If it's World Series time, it's time to slam Major League Baseball for it's singular ability to turn people off from the national pastime. The record low television ratings are showing just how effective Bud Selig and Co. are in this effort. The late start times and long games are slowly but surely turning our national pastime into a niche sport.
Starting Game Three at 10:06 PM ET is inexcusable. The person or people at Fox/MLB who thought it would be a good idea to start the game that late should be fired. Once the delay stretched past 9 PM, the game should have been cancelled. The schedule has off days for just this sort of thing. Use them.
The Game Three mess is just an extreme example of how MLB is trying its best to make the game inaccessible to the kids and casual fans the sport desperately needs to grow.
Even the normal 8:30 start times are ridiculous. If Fox insists on starting after 8, cut the pregame junk that no one cares about and start the games at 8:10. Play the national anthem and play ball. We don't need to know who the Tampa bullpen coach is. At least kids would get an extra inning in before having to go to bed.
The next simple suggestion is starting the games at 7:35 on Sundays. Right after King Football is done, let's go to the Series. People are home, and again, kids could see another inning or two. It makes so much sense that it will never be done.
Selig and Co. will throw all sorts of market research saying that ratings build later in the evening, but I've worked with market research, and if you don't take it with a grain of salt, you don't know what you're doing.
Finally, the games themselves need to speed up, and while traditionalists would howl, there are ways to cut down the drudgery:
- The catcher only gets one mound visit per inning, just like pitching coaches. If the battery can't agree on signs, too bad.
- During pitching changes, the manager doesn't slowly slog out to the mound and have a little chat the outgoing and incoming hurler. He registers the change with the umpire and the new pitcher is waved in. Less walking. Less talking. More pitching, especially in those innings with multiple switches.
- Give the pitcher 15 seconds to get the ball and throw, and ONLY 15 seconds. Any longer and it's a ball. Heck, maybe we should use the orange and red lights like they do at the debates to warn candidates that time is running down. Sounds nuts, but these pitchers need to get moving.
- Batters cannot step out of the box during an at-bat. If they need to call time, they can, but they can't do their whole routine 10 times per at-bat.
Even changes like this are likely not be enough to stem baseball's rating slide, and there is a lot on the marketing side that needs to be done. But at least starting the games a little earlier and speeding up the pace will help people stay awake during the sport's showcase event.