March 28th 2019
The Dodgers clouted eight home runs in their opening game, setting a major league record (the poor Diamondbacks set an MLB record for most homers allowed in an opening game, and a franchise record for most homers allowed in a 9 inning game). As a Dodger fan, I was delighted, but as a baseball fan, it pointed out some troubling aspects. The game took 2:48 to play, and by today’s standards, that’s considered a fast game. The average is about 2:55. Three hours is common, and four hours happen about 10% of the time. That’s far too long to watch or listen to a game. Baseball needs to work on picking up the pace. Yes, the typical NFL game is over three and a half hours long and packs perhaps 20 minutes of actual action in that time, but that’s why I don’t follow football. It’s a slow, boring time waster. Baseball is actually faster and more exciting.
But look at real football. Ninety minutes, plus injury time, so a typical game is about 95 minutes, plus 15 minutes for the half time break. You sit down in the stadium at 1pm, and you’re on your way back out by ten to three. And it’s nearly all action.
But baseball couldn’t be changed that much without altering the game out of recognition. I’ll settle for formats that allow games to be played in 2 hours and 15 minutes.
To that end, I propose the following changes: limit breaks between half innings to a minute and thirty seconds. That’s plenty of time for the fielders to take their positions. If a guy can’t get from the home dugout to first base in ninety seconds, he’s too sick to be playing. That would shave 23 and a half minutes off each game right there. Right there a typical game is 2:31:30. The long breaks are for the benefit of the advertisers, not the fans, and with everything from the announcer’s booth to the entire stadium plastered with some sponsor’s name, and even game moments branded by butt creams (for relievers) to security firms (for stolen bases) the advertisers can give a little something back to the fans.
Twelve second time clock on pitches, if bases are empty. Pitcher can only shake off the catcher twice per pitch. From the moment the manager takes the baseball from a pitcher, the reliever only has 1:30 to throw his first pitch, unless brought in for injury and thus not warmed up.
No more than five relievers per team per game. So what happens if you’re in the 15th inning and your fifth reliever is in his third inning and his tank is empty? Simple. There are no more 15th innings.
A game that is tied after nine can go a maximum of 11 innings. If at that point, it’s tied, then it’s a draw. Use a point system like football or hockey, and give teams two points for a win, and one apiece for a tie. Why 11 innings? Stats show that 10% of games make it to the 10 inning, a bit over 5% to the 11th, and only 3% to the 12th. It wouldn’t affect the game that much. Obviously, the playoffs would permit unlimited innings to settle a game.
Those reforms would speed up the games. What about the season?
Spring training starts in mid February, and the final out of the World Series is late October. That’s a long haul, particularly given the amount of travel involved. Even the strongest players are suffering physical and emotional exhaustion by the end of it all. (Incidentally, stats show that teams that play five hour marathons often have reduced performance for up to a month afterward.)
Further, early spring games are afflicted by horrific weather, resulting in many rainouts and make-up games later in the season when neither team is fresh.
So we need to reduce the length of the season and/or wear and tear on the players, and here my suggestions will have a significant impact on the game, but not in a way that baseball hasn’t used before.
First, add two expansion teams (in the example I came up with, I suggested Montréal, Vancouver or Portland but there are other configurations) to have 32 teams. The teams would be divided up into four divisions of eight teams, regardless of present league. Cities with two teams would each have both in the same division. With one exception (Arizona) each team would be one time zone or less from every other team in its division. (Even that could be solved—drop the expansion to Vancouver or Portland, move AZ to the west, and give the South one of several cities fully capable of supporting an MLB franchise—San Antonio, Charlotte, Oklahoma City). There would be no interdivisional play—all the natural rivalries are already grouped together. Each team would play each other team 22 times during the season, for a total of 154 games. The present season is 162 games, but for the previous 90 years of its existence, MLB had a 154 game season. Spring training could be shortened to three weeks and begin around March 15th. Trust me, the mid February start doesn’t make spring come any faster. The regular season could begin around April 10th, and end the first week of October. Playoffs would be two tier—EAST champion against CENTRAL, SOUTH against WEST. The present system of ten teams in the playoffs is ridiculous: yes, a team that lost 80 games could end up the champs, but you’ve reduced that long, long season to a few lucky breaks in a seven game series. Three tier playoffs are for the advertisers, not the fans. The last world series game should be about October 20th, no later.
Shorter season, faster games, less travel time. It will make baseball better.
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
New York Mets
Toronto Blue Jays
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City Royals
Saint Louis Cardinals
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Los Angeles Angels
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres
San Francisco Giants
Vancouver or Portland team