ST. PETERSBURG — Major League Baseball has a problem. A big problem.
The games are too long. They are too boring. They are too slow.
Something needed to be done and, well, Major League Baseball did something.
The brain trust put those big brains together and decided the solution is to limit the number of meetings on the pitcher's mound to six a game.
That's the best idea you can come up with?
Kids don't watch your sport. They would rather play an NBA video game than go to baseball game. The median age of baseball fans are is old enough to be a member of AARP.
And limiting the number of visits to the mound is going to fix all this?
Now, there's a belief that this might be only the start of more changes. That would be encouraging. Baseball, after all, needs changes.
But it needs massive changes if it hopes to gain younger fans and keep the few that they already have.
Games need to be quicker. They need to be shorter. They need to move along at a much faster pace.
The only way to do that is to overhaul the sport in a way that Major League Baseball probably isn't willing to try. But if you're going to save a sport that is dying, you can't take baby steps.
So forget pitch clocks and mound visits. Let's really make some changes that would truly fix baseball's problems.
Traditionalists will hate this. Baseball will never go for it. But it's what baseball needs to save a sport that is on its way to extinction.
So here goes:
Best way to fix a sport where games are too long? Make them shorter.
Last season, the average MLB game was 3 hours and 5 minutes. Please, don't try to sell me with some Field of Dreams speech about the beauty of baseball being this timeless endeavor to be savored without a clock. I gotta work tomorrow.
Not only would games be shortened to well under three hours, but the sense of urgency would be ramped up. A bases-loaded situation in the fourth inning would be critical.
Traditionalists will say seven-inning games will impact baseball's historical numbers and records, to which I say the steroid era pretty much turned all numbers moot. After all, anyone buying that Barry Bonds' single-season record of 73 homers is genuine? What's more important: Cy Young's record for complete games or attracting younger fans?
Seven-inning games mean fewer innings for pitchers and, maybe, fewer arm injuries. Perhaps teams would go to four-man rotations, eliminating a fifth starter who isn't very good anyway. Many games would go right from the starter to the closer, eliminating mediocre middle relievers and also speeding up games, making them more tight and well-played.
Here's what ends up happening: Games that start at 7 p.m. will be over by 9:30. Maybe you can attract more people who don't want to spend five hours at the ballpark. And, oh, we'd have to sing Take Me Out To The Ballgame in the fifth inning.
A 1-1 COUNT
Okay, this is really drastic, but imagine that the count was one-ball and one-strike before the batter stepped up to the plate. A 1-1 count would force batters to swing the bat, thus also speeding up the game.
Worried that the pitchers would have too much of an advantage? Fine, make it a 2-1 count to start the at-bat. Anything to keep batters from "working the count'' and driving up pitch counts. A 1-1 or 2-1 count means the ball would be put in play more often, or if there were going to be more strikeouts and walks, they would happen quicker.
This all means more action and speedier games.
THE BATTER'S BOX
This is one thing baseball can enforce and that's batters stepping out of the box far too often. MLB was supposed to fix this, but has gotten lax. Enforce this rule: Batters must not be allowed to step out of the box unless he fouls off a pitch or there's a specific reason, like a bug in his eye or something. That's it. If a batter steps out when he isn't supposed to, he's called out. End of story. Have that happen a couple of times and I guarantee a hitters will fall in line.
This kills what has become baseball's dead time.
Limit warm-up pitches. Get rid of replay. Cut even more time between innings.
This is all drastic. I get that. Owners will be worried about shortening games and cutting into time for fans to buy concessions. Players would be worried about how this might impact the number of players being used. And traditionalists will worry about the game being altered too much.
But here's the point: Baseball will cease to be popular at all if things keep going the way they are.
Baseball needs a fix. A major one. Starting now.
Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones