Do you like baseball just the way it is? With pitchers who take forever? And innings that take forever? And games that take forever?

Here’s the good news: I’m with you.

Here’s the bad: We’re both wrong.

Baseball needs to change. The status quo is too flawed to remain…well, the status quo. Games take too long. Strikeouts are too prevalent. Offense has become too dull and bland as shifts, as overpowering pitchers and home run-or-bust approaches at the plate have taken over. Check, check and check.

Baseball has consistently shown an ability to heal itself, but this time, some change is needed. It’s not enough to sit back and let the game stay the way it’s always been.

It’s not enough because this time, the game’s health is at stake. Baseball’s on the brink of becoming a fringe sport. Playoff games that used to be on NBC and Fox are now on FS1 and TBS. Attendance dropped to its lowest point since 2003, and viewership is down as well.

And finally, the powers that be are taking notice. There are talks about eventually turning to pitch clocks, universal designated hitters and bringing in three-batter requirements for relief pitchers. Last year, a big topic was starting extra innings with a man on base. This is good. This needs to happen.

But it doesn’t take much for this conversation to get just silly — which is too bad, since baseball sounds dead serious. There are talks about moving the mound back, and about taking high draft picks away from losing teams, and about having robots call balls and strikes.

Come on. Baseball needs a makeover, sure. But it doesn’t need a facelift.

Baseball needs changes to make it move faster and, therefore, be more exciting. But there are plenty of places within the sport to trim the fat, and places to make those adjustments without having them be obvious changes to the way the game is played.

A pitch clock is a perfect example. Pitchers who take six minutes between pitches would have to speed it up a bit, keeping a dramatic pace going and making at-bats, and therefore innings and games, shorter. The major leagues already made a similar change with limits on mound visits. Fans didn’t object, and those fans would soon get used to a pitch clock. Baseball would still feel like baseball, and yet would become an easier product for in-between or up-and-coming fans to absorb.

The three-batter requirement, too, would be subtle yet effective. It would change up the late-game strategy, which would have purists balking, but it would make the game look more like the one the purists were raised on, when pitching changes were less frantic and pitchers were relied upon more to finish the innings they started and work their way out of jams. Baseball would be taking a step forward by taking, in essence, a step back.

An example of what not to do? Well, we’re getting that too. The Atlantic League, which has no direct connection to the major leagues and is therefore a perfect guinea pig, is going to be increasing the distance from the mound to the plate by two feet. Automatic ball and strike calls are going to assist — if not completely replace — umpires. Shifts will become illegal.

This is textbook overreaction, and it’s also entirely stupid. These are changes that, instead of being subtle, wreck the game as we and previous generations have known it.

Say what you want about baseball’s flaws, but the sport aced geometry. Baseball can and should be changed, but the core needs to remain intact. Ninety feet to bases and 60 feet, 6 inches to the mound are the elements of the game. They’re 10-foot high rims in the NBA, and 100-yard fields in the NFL.

Why not make it three balls for a walk? Or four strikes for a strikeout? That’s what we’re talking about here.

The madness extends beyond the playing field. According to reports, Major League Baseball and the MLBPA are discussing revamping the draft so that teams suffering consecutive losing seasons miss out on the top picks.

Baseball already had stupid, and with this “fix,” it would check off “pointless” as well. This wouldn’t fix the sport’s woes, and instead would be entirely unfair and unnecessary. Rebuilding in baseball is hard. This isn’t the NBA, where even the worst team can draft a star and improve overnight. Under the current structure of the major leagues, smaller teams often have to lose their budding stars to the bigger markets, then build patiently through the draft, all while those same big-market teams have the ability to annually reload.

It’s not impossible for a rebuilding team to break through. The Rays did it. The Astros did it. Teams like the Pirates and the Orioles, after decade-plus playoff droughts, did it. But it’s a multi-year process, it typically requires a few bad seasons, and even then, it takes an awful lot of good moves and good fortune for there to be success.

So the right move is to make a hard task even harder?

This isn’t difficult. Baseball’s just making it look that way. Baseball needs to change, but there are plenty of areas to make small tweaks for a big result.

Change is inevitable. Even we traditionalists need to accept it.

But some things must be left untouched. And baseball needs to accept that.

Drew Bonifant – 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM


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