Columns & Blogs

Baseball needs bold thinking if it wants our attention

Major League Baseball has some major problems, and the biggest problem of all is that commissioner Bud Selig refuses to recognize that there are problems.

When it comes to capturing the interest of sports fans every October, baseball simply cannot compete with pro football.

It's the same story season after season.

A couple of weekends ago there were four baseball playoffs series being offered on TBS. Not a single one of them -- not even games involving the big markets in New York and Philadelphia -- had as many viewers as Fox's NFL pregame show that Sunday.

Think about it. A pregame show at noon on Sunday outdraws playoff games, some in prime time.

That Sunday night, the Milwaukee Brewers, who won the National League Central Division, were in a playoff game with the Arizona Diamondbacks at the same time the Green Bay Packers were playing Denver.

In this head-to-head competition between baseball and football, the Packers attracted 44.1 percent of the households in Milwaukee; the Brewers 20.3 percent.

Kind of tells you something, doesn't it?

Yet baseball continues to market itself as America's National Pastime. And the commissioner insists, "Baseball is more popular than ever."

Interviewed on the subject by USA Today's Christine Brennan last week, Bud Light went on to say this:

"If I take all evidence today -- our attendance, what we're doing on the Internet, our gross revenue -- I'm very satisfied."

As much as I love baseball, I cannot buy this line of thought.

I sense a steady deterioration of interest every year. And I ask why?

Primarily, the game is too slow and methodical for today's society. Four-hour games have become all too common, caused by batters wandering in and out of the box after every pitch; and pitchers endlessly stepping off the rubber as if they are afraid to toss the ball to home plate.

"People say baseball is slow," says Selig, "I don't think it's slow at all. It builds."

There you have it, folks. A commissioner who is in denial about what people think.

One of these days, hopefully soon after Selig retires, baseball will find leadership that is willing to try some things that will modernize the game.

What is needed is more than a few tweaks to speed things up. If baseball wants to stay relevant as a major sport it needs major changes.

Let's start with shortening the 162-game season. In Japan they play 144 games and never on Monday. Makes sense. Do you really need 162 games to determine who makes the playoffs?

There is a wonderful opportunity to reduce the number of regular season games when two more wild-card teams are added to the playoffs in 2012 or 2013. The players are already complaining about rainouts forcing them to play on scheduled open dates, so why not increase the open dates by scheduling fewer games?

Now let's really think outside the box.

Have you noticed how the number of foul balls have increased over the years? Maybe it's all those different kinds of pitches that hurlers have developed.

So how about putting a limit on foul balls? Three or maybe five fouls after two strikes and the batter is out.

Finally, my real game-changer.

Shorten games from nine to seven innings. Starting pitchers seldom get through seven innings these days anyway. This would cut down on the wear and tear on the pitching staffs that managers are always complaining about. And those 100-pitch counts that they live by would be easier to achieve.

The purists will claim that last idea would tarnish the record books. So what?

The Steroids Era, presided over by Selig and his Merry Band of Fools, has already done that.