The state of baseball: The Grand Old Game needs fresh ideas – The Denver Post

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — “Take me out to the ballgame … take me out for a snooze.”

Major League Baseball, you have a problem. Actually, several problems.

Prime example: Game 1 of last year’s National League Division Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, two of baseball’s most talented and intriguing teams. The playoff game lasted 3 hours, 54 minutes. There were seven hits, 14 walks and 21 strikeouts.

And, oh yes, 12 pitching changes.

A long game with little action, unless one considers watching a manager shuffle out to the mound and call for a reliever riveting entertainment.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred identified pace of play as an issue plaguing the game going on three years ago. And yet, last season the average MLB game took a record 3:07 to complete.

But the most pressing concern at the highest levels of the game is not pace, but a lack of action. It’s something Theo Epstein addressed when he resigned as the Chicago Cubs president last November. He confessed that analytically-driven front offices have made the game less entertaining.

“The executives like me who have spent a lot of time using analytics and other measures to try to optimize individual and team performance have unwittingly had a negative impact on the aesthetic value of the game and the entertainment value of the game in some respects,” said Epstein, who now works as a consultant for MLB.

To wit:

* In 2020, a record 36.1% of all plate appearances ended in either a walk, strikeout or home run.

“I mean, clearly the strikeout rate’s a little bit out of control and we need to find a way to get more action in the game…allow players to show their athleticism some more and give fans more of what they want,” Epstein said.

Declining interest in baseball can be directly traced to a lack of action.

Since 2015 — the last year the major leagues saw a minor increase in fans at ballparks — through 2019, attendance dropped 7.14%. That’s a loss of 5.2 million fans. In 2019, before the pandemic struck, 14 out of 30 clubs saw an attendance decline from the previous season.

 

* Average viewership for the World Series has declined dramatically since the 1970s, from 44.2 million in 1978 to a record low 9.8 million viewers in 2020.

* According to Sports Business Journal, the average viewer of nationally televised MLB games was 57 in 2016, up from 52 in 2000. More ominous, just 7% of MLB’s viewers were under the age of 18.

* Not counting the pandemic-shortened 2020 season,  MLB set a single-season strikeout rate record in 12 consecutive seasons, starting at 17.5% of plate appearances in 2008 and gradually climbing to 23.0% of plate appearances in 2019.

* Baseball’s star power is dimming. The Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout, the greatest player of his generation, is probably the most anonymous superstar in American sports. According to The Q Scores Company, a marketing research firm, Trout has a familiarity score of 22 — meaning just 22% of Americans know who Trout is. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady has an awareness rating of 79, and the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James has a score of 74.

Under MLB’s direction, minor league baseball will experiment with a variety of rules aimed at creating more balls in play this year, increasing action on the basepaths and improving pace of play.

“Putting the ball in play more would lead to more action, more defensive plays, more action on the bases,” Rockies shortstop Trevor Story said. “But it’s easier said than done.

“Because the pitchers are really good and their stuff is better than it’s ever been. And it’s getting better and better. But that’s also the beauty of the game, too. That’s why it’s the hardest sport in the world.”

Rockies manager Bud Black, 63, played in a different era. On Aug. 9, 1985, for instance, the left-hander threw a complete game for Kansas City in a 4-2 victory over Toronto that lasted 2 hours, 21 minutes.

As a manager, Black has had to embrace the contemporary game and its abundant use of relievers, its high strikeout rates, hitters swinging for the fences, and an ever-increasing reliance on analytics which many believe has led to a lack of action.

He is of the belief, however, that baseball is a uniquely American sport that far from being on the decline is reinventing itself on the fly.

He understands baseball’s need for “creativity and forward-thinking.” He’s changed his mind and now believes the designated hitter should be adopted by the National League. He’s also open to the idea of restricting infield shifts if it will create more offense.

As for those mounting strikeouts, Black said it’s part of the evolution of the game.

“The game has shifted in terms of talent, on the pitching side,” Black said. “The hitters just haven’t caught up yet, on how to handle all of this velocity and great secondary pitches.”

But, in his heart, Black is still a baseball romantic.

“Baseball is still in the heart and the soul of Americans,” he said. “In this day and age, there is still a father and a son, or a father and a daughter, who play catch, with a glove and a ball. It’s embedded in our culture and our society.

“There is still something more American about baseball than any other sport. It will always be popular. And I don’t think it’s in as bad of shape as everyone thinks it is.”

Yearly MLB Attendance from 2000-19

SeasonTot. AttendancePer Game% (+/-) Prev. Season
201968,494,84528,199-1.62%
201869,649,73628,651-4.19%
201772,670,42329,906-0.67%
201673,159,06830,131-0.81%
201573,760,03230,3660.03%
201473,739,62230,346-0.39%
201374,026,89530,451-1.11%
201274,859,26830,8061.97%
201173,451,52230,2391.20%
201073,061,12330,066-1.10%
200973,418,52830,213-6.60%
200878,591,12532,369-1.20%
200779,484,71832,6964.60%
200676,043,90231,3071.80%
200574,385,29530,5992.30%
200472,989,21930,0618.10%
200367,630,05227,831-0.40%
200267,944,38928,007-6.10%
200172,581,10129,881-0.50%
200071,358,90729,3783.60%

Source: Baseball Reference

World Series Low
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ six-game win over the Tampa Bay Rays in 2020 received an average television rating 32% below the previous World Series low.

The six games on FOX averaged a 5.2 rating, 12 share and 9,785,000 viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. The previous low was a 7.6 rating, 12 share and 12,660,000 viewers for the San Francisco Giants’ four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers in 2012.

The 2020 rating was down 36% from the 8.1 rating, 16 share and average of 14,067,000 viewers for the Washington Nationals’ seven-game win over the Houston Astros in 2019.

Note: The rating is the percentage of television households tuned in to a broadcast. The share is the percentage viewing a telecast among those households with TVs on at the time.
— The Associated Press

Most-watched World Series Games
The World Series is becoming less and less popular on TV. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Game 6 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays drew just 9,785,000 viewers. That was a dramatic slide from the 1970s and ’80s when 45-50,000 million viewers tuned in.
Here are the 10 most-watched World Series games in history:
1. Game 6, 1980 (Phillies-Royals) – 54,860,000, Tues. night game on NBC
2. Game 7, 1975 (Reds-Red Sox) – 51,560,000, Weds. night game on NBC
3. Game 7, 1987 (Twins-Cardinals) – 51,180,000, Sun. night game on ABC
4. Game 6, 1978 (Yankees-Dodgers) – 50,600,000, Tues. night game on NBC
5. Game 7, 1991 (Twins-Braves) – 50,340,000, Sun. night game on CBS
6. Game 7, 1982 (Cardinals-Brewers) – 49,930,000, Sun. day game on NBC
7. Game 7, 1979 (Pirates-Orioles) – 49,890,000, Weds. night game on ABC
8 Game 5, 1982 (Cardinals-Brewers) – 48,990,000, Sun. day game on NBC
9. Game 5, 1978 (Yankees-Dodgers) – 45,870,000, Sun. day game on NBC
10. Game 5, 1980 (Phillies-Royals) – 45,460,000, Sun. day game on NBC
Source: Forbes

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