Baseball was first played nearly two-hundred years ago on the Elysian Fields of Hoboken, New Jersey. Little has changed since then. It became “America’s Pastime” and remained that way until overtaken by football in the minds of many fans about sixty years ago.
A few changes did happen over time. The designated hitter rule added a modicum of offense, but only in the American League. Games had become longer with incessant pitching changes and interminable time spent by pitchers slowly delivering the ball, such offense lessened through use of a clock.
Faster professional games have replaced baseball as their favorite, football and basketball amongst them. Tennis, golf, horse racing and soccer also have challenged baseball’s preeminent position.
Changes to the game are necessary. May I suggest a few?
The game needs more offense. First I would eliminate the infield shift. I would mandate that two infielders remain on both sides of second base. No more four infielders between first and second base, or between second and third. The availability of metrics today pretty much defines where hitters will hit. Bunching fielders at those locations gives an unfair advantage to the defense. I would continue to allow the center fielder to play behind second base if the situation dictates.
Another change I would make is to have each extra inning start with the first batter up already on second base. 10% of all baseball games go into extra innings. Only 5% of those games end after the tenth inning. With so many pitching changes made in extra inning games, the games seem interminable. Bunting would become more important again after years of declining use and expertise. The key in winning an extra inning game would be to move that runner over to third immediately, probably by a bunt, to then score on a hit or a sacrifice fly.
I would make relief pitchers pitch to at least two batters. The constant use of a relief pitcher to face but one batter takes too long with walks to the pitching mound by the manager taking him out, to the time it takes him reaching the mound, and then taking the warm up throws allowed. Having to face two batters at a minimum lessens that time considerably.
I think of all the professional sports, instant replay is needed more in baseball than any other other sport. There are simply too many close plays. I am not ready to concede the calling of balls and strikes to a computer just yet- even though game reviews of balls and strikes shows umpires making wrong calls 14% of the time-and generally in favor of the home team- but perhaps a limited number of reviews if requested by a manager might be allowed.
MLB management should be less fearful of changes that will shorten the game without curbing excitement for the fans. I think the above suggestions will make for improved play and bring more fans back to what once was truly “America’s National Pastime.”