By: Keith Raad – Asst. Sports Editor
Baseball is not dying – it’s only on life support.
If you call yourself a baseball fan, which I have ever since my father put a glove on my left hand at three hours old in the hospital, deep down, you’ll understand what I am about to say.
Did you watch 162 Reds games this year? How about the Indians? ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball?
With Major League Baseball pulling in around $8.5 billion of revenue in 2014, a cute little column like this would probably be meaningless.
But baseball is dying. It’s its own worst enemy. In 10 years, when the owners look deep into their pockets for the massive amounts of revenue, that’s all they will find. The fans will be missing.
But for those of you crumpling up this article and sending it across the room for your buddy to hit with his or her ruler, take 30 seconds and do it again. Seriously. Take 30 seconds and stand there. Then throw the crumpled paper again. Why did you take so long? Tired? I thought you had four days off.
The average MLB game takes over three hours to complete with even longer durations in the postseason. The amount of action has slowed to a crawl and by that time even the hitter has lost focus.
2014 ranked as the 27th worst year for baseball at the plate. The league average ended with a .251 mark, and strikeouts were at an all-time high at 7.7 per game. Offensively there’s a slump because the game takes more time to play, which means there is less time to recover.
I’ve seen it firsthand.
With my black loafers kicking the dirt of Fifth Third Field, I watched early infield work for 2013 Dayton Dragons shortstop Zach Vincej. As a media relations intern for the Dragons, I listened to manager Jose Nieves work with Vincej as he hit him a few grounders.
Vincej easily fielded a few and sent his throws toward first base. When Nieves slammed one deep in the hole, Vincej stabbed the backhand play and fired a laser at his first baseman. Nieves immediately stopped practice, shouting to Vincej how long of a season it was and that he needed to save his arm.
He threw the ball too hard to first base.
I understand it. It makes perfect sense. Nieves was just letting Vincej, who had just played merely a 61 game season at Pepperdine University, in on the secret.
“You’ll have to stand out at short for 140 games. You’ll throw out hundreds of batters. Save your arm.”
And that’s only the minors.
But it’s a true measure of the beast. With MLB games approaching over three hours and 10 minutes on average of game play, it takes a toll on the players. It takes a toll on the employees of the league who need to stand there and wait 30 seconds for the opposing pitcher to throw his second pitch. The guy on the hill just rested for four days. The guy at the plate barely got seven hours of sleep.
Who cares if the MLB is making billions on attendance and television deals? Obviously, not the owners – for now.
According to an industry trade group, National Sporting Goods Association has reported a 25 percent decrease in Little League Baseball players. In 1996, 2.5 million boys and girls played Little League Baseball. In 2010, the number fell to two million youngsters.
The young eyes that baseball neglects, by starting its three hour games at 7 and 8 o’clock at night, will come around to harm the MLB. With West Coast games starting that late, little Tommy in Baltimore, Maryland, can’t watch his Orioles play in the World Series because the game begins at 10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
Plus, there aren’t many heroes to look up to in the game for kids.
Many note the lack of stars in baseball compared to the NBA, and their plethora of high-profile personalities like Lebron James and Chris Paul, who you may know as “Cliff” Paul, from those State Farm commercials. It’s tough for baseball players to make appearances elsewhere when they only have 16 days off during the season. Sixteen.
I would love to tell you that I think shortening the season would be a logical solution, but the MLB can’t do that, especially when the basis of the entire game stems from statistics and legends. If 162 games becomes 120 games, that would mean less opportunities for pitchers to win 20 games or for Miguel Cabrera to smash 61 home runs. The record books matter. They matter probably too much.
Aside from the owners swimming through cash, there’s a lot of things wrong with the business of baseball, but with the new commissioner Rob Manfred stepping in to replace Bug Selig changes hopefully will be made.
The average demographic for baseball is 54-years-old.
Its current audience will eventually flat line (not yet, mom, dad, aunts and uncles).
And they are bringing the game they watch with them.