Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Greatest Game IV: Saving The Game For The Fans

The regular baseball season came to a close Sunday with exciting and/or excruciating Division and Wild Card races decided by a few outs. The SF Giants were deservedly triumphant (Disclosure: we love them), having been derided in most pre-season projections, while the Yankees were truly embarrassed in Boston, the scene of some of their major triumphs and embarrassments of the past. The Mets were just the Mets.

The Yanks' players and management are low-keying their losses to the Red Sox in the last two games, but, upstairs, George's offspring and GM Cashman must be fuming over how Boston manhandled their team. David Ortiz slighted them and then laughed about it, bunting for a hit with nobody on base and with a lead. When "Big Papi" bunts his way on base, then chuckles about it, and the next pitch doesn't send the Red Sox batter sprawling, that's embarrassing, folks. People named Thurman and Catfish are spinning.

You can be sure that the Minnesotans were watching and understanding what Joe G and the Yankee players apparently did not: The Bombers looked like tired Boomers. We see the possibility of a  long winter ahead and, if the Yankees do not make the Series, perhaps many new opportunities for Michigan Avenue shopping trips in the Girardi family's future.

MLB announced its attendance results as the season passed into the playoffs: down 1%. While that might not sound so bad, and MLB will surely put on a good face, it's bad. We still think that baseball is superior in every way to football and basketball, to name two spectator sports. With that in mind, we offer up our suggestions for spectator/audience improvements:

1. Enforce the Rule Book strike zone as written and discipline home plate umpires to follow it more closely than they currently do. Each night, pitchers, catchers, batters, managers, announcers and fans struggle to figure out where the strike zone is. Why? Each umpire gets to make it up as he goes along, every night, sometimes every inning or every batter. Take back the game from the home plate umpires.

2. There is no need for the batter to leave his box after every single pitch. There should be no need for pitching coaches and catchers to go to the mound so often. Umpires (again) here is where you can help; keep batters batting, keep pitchers pitching.

3. Put an end to the awful, obnoxious and loud music at games and inane chatter in the booths. Nobody needs this "music," nobody likes it. The only exception is Enter Sandman, Mariano's intro. Baseball, like love,  is actually better with the silences in between the action. Also, in the announcing booths, especially Fox and ESPN, it is okay to have more than 3 seconds in which nobody is talking. Tell your Directors and Producers to take a hike; your skills are enhanced by talking less and describing better, when you do. Announcers who use the word "unbelievable" should be heavily penalized, for example. Your only reason for being there is to make what happens on the field believable to the audience, especially the radio audience.

4. The best idea that the game's founders had, perhaps any game's founders have had, is the Home Run. Imagine the brilliance of making an out of bounds play the most exciting part of the game! MLB has tried to manufacture HR's by juicing the ball, looking the other way when players juiced themselves, and juicing the bats among other silly ideas. How about just making some of those mammoth outfields smaller? What were those Mets' owners thinking, when they built homer-stingy Citi (1.35 per game), while their crosstown betters found a subtle way to create even more HR's in their new palace? Fans love Home Runs: some more homers and fewer walks, please.

5.  Shorten the season. Go back to the 154-game regular season schedule, or even less. Absolutely get rid of November games. 

Bonus Suggestion: The term "Relief Pitcher" is supposed to mean that a pitcher enters the game to relieve the pitcher on the mound. Actually, the one who is relieved is more often the batter. Some teams have truly great "closers," relievers like Mariano Rivera of the Yankees who are very good at what they do, but that is the exception. The great majority of "relievers" are, in fact, really minor league pitchers who were not good enough to be starters in the majors. That call to the bullpen, which now too often comes in the 5th inning (starters are exhausted from searching for the strike zone) is a long distance call: Scranton, Pawtucket, Wichita. Get the Minors out of the Majors, or drastically reduce ticket and weenie prices.

Oh yes, one more style issue: ditch those ridiculous dark colored jerseys, which only look like softball uniforms.

Ed Note: For those of you who believe that baseball is an important component of American life and style like us, we refer you to our previous Greatest Game posts from August 2009 (link, above right), in which we expand on some of these themes. 

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