in July. Hockey in August. And maybe both – along with football – in baseball’s cherished month of October.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I think this is a good thing. Baseball’s on-field product has deteriorated considerably in recent years, to the point where the game has less action than ever before. Pitchers and hitters take an eternity to engage. Fewer balls than ever are put into play. Meanwhile, the overall product often drags on for more than 200 minutes, which is an utterly preposterous amount of time for a schedule that asks for 162 games a year.
Do the math. The Red Sox averaged 3 hours, 23 minutes last season – 203 minutes per contest. Multiply that by 162 and you get 32,886 minutes, which translates into just over 548 hours – or roughly 23 full days.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have 548 hours to give away, especially to watch guys who won’t step into the batter’s box or actually deliver a pitch, let alone put a ball into play.
My riding lawnmower is way more fun and I might actually see the grass grow while I’m doing it.
Here’s the ultimate point: for much of its existence, baseball has owned our attention from the middle of June through August, in large part because the other three major sports are all out of season. That could very well change this year as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, which means baseball won’t have the stage by default. And aside from having just generic competition, MLB will be combating both the NHL and NBA postseasons, which means the other guys will have games far more meaningful.
If there are sports gods – and if baseball is to have any real, long-term hope – here’s what needs to happen: a swift kick to the game’s metaphorical rosin bag. A reality check. Maybe then – and only then – will baseball’s arrogant attitude (particularly from the players) awaken to the reality that the game is less appealing and entertaining than ever.
After all, isn’t that the worst part? David Price makes his $31 million annually, fully guaranteed, and takes an eternity between pitches. And then, when the notion of the pitch clock comes up, he (and many like him) don’t merely hold on to the ball. They hold on to the ball and defiantly tell you that they have no intention of changing, directly spitting into the face of the person who matters most.
So here’s a question for you: when was the last time that baseball actually did something for you that made you more willing to commit to its sport? I’d say probably the one-game play-in. And you know why? Because it’s relatively fast. And it adds drama. It’s more about you than it is about them.
But that’s it.
The rest of the time, your reward per minute invested isn’t nearly as great as theirs, and that’s a problem.
Will baseball ever get it? Only heaven knows. It certainly hasn’t felt like it. Baseball has been so stuck in its ways that bad demographics have gotten insanely worse. The game has long needed to do something substantial for its fans – and by that, I mean its young fans – and we all know how the world generally works.
People often don’t change until they have to.
So now, at this challenging time, let’s hope baseball has to.
You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.