Last year’s incredible comeback win in the World Series by the St. Louis Cardinals over the Texas Rangers was breathtaking.
In fact, the playoffs as a whole, beginning with an epic final day of the regular season, was breathtaking. So much so, that it could have won over new fans to the sport.
MLB must capitalize on what transpired to create more momentum for this upcoming season.
Baseball is in a dogfight for survival in the U.S. sports spectator market. Not a lot of media want to put it into these kinds of terms, but it looks more and more like a dogfight each year. All the other sports are encroaching onto baseball’s history and nostalgia with popular culture and sports fans.
What none of these other sports – basketball, football and yes, soccer – can take from baseball is the uniqueness of the sport. It is the only one played on a diamond and the only one without a running clock. It is a beautiful sport with athleticism and skill showcased through running, hitting, throwing and catching.
But baseball needs a pick-me-up. It needs to be modernized to the U.S. contemporary sports calendar. The schedule needs tinkering to promote better strategy of play and more emphasis on the importance of each game for a team’s chances to make the playoffs.
Over a span of 162 games, which used to fit perfectly for the late spring and summer, baseball was pretty much the only game in town. Basketball wasn’t played into April, May and June and football wasn’t played in August and September. Summer was baseball and every day could be counted on for a game.
Either MLB needs fewer games on the schedule or less expectations for fan support. It is a supply and demand argument.
The schedule can remain at 162 if the stadiums are meant to service up to 30,000 fans and TV ratings expectations are lower. This means that ballplayers get paid a whole lot less than what they are making now.
If this is not going to be the case, then the schedule needs to be reduced significantly to somewhere between 110 to 130 games per season.
With fewer games per season, managers may try to take more chances and ballplayers too. Baseball has become too conservative in its play calling. Maybe it is a latent effect from the steroids era, but it seems like stealing a base, trying to stretch an extra base from a single or double, and the hit and run are plays from a bygone era.
Also, MLB must continue to push the umpires to speed up the play of the game. This has been a point of emphasis, but the change has been slow in coming.
Sports spectating has changed in America and people’s patience is not what it used to be. MLB can’t just talk about these issues; they must act strongly on them to save a great game and get it back to where it belongs in America’s consciousness.
Howard Alperin is Managing Editor of AmericanizeSoccer.com