By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
“It is the greatest game in the world but there are some threats to it because of the way the game is evolving, and I take some responsibility for that because the executives like me who have spent a lot of time using analytics and other measures to try and optimize individual and team performance have unwittingly had, you know, a negative impact on the aesthetic value of the game and the entertainment value of the game. I mean, clearly, you know the strikeout rate is a little bit out of control and we need to find a way to get more action in the game, get the ball in play more often, allow players to show their athleticism some more and give the fans more of what they want.”
– Former Cubs president Theo Epstein, who resigned this week
Well I’ve got just one word for this: Halle – (expletive) – lujah.
So Theo Epstein is leaving the Cubs, which you shouldn’t be surprised about. If you read or heard Epstein’s comments at the end of the Cubs’ season, he was hinting toward something like this. The more surprising part is that Epstein believes the game that has made him millions is now indisputably broken, a victim of its own doing.
I’ve said this before and I’ll undoubtedly say it again, albeit in far louder and more annoying terms and tones: the quality of the baseball product stinks. It’s unwatchable. And more important to Major League Baseball, it’s unsellable.
If you have disagreed with me on this, you’re certainly entitled. Traditionalists believe that baseball rules are what they are and that they shouldn’t change, which I find to be stubborn, outdated and downright suicidal. Most of these people are well past their 50th birthday, which is fine. Everyone’s opinion counts. But we now have one of the most accomplished executives in baseball history telling us the game is being ruined – and that should count for something.
Can baseball be saved? I have no idea. Maybe it’s too late. But what I do know is that I’m willing to hear someone like Epstein put some ideas together – whether they’re new or old – because baseball doesn’t just badly need them. Baseball has badly needed them for some time.
Outlaw the shift? I’m in. A pitch clock? Hell yes. Some sort of radical penalty for strikeouts? Let’s try it. The current baseball rules are as old as the game itself, which makes zero sense given that the game was invented in the 19th century.
Seriously, what other business or way of life operated the same way it did 150 years ago? Anyone still walking to work or taking a horse and carriage? Basketball introduced the 3-point line almost 40 years ago. Football has seemingly changed dozens of rules to make the game more entertaining and fan-friendly. Even hockey made changes to increase scoring and action, from restrictions of goalie equipment to trapezoidal figures to the elimination of the center-ice line.
Meanwhile, as life and human beings have become increasingly complex, baseball has operated with rules that existed two generations before the Spanish flu.
Today, of course, we have a different pandemic to deal with.
Baseball is sicker than ever.
Now that someone like Epstein has actually spoken, maybe people will listen.
You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.