Before I commence with this, I would like to make one thing perfectly clear:
This is not, in any way, shape or form, a diatribe against women's fast pitch softball or its players or coaches.
Indeed, I am among the millions of people who have an appreciation for the game and the athletes that play it. Anyone who can pitch a ball underhand at speeds up to 80 miles an hour and strike out major leaguers gets respect from me.
It's good to see that softball has gained big strides in recent years, from the U.S. National team in the Olympic Games (even though the sport has been cut from the 2012 Games in London) to the broadening appeal of the Women's College World Series, shown yearly on ESPN.
Having said that, I've come up with some ideas on how softball, at the collegiate level and higher, can rise even farther in popularity to where it can match baseball...
1. Change the number of innings played in a game from seven to nine. Seven inning games, to me, indicate that women are thought of as incapable of playing nine innings on a regular basis like their baseball counterparts. That is a form of sexism.
2. Get rid of the mercy rule that says that a game ends when a team is up by eight or more runs after five innings. Baseball doesn't do that—Florida State recently beat Ohio State 37 - 5 in a regional match—and no one suggested ending the game early then. Why should softball?
3. Get rid of the international tiebreaker rule that states that every extra inning starts with a runner on second base. Again, baseball doesn't do that—what on earth is the point to a rule so ridiculous? I wish someone could explain that to me.
4. Change the rule that says the outfield's dimensions have to be 190 to 200 feet and symmetrical. I have one word for that—BORING.
A large part of baseball's charm is the fact that the stadiums are as diverse as the teams that play in them. Softball desperately needs places that have features like the Green Monster in Fenway Park, or ivy-covered walls at Wrigley Field.
Features like that adds more variety and appeal, which results in more popularity.
5. Move the pitching rubber from 43 feet to 45 feet, which will give hitters even more of an advantage that they have gained when the rubber was moved from 40 feet to 43 feet a few years back.
Let's face it: the average fan is more entertained by home run slugfests that games where the pitcher strikes out 20 batters and dominates. And it's the average fan that softball needs to attract.
As Kevin Costner said in the movie Bull Durham, "Strikeouts are boring and worse yet, they're fascist."
6. Get rid of the rule that states that a softball's umpiring style—how balls, strikes, and outs are called—have to be exactly the same. I have six words for that—TOO RESTRICTIVE, CONFORMING, AND BORING.
Baseball's umpires, through the years, have had more colorful and diverse styles, which like the stadiums makes the game more attractive and interesting to the fans.
7. Women's softball dearly needs more colorful and interesting stars who are non-conformist and non-conventional.
In my view, WAY too many softball players—and especially coaches—are what I call Lou Gehrig and Tom Landry types: conservative, conventional, conforming, and ultimately boring. That hurts the game's appeal.
The sport needs more Babe Ruth / Manny Ramirez / Dennis Rodman types, people who revel in looking and acting different from the norm but still excel on the field.
More teams like the Oakland Raiders of the 1970s and 80s, who were fairly wild but won three Super Bowls, are needed, the kind of teams that looked and acted however they pleased and yet still achieved great things.
As a famous college football coach once said, "I'd rather coach guys that expressed themselves than a bunch of clones." And he won three national championships.
8. The sport needs more of an emphasis on history. MUCH more.
If you ask an avid softball fan who never misses a game who the all-time home run or strikeout leader is, or what's Jennie Finch's career strikeout total, or Lisa Fernandez's lifetime batting average, they wouldn't know or care.
Casual baseball fans, however, know about Babe Ruth's 714 home runs and Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. They know that Ted Williams was the last man to hit .400, and that 1947 was the year of Jackie Robinson.
That is a significant part of baseball's charm, and the fact that softball has none of that hurts its appeal.
9. Another huge factor of the charm and popularity of baseball are the men in the announcing booths who describe the action, from Mel Allen and Red Barber in the 1950s, to Harry Caray's 7th inning stretches at Wrigley Field, to the greatest announcer in the history of sports, the Dodgers' Vin Scully.
Where are softball's announcers that even approach the appeal of the great men? Who describe home runs like the Chicago White Sox announcers do on WGN: "You can put it on the board, yes!"
Like it's lack of historical emphasis, this hurts softball.
10. The sport needs a Major League Softball on the level of the successful WNBA, that is sponsored, owned and run by Major League Baseball—similar to how the WNBA was sponsored by their NBA counterparts during their fledgling years.
There could be 12 teams to start, with six teams in a western and eastern division, located in major league cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. 10,000-seat capacity parks could be built that are models of their baseball counterparts.
If promoted properly, it could work. And work well.
Yes, I know there's a women's professional league, the WPSL, but in my view, it isn't working. The teams are located only in the midwest and the east coast, and there's no real promotion outside of a handful of games on ESPN. Plus, the fields they play on are not quite at the level that they should be.
A Major League Softball modeled after the WNBA would stand a much better chance than what currently exists.
I understand that these suggestions may be met with disdain among softball aficionados and purists out there, who revel in the differences that their game has from baseball. But...
If softball is to approach baseball's appeal and popularity to the average sports fan, like I think it should, then the powers that be who run the sport should strongly consider what I have said here.
After all, it would only help the game and draw new fans, which I feel that women's fast-pitch softball deserves.