Tradition over time

E9: What you wouldn’t believe about sports.

Sam L. Jaime

Sam L. Jaime

Sam L. Jaime, Sports Editor

Baseball is a classical drama staged outdoors beneath the lights, in front of thousands. Its history spans generations, surviving tragedy and triumph alike. Major League Baseball was founded 114 years ago in 1903, five years before the United States started celebrating both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and is the oldest major professional sports league in North America.

Despite its implied traditions, the future of the league is driven by the quest to shorten game play. League commissioner Rob Manfred’s obsession with making the game more appealing to the younger instant gratification generation has already brought about the pitch clock throughout the minor leagues and prohibited batters from completely stepping out of the batter’s box between pitches. Both seem to come with the best of intentions, and are a step in the right direction, but appear to be the tip of a more ominous iceberg.

The problem with increasing pace is a fundamental contradiction of Manfred’s goal to promote scoring within the league. Essentially the only way to get through innings faster is to increase the ease of making outs, which is difficult if you are also trying to make it easier to score runs. So when the accompanying suggestion for pace of play was a one-pitch intentional walk, it seemed a concession toward the offensive-minded approach.

How do we overcome the paradoxical nature of pace of play? Why would you want to? The average NFL game takes three hours and 12 minutes, despite roughly 11 minutes of the ball being in play. The average MLB game in 2014 however lasts two hours and 56 minutes, 16 minutes shorter on average than the NFL. The only problem with the pace of play is not with the game, it’s with the perception of those watching.

It boils down to the popularity contest that ultimately pits the league’s age against itself. It seems that because the NFL is newer, perhaps with more marketable television advertising considering there is a commercial after every other play. Baseball actually gives you the most bang for your buck in terms of commercial breaks and length, which ultimately means less commercials and less publicity. People also seem to not understand or appreciate that baseball at its most fundamental is a physics defying feat. I could rattle off some data about reaction time, speed, etc. but it won’t matter. Even if it did, the main point is, if you’ve never played baseball, you are automatically at a disadvantage when it comes to becoming a fan, because you don’t have as deep of an appreciation.

This makes Manfred’s ultimate goal of attracting new fans to the sport difficult because it relies on previous generations to have some level of fandom and to pass that along to their children. Sure, the efforts of the league to make the game more accessible to the fans and to advertisers is a valiant, gallant effort, but the responsibility rests with current fans to spread the word and create new generations of fans based on the game’s traditions, not on how easy the game flows, or is played. The game is tough, as it should be, and that’s what has endeared it to many of us, because as with life, there is no place within it for shortcuts.