Professional baseball is at a crossroads. I truly believe that. I don't have any data and no one has conducted a study on the sport that I know of. It's just a gut feeling.
I'm a casual fan of the sport. I'm a die-hard Yankee fan. I follow them religiously but I don't follow the other teams with the same intensity. There are certain teams who I keep my eye on like the Cubs, the Dodgers, the Phillies, the Giants, the Mets, the White Sox, the Angels, and, of course, the Red Sox. It's nothing personal, I just think that these teams are consistently the most compelling teams in the sport.
The problem I have with Major League Baseball is that it is too stuck in nostalgia. It is consistently the last sport in America to change, to adapt. It lives in the past and it's a detriment.
Remember at the end of Back To The Future III ? Remember when Doc (Christopher Lloyd) returned from 1885 with his new wife Clara (Mary Steenburgen) and their new kids? When Doc returned, he told Marty (Michael J. Fox) that he had found true love and that he was actually happier living in the 19th century.
That's how I look at Major League Baseball.
I was listening to ESPN's Colin Cowherd yesterday and he made an awesome point. Baseball is the only sport where today's accomplishments are constantly compared to the accomplishments of yesterday. And he's right.
When Chris Paul throws a no-look pass on a fast break, Mike Breen doesn't yell out:
"WOW! CHRIS PAUL LOOKED JUST LIKE BOB COUSY ON THAT FAST BREAK!"
Or, in football, when Jay Cutler fires a pass that travels 60-yards in the air, Gus Johnson doesn't say:
"OH MY GOD! DID YOU SEE THAT? CUTLER LOOKED LIKE FRAN TARKENTON ON THAT PASS!"
Baseball announcers constantly do this. You always hear the announcers compare today's stars to yesterday stars. Every power hitter is compared to Babe Ruth, every dominant pitcher is compared to Cy Young. And, the way I see it, this hits right at the biggest problem I have with the sport. This shows its refusal to stop living in the past.
Remember when there was a huge fight in MLB over interleague play? I thought that the purists were going to have a heart attack! And now there isn't anything more exciting during the regular season than inter-league play.
Remember when there was a HUGE fight in MLB over the new playoff format? Again, purists went nuts! Now, playoff baseball is 50 times more exciting.
There are a myriad of reasons why baseball doesn't connect with the kids of today. I personally think one of the biggest reasons is the ridiculous start time for primetime games. Baseball games, which often times run as long as four and sometimes five hours, have no business starting at 8:00 pm.
You can't expect kids to stay up to midnight to watch a baseball game. It's hard enough for adults. I love that my Yankees won a thrilling Game Two of the ALCS over the Orange County Angels (I refuse to call them by their actual, stupid name by the way) but the game itself didn't end until after one o'clock. I was literally running on fumes.
And, of course, that leads right to my second biggest beef, the butt-numbing length of these games. It is absurd for any sport to have games that last five hours! Going back to Game Two of the ALCS, by the time Angels second baseman Maicer Izturis made a throwing error allowing Jerry Hairston to score the winning run in the 13th inning, nearly half of Yankee Stadium had emptied, simply giving up on the game rather than staying to watch.
Did I happen to mention that this was a playoff game?
Name another professional sport where this happens?
When I say that Major League Baseball has lost its grip with today's generation of teenagers, that is by no means a hyperbolic statement.
MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) has made the leap from a fringe sport to a mainstream sport. The TV numbers don't lie. MMA is taking away from baseball's core young audience.
Once upon a time, there was no other sport in America that captured the attention of this country's youth quite like baseball. It was a sport that was passed down from generation to generation. It was a sport that truly earned its beloved nickname "America's Pastime!"
But in the mid-'90s, the ratings for the NBA Finals (led by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls) began to consistently beat the ratings for the World Series. And of course, the popularity of the NFL continued to rise and rise and rise and before you knew it, a major shift in the American sports landscape had just taken place.
