MLB Should Focus on Excitement, Not Length of Play


MLB is focused on decreasing the time of games; instead, they should focus on adding more excitement.

Baseball Executives are worried. They are worried about losing the younger audience…and they should be. In a real example of Group Think, MLB has conducted surveys that prove the game is too long. All research like that proves is you know how to write questions designed to get the answers you were looking for.

Instead, let’s use our common sense. Football games take roughly the same time but few complain. Why? Because football, both college and pro, has more moments that are exciting. I am a diehard Yankees and baseball fan, and a casual football fan, but the truth is the truth.

MLB has, for some time, been choosing defense over offense. This includes the Yankees. The problem with that plan is the most famous teams and players in history have been largely known for offense. Of course, we know better than to lean into a Bob Gibson fastball.

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And if you don’t know who Don Larsen is, I am not sure you actually watch baseball. But if I asked you to name all the players you can think of off the top of your head, how many would be known for offense? Aren’t the ’27 Yankees the GOAT?

Time to move on. Instead of focusing on shortening the game, let’s talk about injecting more offense. Both football and basketball have been doing this for years. It seems like it is working well for them, so why not follow a successful lead? Smart leaders do that. Here are some common sense suggestions that do not threaten the nature of the game.

The Do Not Dos

First to the things baseball should not do. Before starting, I must acknowledge this very detailed article by Steve Treder. He starts from the perspective that strike-outs are bad and traces their history. If interested, you cannot read a better article.

Bill James has suggested increasing the thickness of bat handles. This is supposed to cut down on strike-outs, which in turn increases offense. But this would only lead to decreasing the size of the heads to counteract loss of bat speed. Eventually, MLB would need to dictate every dimension of every bat and that would be nightmarishly unworkable.

The same is true for reducing the size of the gloves. Equipment can always be manipulated and, as much as I love the Billy Martin-George Brett video clip, I do not want games to be stopped so umpires can measure bats and gloves.

Moving the rubber back is not workable. Nor should the number of pitching changes be regulated. That is strategy that grew organically out of the game. I know of no rules that have ever prohibited the number of player changes. I am not against any idea because it is new but this seems outside the spirit of the game. Teams win championships and this seeks to limits that concept by restricting the free use of defensive players.

And stop talking about eliminating the shifts. The fix for that has to organic, but it takes time. Teams are starting to value hitters who can spray the ball to all fields. As those players are promoted over the Mark Teixeira’s of the world, the shifts will be de-emphasized.

On to what should be done.

Bullpens and Benches

Here is one of the most important, intentional yet subtle changes that have affected the game. Over the last decade, teams have made the choice to carry 8-man bullpens and 3-man benches. Obviously, this means teams now carry one more defensive player at the expense of the offense. That bench gets even shorter when you consider that one of the players is the back-up catcher.

MLB should add another player to each roster and cap the number of pitchers. This is a win-win. The Players Association would love it because it adds another big player contract to each team. The fans would love it because it would inject more offense. And the teams would love it because it would add another huge payroll to…okay, they would not love it. Two out of three ain’t bad.

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Some teams would add a great bat to the bench. We remember when we could look over into the Yankees dugout and see guys like Strawberry, Raines and Fielder. But even if Joe Girardi and the Yankees added a player known more for defense, he would still have contribute to the offensive attack.

It could be a particular match-up. It could be as simple as providing extra rest to a better hitter who will be more effective when he does play. Even if that player forced the other club to use a key reliever earlier in the game than planned, it would weaken that team’s defense. Even Steven Drew got a few hits. Thank you, last year’s Aaron Hicks.

Designating the number of players is what baseball is all about. Why is there a 40-man roster? Why a 25? Baseball cares a lot about number of players, so changing a number does not impinge on the spirit of the game but engages with it.

Strike Zone

The size of the strike zone is arbitrary and seems to change with that day’s umpire. Still, affecting a league-wide reduction would create more offense. The pitcher would have to be more precise in order to throw strikes. The result would be more walks and hits.

More walks, by themselves, do not inject more excitement. It is what they lead to that matters. More Yankees on base means more Yankees scoring. How many times have you had a game on that was not getting your full attention. What did draw your attention? When your team scores. Yes, if it is via the home run it is far more exciting, but scoring means winning and winning is what interests you.

And the pitchers would respond. Walks would go up but pitchers still would be paid to throw strikes. With less plate to cover, hitters would see a huge uptick in their numbers. I have seen many games in which one guy got a hit and two walked. The excitement, for both teams, in that moment as the next batter walks to the plate is palpable. Shrinking the strike zone would create a lot more of these tantalizing moments.

