When he finally mowed the last man down
He was high as he had ever been
Laughing to the sound of the world going around
Completely unaware of the win
And while the papers would say he was scattered that day
He was pretty as a pitcher could be
The day Dock Ellis of the Pittsburgh Pirates
Threw a no hitter on LSD
– Todd Snider
I can still name the entire 1990 Red Sox line up. I had no idea who Bell Biv Devoe, George Michael, or Wilson Phillips were; but Jody Reed, Mike Greenwell and Marty Barrett were household names.
I would have canceled dinner plans with Elvis in order to watch the 2003 post season between the Red Sox and the Yankees and Athletics. I stayed up to until 3 in the morning to watch the Sox lose in extra innings on the west coast to be followed by a restless night of frustrated sleep. The back of my seat grew cold as Pedro Martinez pitched past his abilities making Grady Little the scapegoat for the entire season. The frustrating end to the 2003 season was resolved after the 2004 World Series win, and the 2007 win was icing on a stale cake.
For the 2010 season I probably watched a collective single hour of Red Sox Baseball on television and there were several factors leading towards the steady decrease in interest. The underdog story came to a definitive end after 2007 and the Red Sox were seen as corporate over-spenders not unlike their Yankee arch-rivals. The agony of consistent Red Sox loses caused strangers to bond as they shared stories of heartbreak passed down from generations of Bostonians. After two World Series wins in four years this heartbreak mentality started to come across as arrogance, like Lindsay Lohan whining “Cocaine Again!??” Fans of true underdog teams such as the Cubs and Brewers probably now make no distinction between the Red Sox and the evil empire of the Yankees. As Red Sox Nation grew rapidly these facts caused me to slowly drift away from the pact and view Major League Baseball with a more critical eye.
The below suggestions aren’t new or groundbreaking, but in my opinion could help baseball to become more watchable from start to finish.
1) Speeding Things Up
As the American lifestyle has become more fast paced, the average pace of television has seemed to slow down. I began to notice this with the popularity of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Jeopardy asks an average of 61 questions per half hour show while Millionaire asks only 16. The pace was noticeably slower, but it got a lot worse. Shows like Deal or No Deal, Don’t Forget the Lyrics and Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader were insultingly slow. The concepts were silly enough to provide a half hour of mindless entertainment, but the pace was uncomfortable. I appreciate an artificial build-up of suspense, but waiting a full 15 seconds to reveal an answer on these shows just wastes everyone’s time. I’d rather see more commercials.
All statistics I found online suggest that the average baseball game length has increased by 30 minutes over the past 60 years. I would have guessed a higher number. Umpires could impose fines or penalties for a pitcher or batter delaying a game, but that doesn’t get to the root of the issue. Baseball players are paid millions of dollars to win baseball games, but more importantly and more directly they are paid to entertain me. Walking around and adjusting their “baseballs” for 45 seconds between pitches does not entertain me. Jimmy Buffet knows he has to play Margaritaville every night and does it to please his fans, who pay for his boat drinks. Maria in West Side Story has to act sad and surprised as Tony dies every single night but she does it to entertain her audience. I’m not suggesting that baseball turn into a stage performance, just that the players better understand why they are playing and who they are playing for.
2) Rethinking American/National Leagues
Until the 1950s, all Major League Baseball teams were located on the east coast. As West Coast and Midwest cities increased in population they gained baseball teams and seemed to distribute league assignments evenly across the country. Players now spend half their season on the road flying thousands of miles to play teams on different coasts. With the exception of the relativity new concept of inter-league play, the New York Yankees don’t play the New York Mets during the regular season. The Oakland Athletics don’t play the San Fransisco Giants. The Chicago Cubs don’t play the Chicago White Sox.
My question is, why not? Instead of spreading out the American and National League teams evenly across the country there should be 2 leagues; East and West. Just draw a line down the middle of the country and flip a coin for the Texas and Minnesota teams. The divisions can then be shaken up and revamped. How many millions of dollars would be saved if instead of flying to California, the Yankee’s could just take a cab to some away games. Hey, they could even take a town car or limo if it helps their egos. Creating geographically separated leagues is the greener and cheaper option.
3) A New Fenway Park
The thought of tearing down Fenway Park is blasphemy to many Sox fans. I was once in that camp but I now think I’m ready to give it up. I’ve been to several other major league baseball parks that were far more modern than Fenway but they lacked the charm and old-fashioned baseball feel that Fenway has. The Padres stadium features a little league field in right field begging bored Padres fan to turn around and watch a cute 5-year-old try to hit a baseball off of a T while 50 of his peers run after it with Justin Bieber-like excitement. The Giants stadium features a giant Coca-Cola bottle slide. Modern baseball parks seem to add tacky gimmicks to take away from the fact that baseball is slow and boring.
The new Fenway park would be different. The Fenway green would be prominent and the green monster would return, but this time with a windows for additional seating behind it. The park must be modern and much bigger, but it would be all about baseball. No slides, no t-shirt guns, no distractions; only improvements that make watching a baseball game more comfortable and easier. The original park would be missed, but it’s negative aspects would certainly not be. Seats are small and crowded and often pointed the wrong way causing right-field sitters to leave with crooked necks and an uncomfortable familiarity with their neighbors right shoulder and neck. But most of all it takes weeks of planning to catch a baseball game. Imagine deciding to go to a baseball game a few hours before it starts by walking up to the counter at the stadium and buying a ticket, legally? It’s unheard of in Boston today.
4) Instant Replay
Of all the ideas here this is the one that’s likely to come true, but probably not entirely due to the elegance of the following paragraph. It’s been a tradition that umpires make live calls and don’t take back their calls regardless of the spit and dirt a coach hurls at their face. The fighting between a coach and an umpire is part of baseball, and certainly an entertaining one so I’m not suggesting it’s removed. I’m instead suggesting they have something real to fight about other than each others distorted views of the incident. This does not consist of limited time-outs where managers can pick and chose when to second guess the umpire. Instead, if an umpire doesn’t see a play clearly he just shrugs his shoulder and says “before I say anything, let me jog over to the sidelines and review it quickly”. Or maybe he pulls an iPhone out of his pocket and uses the new iUmpire app to view the replay, and then buys the complete Beatles catalog, again. It’s up the umpire’s discretion completely. It seems so unnecessary to argue over something that can so easily be proven via video tape. It’s like cooking a steak with a soldering iron on top of a perfectly fine oven. (Yes, that was the most applicable metaphor.)
5) Camera Work
HDTVs have done wonders for all horizontally pleasing sports including hockey and football. But like Jai-Alai, baseball doesn’t naturally conform well to the 16×9 screen, and diamond or quarter-pie shaped TVs are as demanded as transparent Pepsi. Televised baseball has an uncomfortable tendency to show long close-ups of players faces. The porn industry learned that this was a bad idea in the 80s, but baseball broadcasting hasn’t yet realized that there is more interesting action going on. A zoomed out view would be preferable, and the use of the split screen could be used to show the close-ups in parallel for those stuck in the current ways.
I still love baseball and what is used to stand for, but it’s now more Sushi and Arugula than it is apple pie. Most of these won’t come true with the possible exception of instant replay. For these to happen the players and umpires need to rethink unselfishly for the good of baseball and its entertainment value. With the amount of money being shoveled out to them it will never happen. Following the example of Dock Ellis of the Pittsburgh Pirates, maybe having the players (or spectators) experiment with LSD is the cheapest and easiest solution to bringing new life to this game.