Baseball is now third in major American sports popularity. The second place NBA is rising while the MLB slowly falls. Soccer, too, is climbing in popularity every year, and is on baseball’s heels.
Football Still Americans' Favorite Sport to Watch
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These are the numbers, and the consensus among scholars of the game is aligned with the public.
MLB lifers decry the state of the modern baseball: 'Unwatchable'
PHOENIX - The game is still played with the pitchers' mound 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate, the bases 90 feet apart…
Baseball must learn from football, basketball, and soccer if it wants to regain the popularity it has lost. Fortunately, there are four facets of the game where the sport can be changed for the better.
Install a 12 second pitch clock that begins once the ball hits the pitcher’s glove. The clock freezes during pickoffs once the ball is out of the glove. Each team gets three timeouts from the mound and three from the plate, making for a possible total of six per game, per team, just like the NFL.
In 2017, the average pace between pitches was 23.8 seconds. At 250–300 pitches per game, this shaves off at least 45 minutes, reducing games from three hours to around two and a quarter.
I settled on a 12 second limit by acting out the process in my living room, but guess what? It’s already an official rule.
Rule 8.04 in Major League Baseball’s rulebook says, “When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call ‘Ball.’”
The incredibly simple way to stop MLB's increasing length of games
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The most interesting subplot would be around base running. Pickoff attempts would have to go down, and base runners would take advantage. Stolen bases would increase, but is that a bad thing? Some fine-tuning may be required to prevent unfair advantages, but the clock is a necessity. The pitch clock borrows from basketball, and it gets us closer to the pace of soccer.
The solution is simple. Deepen the fence.
A football field is 120 yards from end zone to end zone (360 feet), which is a perfect minimum length down the line, putting center field around a minimum of 430 feet. Home runs would decline, triples would go up, and outfield defense would be more exciting. Would bunting and the hit and run return with the lessened long ball? Deeper fences are simply good for the game.
The remodel would cut down on outfield seating, but stadiums need a seating readjustment that coincides with declining attendance. 21,000 is too few. 33,000 doesn’t work for a football team, but it’s in the Goldilocks zone for baseball.
Fence construction would be feasible for nearly every stadium, but what about the iconic landmarks that are Fenway and Wrigley? We can’t possibly alter them, can we?
At Fenway, the right side of the stadium has the space. On the left, push the field and fence into Lansdowne Street. Keep the Green Monster, its net, and the sidewalk into the Cask ‘n Flagon. Do the same for Wrigley into Waveland and Sheffield. The real estate stays, and the streets turn into a socially/commercially inviting walkway.
Adopt the division alignment and playoff format of our most popular league: the NFL. Yes, MLB attendance numbers are down, but in order to get the regular season and playoff structure we need, we gotta add two expansion teams. The good news is there are more than two growing American markets who would welcome a professional baseball team with open arms. Two new teams would be boons to two growing American epicenters.
The American League
- New York Yankees
- Boston Red Sox
- Toronto Blue Jays
- Baltimore Orioles
- Minnesota Twins
- Cleveland Indians
- Chicago White Sox
- Detroit Tigers
- Houston Astros
- Tampa Bay Rays
- Texas Rangers
- Kansas City Royals
- Oakland Athletics
- Los Angeles Angels
- Seattle Mariners
- Expansion Team
Ten most populated Western cities for expansion: San Jose, Portland, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Tucson, Fresno, Sacramento, Mesa, Long Beach, Bakersfield
Potential first-time major sport cities: Albuquerque, Tucson, Fresno, Mesa, Long Beach, Bakersfield
Potential first-time states: New Mexico
San Jose, Portland, and Las Vegas are the three powerhouses. San Jose is clustered in the Bay Area with Oakland and San Francisco. Portland has proven itself as a passionate and viable sports city, but Las Vegas has to be the best financial decision.
The National League
- Washington Nationals
- New York Mets
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Chicago Cubs
- Cincinnati Reds
- Colorado Rockies
- Atlanta Braves
- St. Louis Cardinals
- Miami Marlins
- Expansion Team
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- Arizona Diamondbacks
- San Francisco Giants
- San Diego Padres
Ten most populated Southern cities for expansion: San Antonio, Austin, Jacksonville, Charlotte, El Paso, Nashville, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Louisville, Raleigh
Potential first-time major sport cities: Austin, El Paso, Nashville, Louisville, Raleigh
Potential first-time states: Kentucky
Jacksonville has an NFL team. San Antonio, OKC, and Memphis have NBA teams. Charlotte has an NFL, NBA, and NHL team.
All the above are good options, but the potential first-timers are what interest me. El Paso is ready to level-up on the national stage. Baseball is an increasingly big part of Latino culture, and soldiers from Fort Bliss would provide great support.
My choice would be Austin. It’s an important and growing progressive American city, and an MLB team would elevate the culture even higher. Just imagine the tri-tip sandwich.
The wildcard and the divisional playoff rounds are best of five (2–2–1). The League Championship and World Series is best of seven (2–2–1–1–1). This results in a maximum of 61 playoff games and a minimum of 36. The current max and min are 43 and 26. This is an increase of 10–18 playoff games, or a median increase of 14 playoff games per season.
Two new expansion teams add 162 games to the regular season. The 14 extra playoff games make for 176 additional games under the new format, or 5.5 games per team. This means we can cut six games (rounding up) off of the regular season, reducing it to 156 games.
Got it? Good. So, what do the 2019 playoffs look like under the new format?
(5) Cardinals @ (4) Brewers, (6) Mets @ (3) Nationals
Bye: (1) Dodgers, (2) Braves
The fate of four teams changes. The Brewers and Nationals win the North and East, and get home field advantage in a five game set. The Cardinals are the top wildcard, taking second place in the South behind Atlanta. The Mets make the playoffs , and deservedly so. The Dodgers and Braves get some rest to prepare for a five game series. Is this a more exciting scenario? Of course it is.
(6) Indians @ (3) Twins, (5) Rays @ (4) Athletics
Bye: (1) Astros, (2) Yankees
The Rays and A’s get the five game series we all deserve. The 93-win Indians, with a record as good or better than three National League playoff teams, are in, and no one is upset by it.
To recap: We install a pitch clock, deepen the fences, reasonably reduce stadium capacity, realign to four divisions in each league, add expansion teams in Las Vegas and Austin, add two playoff teams, 14 more playoff games, and reduce the regular season by six games. Games move faster, home runs decrease, triples and stolen bases increase, stadium seating fits demand, new markets emerge, new playoff teams emerge, and we swap a handful of regular season games for the postseason.
Nice try, soccer. Move over, basketball. Implement these changes, and baseball is back.