Baseball has over 100 years of history behind it to spur the interest of MLB fans. One thing it still hasn’t figured out, however, is a way to increase excitement and speed up the game. Like every sport, baseball is constantly being forced to reckon with the changing times. Some of these changes, however, do nothing to keep the interest of even diehard MLB fans.
Why is baseball so slow?
Baseball functions more like a game of chess than football, basketball, or soccer. There isn’t a running clock dictating when the next inning will start; everything falls into place because of this. While this can make baseball more exciting, it can slow down games that aren’t going into extra minutes.
With so many at-bats during, everything can slow the excitement of the game. Every complaint, pitching change, lineup change, runner change, and practice swing adds up by the end of a nine-inning contest. Baseball has tried to appease these with changes, but it hasn’t helped.
In 2018, a rule limited the number of mound visits, although game times still slowed. The 2019 season saw the 12th-most relief pitchers facing two or fewer batters in history. In 2019, the amount of time between pitches increased to the most since time was tracked.
With every step MLB tries to take toward a more exciting product, managers and players find a way to take another step back. Last season, the average game lasted more than three hours.
This year, the MLB is having one of its biggest rule overhauls ever. Although most of the changes involve roster construction, the league’s response to the abundance of relievers gets the most attention.
Will this new rule help save the game?
Baseball has always been a game of tactics. Managers have over two dozen pieces they can use to get out of jams. A new rule will make the pitching strategy more interesting as MLB also tries to limit extra time. Per the new rule, every relief pitcher has to face at least three batters before they can be pulled unless they can’t perform due to injury or illness.
This rule may have some consequences for the way games are managed. Some pitchers are used as specialists to go against specific batters. While this rule may not limit their ability to do so, managers now must decide whether the risk of sending out a pitcher to stop one batter is worth the chance of the other two overmatching him.
For those who want to shorten the game, this rule is one of the most heavy-handed in memory. Fans of the strategic side of MLB see it as controversial. Executive Director of the MLB Players Association Tony Clark believes the rules change the fundamentals of the game. “If we want to make extraordinary changes, call it something else,” Clark said, according to The Associated Press. “Don’t call it baseball.”
Can baseball get fans back?
Between long games and a recent cheating scandal, baseball is going through a crisis it hasn’t seen since the height of the steroid scandal. The league is trying to improve the game and bring back casual fans, but the fact of the matter is there’s no correct way to do so.
Rule changes may shorten the game. But every person who stopped watching or chooses to watch sparingly has their reasons. If MLB does too much to attract more fans, it could alienate established fans and hurt ratings more than help them.
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