Fixing Baseball’s Pace Of Play Problem

May 12, 2017

I heard an interview with Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred last week in which he stated that pace of play was the biggest issue his sport is facing.

On the surface, it would seem like he’s got it pretty easy compared to his peers. Think about the headaches — both literal and figurative — the NFL and NHL are dealing with related to concussions. And the thing keeping Manfred up at night is speeding up the action a little?

But the problem is real. In a world where the average attention span is shrinking by the day, baseball is falling out of favor as games routinely stretch beyond three hours in length. And there’s no easy solution.

I’ve heard all kinds of radical approaches. Pitch clocks. Beginning extra innings with a runner on second base. Shortening games to seven innings.

Most of the ideas would fundamentally change a sport that hasn’t fundamentally changed since it was invented.

I think there’s a better way. Let’s leave the game alone and remove downtime that has nothing to do with competition.

I’d start by eliminating warm-up pitches. Every half-inning, the pitcher lazily strolls out to the mound and half-heartedly tosses eight pitches to the plate. Same goes for relief pitchers when they enter the game, which frequently happens multiple times in the same inning now that the position has become so specialized. No more.

There isn’t any reason relief pitchers can’t conduct all their warmups in the bullpen. And if we need to bring back the days of having awesome-looking bullpen cars speed them to the mound, I’d consider that a bonus. But let’s not stop there. Modern stadiums have areas in close proximity to the dugout where pitchers already in the game can stay loose.

So what’s preventing the MLB from eliminating these unnecessary breaks in the action? The answer is advertising. But do we really need commercials after every three outs?

To replace lost revenue, teams and networks would need to get more creative when it comes to finding new ways to engage fans.

  • Maybe it’s logos on the playing field or superimposed into telecasts
  • Maybe it’s brands sponsoring individual players
  • Maybe it’s micro-ads that serve as pre-roll of sorts between at-bats
  • Maybe it’s a split-screen

I’m just spitballing here. But the reason the MLB hasn’t already intruded more is fear of backlash from fans, which happened in 2004 when they announced plans to put the Spiderman logo on bases for a special promotion.

Bottom line: 2004 was a mighty long time ago. I’m confident today’s fans would accept a radically different approach to in-game marketing if they got something in return, like fewer breaks and more baseball. Sounds like a home run to me.