Pete Garcia, The Sports Guy
So you didn't catch Game 1 of the World Series between the mighty Boston Red Sox and the Cinderella Colorado Rockies? Well my friend, don't fret. You weren't alone.
The first game in the series to decide the world champion of what was once America's favorite pastime received the fourth-lowest rating of a World Series Game 1, according to Nielsen Media Research.
The 10.5 rating was a 30-some percent improvement from last season's Game 1 between the St. Louis Cardinals and Detriot Tigers, but still a dismal rating overall considering it is baseball's biggest stage. It may have garnered more viewers than shows like Pushing Daisies, Phenomenon and Kid Nation, but apples to apples, the World Series simply isn't pulling in the numbers it once did or ratings comparable to other sports. To put the viewership in perspective, more people watched the regular-season NFL game between the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots than the first game of the series.
And this isn't a new problem. Baseball's ratings, which at one time rivaled those of modern-day Super Bowls, have steadily been shrinking for the last 40 years.
It isn't the fault of TV viewers. Put a good game on and people will always watch. The NFL does that every Sunday, and a good boxing match does the same thing on HBO or pay-per-view.
No, the only one baseball can fault for its dwindling ratings and seeming lack of interest is baseball itself. In short, your average baseball game is way too long, lacks a lot of action and it amounts to a lot of standing around with everything coming down to a handful of pitches or one dramatic play some four to five hours after the first pitch of the game.
The late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson once wrote about what could be done to "fix" baseball. By shortening games and adding more action, he came to the conclusion that baseball would again become must-see-TV. His radical plan called for pitchers to be replaced by robot pitching machines controlled by the catcher, a five-pitch limit per batter and a three-hour time-limit per game. A team's score would be determined by its total number of bases throughout the game, thus leading to wild outcomes instead of your everyday 3-1 final score.
The good doctor meant well, but come on, no one would ever agree on robot pitchers; even if they would shorten games by as much as an hour-and-a-half. What would guys like Randy Johnson do for a living if replaced by robots?
Seriously, something does have to be done. As it stands now, you have to clear an entire afternoon or a whole evening to watch any regular-season baseball game.
So, in the spirit of Dr. Thompson's dream, I have put together my suggestions for fixing baseball and making it more appealing to a TV audience.
First, shortening the length of a baseball game is paramount. To achieve this, pitchers should not be allowed to wander more than eight feet from the rubber. Also, there should be a time-limit between pitches; say 15 seconds. The pitcher would have to throw a pitch 15 seconds after catching the ball from the catcher. This 15-second limit would also put an end to prolonged communication through signing between catchers, coaches and pitchers. Straying too far from the rubber or taking too much time between pitches would result in an automatic walk, just like a balk.
Pick-off attempts by catchers, as exciting as they are sometimes, would also be limited to just three per inning. A fourth pick-off attempt in an inning would safely advance base runners.
At the plate, unless a batter hits the ball or is floored by a high-and-inside fastball, he should not be allowed to completely step out of the batter's box. He too would be managed by the 15-second pitch clock. A violation of any of these by the batter would result in an automatic strike, regardless of his count. And, under these new rules, no more of these foul ball after foul ball at-bats. Three foul balls per batter and that's it. Anything beyond that is a strike.
The game of baseball is an art form. Like most art, it's boring if it lacks substance; in this case, action.
Aside from speeding up the game, the pitch-clock would make it more difficult for pitchers, so batters would have the upper-hand in this game. Also, limiting foul balls would keep fresh batters at the plate and giving catchers only three pick-off attempts would tempt more base stealing. All of this also translates to more action.
There's going to be even more going on with these rules because of the introduction of aluminum bats to the game and slightly bigger baseballs. Bats made of the same super-light weight metal used to make the space station and bigger balls means more contact which means more balls put in play which all means more edge of your seat heroics.
Finally, to make this new game even more appealing to TV viewers, there needs to be more cameras and much more innovative camera angles aside from batters, base runners and pitchers being mic'd up for sound. Coaches and umpires will also be wired for sound, but their words will only be heard during heated exchanges. You know you've always wondered exactly what adjectives and expletive are used to describe the other man's mother. Oh, and aside from the base-cams, broadcasts — the good ones anyway — will have the pitcher's mound cam, the batter's helmet cam and the ever popular catcher's mitt cam.
Instead of cutting away between innings for commercials, networks will have advertising super-imposed on the screen and around the field between innings while each team's baseball cheerleaders do their racy dance routines. That's right… girls. If it works for football and basketball; why not baseball. Each stadium will also have a house band or can book a band to add to the between-inning fun. Now watching a baseball game will take three hours tops from first pitch to the third out of the bottom of the ninth. More importantly, aside from the all the runs, the dozens and dozens of hits and the crafty iron-man pitching, TV viewers will also get cheerleaders and rock-n-roll. Yeah man!
These changes will infuriate baseball fundamentalists and spark so much debate that the government will get involved and bags and bags of hate-mail will be sent. There are also sure to be many bench-clearing-brawls too until everyone learns how to play by these new rules. Oh, and speaking of violence, just like hockey, scuffles and brawls on the diamond will be allowed until someone hits the ground. Then, everyone will be pulled apart and applauded for being gladiators. No one condones violence — free violence anyway — but professional baseball needs this. After all, violence is the only reason anyone watches hockey.
Change isn't always embraced, and this is especially true in baseball where traditions are as hallowed as they are old. However, in the world we live in, the almighty-dollar is worth more than anything. These changes could mean more viewers and more viewers mean better ratings, which means more money. And that, my friend, is the bottom line, the most important stat and the final score of any professional sport, baseball included.