Lower the Mound

Sep 2, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (19) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 2, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports /

There is ample precedence for this. Originally, pitchers stood on flat ground; how weird would that look? Offense ruled in those days and the game suffered. So, among other things, a mound was added to balance the scales. Eventually, MLB dictated that each mound must be 15 inches in height. By 1969, the game was suffering—by which I mean fans were suffering—because offensive production had fallen off drastically. MLB responded by lowering the mound to 10 inches, where it remains today.

What happened? Scoring went way up. It might be time to lower it again. Five inches would be way too much. My guess is that even one or two inches would be enough without changing how the game looks and feels. If it gets too low, the pitcher would once again seem to be throwing off flat ground. I’m not ready for that.

This suggestion can seem extreme. Remember that one of the significant contributors to the lack of offense is the approach by pitchers. Pitchers are told to throw as hard as they can as often as they can. Relievers routinely throw 98 mph and above these days. Compare that to Ron Darling, who has often mentioned that he rarely threw as hard as he could. The approach to pitching has changed. Perhaps the mound pictures work off should change, too.

The National League Needs to Stop Already

Here is one easy fix: MLB needs to institute the DH in the National League. Instantaneously half of all the teams in baseball would become more exciting. Don’t get me wrong: the decision of when to remove the starting pitcher IS super exciting—seeing pictures of the manager as he rubs his chin, and, gasp of anticipation, checks his clipboard to see who is available that day—but somehow I still like seeing more runs scored. Please stop having your pitchers hit. Please.

New York Mets manager Terry Collins. In the NL this is an exciting moment. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
New York Mets manager Terry Collins. In the NL this is an exciting moment. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Better PR

Football is worried, as well. Concussions have risen to the fore of any discussion of football and some players and parents are worried. A few players are even leaving the sport they love after only a handful of seasons. Out there, right now, are parents who are thinking of not allowing their kids to play this sport. MLB needs to try to increase this trend.

So many of the best young athletes in America gravitate towards football. It is the number one sport—in part because it gets the best athletes—and the most exciting. Just think if baseball could attract more of the guys who end up as wide recievers and cornerbacks. The guys at those positions are usually the best, fastest athletes and the ones with skills most easily transferable. Adding just some of the fastest, most well-rounded athletes in the country could have an energizing impact. I am not suggesting current players switch over, but that they try to convince more current high school athletes.

I will even suggest some slogans. How about, “MLB: Fewer Concussions Than Football Since, Well, Ever!” Or, “Baseball: Because You Will Still Want to Walk When Your 60!” MLB and the Yankees have a lot of smart people working for them. I am sure they can take it from here.

This is Not Just About Home Runs

There is a stat I have heard many times: more home runs mean more wins. There is a debate in the nerd, I mean sabermetric, community, but the numbers still support the assertion. The real underpinning is that scoring more runs means more wins, which is obvious. Home runs are probably the most exciting part of the game but they are not integral to increasing the excitement. Playing this game at its highest level can be more enjoyable than a home run.

My favorite MLB teams through the decades have always been the ones who got guys on and moved them around. The Reds in the 70’s, the Cards in the 80’s and those 90’s Yankees teams are great examples. None are known for home runs but all known for winning. And winning is exciting.

When there are constantly men on base, the tension stays high. Crispness of play and errors become magnified with runners in scoring position. Can the guy on second score on a single? Will a passed ball allow another run? Players are forced to play the game at a crisper, sharper level when men are on base.

The moment of a home run is pure adrenaline and I am an addict. But after that thrill is gone, what are we left with? There is no one on base anymore. That means no pressure on the pitcher. And no one to tantalize us with the threat of the steal, whether bases or signs. No one forcing the other team to play their best ball or risk mental lapses costing them the game. We need more baseball played at its best to increase viewers’ enthusiasm.

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For the Love of the Game

Most of my suggestions work for either scoring scenario. If shrinking the strike zone results in more home runs or just more singles, then hitting, scoring and fan interest all go up. If more athletes bring speed and power to MLB rather than the NFL, great. And no matter which players the National League brings in, it has got to be better than letting the worst hitters in the league bat every day.

I love the game and I hate all the talk about trying to shorten it. Who enjoys something but wishes the experience did not last as long? The problem is not that the games are too long. The problem is not enough exciting moments. And if I am saying that, imagine what Mets fans must be thinking.