In fact, I'll tell you about my 12-year old brother Ahmaad. Like other boys his age he's obsessed with video games. He has a Nintendo Wii. His favorite game is the baseball game that comes with the game console. He loves it and he loves to play me in it.
But you know what he doesn't like? He doesn't like watching the actual game. He doesn't want to look at it on TV, he doesn't want to go any games. He would much rather play an imaginary baseball game than to watch the actual game. My brother represents a microcosm of today's teenage boys.
Of course I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. But what really made me jump up and write this column was not just because of the earlier points I made, but also due to the curious response from fans and writers in regards to the horrific performance of these umpires during this postseason.
In the wildest game of the postseason, Game Two of the ALDS between the Yankees and the Minnesota Twins, Joe Mauer ripped a double down the left field line in the top of the 11th inning. Everybody watching that game thought it was a double. Almost everybody, at least. But, to everyone's surprise, umpire Phil Cuzzi called it a foul ball. Replays clearly showed that it was a fair ball. It was a terrible call by the veteran umpire and Minnesota fans were rightfully upset.
If Cuzzi's tragic blunder was the warm-up act, then the shoddy performance of the umpire crew in Game Four of the ALCS, had to be the main event.
Gaffe No. 1: In the fourth inning of the Yankees/Orange County Angels matchup, Nick Swisher was clearly picked off at second base by pitcher Scott Kazmir. On a headfirst slide into second base, Angels shortstop Erick Aybar tagged Swisher on the hand before he slid back to base. But umpire Dale Scott called him safe.
Gaffe No. 2: Later in the inning Johnny Damon hit deep fly ball that was caught for an out. Swisher, now on third base, waited until the ball was caught by center fielder Torii Hunter. Then he ran home for the score. But head crew chief and third base umpire Tim McClelland called him out, claiming that Swisher took off before Hunter caught the ball. Not only did replays show that McClelland was wrong, replays showed that McClelland wasn't even looking at Swisher as he left third base!
Gaffe No. 3: With one out and two runners on base (Jorge Posada on third and Robinson Cano on second), Swisher hit a harmless bouncer to pitcher Darren Oliver who immediately threw to home in order to get Posada out. After being trapped in a rundown between home and third base, Posada was tagged out by catcher Mike Napoli right in front of McClelland.
For some bizarre reason, Cano was simply standing at third base but wasn't actually standing on the base and was immediately tagged out by Napoli as well. In a blunder of historic proportions, McClelland called Posada out but called Cano safe.
I was stunned!
Napoli was enraged, the fans were enraged, and manager Mike Scioscia actually looked like he wanted to punch McClelland.
The simple reality is this: It is now time to bring instant replay to the sport. No sane person can possibly be against this right?
I read so many articles from writers defending the "human mistake" by McClelland (who looked absolutely dispirited in his press conference after the game). And then I read comments from fans about the need to "preserve the game" and how instant replay would be "detrimental" and how it would corrupt "the flow of the game."
It's more important to "preserve the game" than it is to be right? Really? The NFL has instant replay and it works just fine. The NBA has instant replay for shots made at the buzzer and it works just fine. How is this somehow a bad thing for Major League Baseball? I don't understand it at all and this is exactly what I mean when I say that baseball has become "an old man's sport." A few months back on my blog when I was bemoaning the death of the newspaper industry I said this:
"The problem with people who believe in the unequivocal sanctity of tradition is that when the old way becomes obsolete, they refuse to acknowledge that they need to adapt in order to survive."
And that's how I sometimes feel about baseball. I often feel that it's a little too blinded by tradition. There's nothing hip about the sport at all. And I wonder if baseball's lack of "coolness" hurts its appeal with today's youth. I would love for Bud Selig to overhaul instant replay. I would love for him to do something about these four and five hour games.
We, as Americans, are all conditioned to lose attention to something that lasts longer than three hours. And I would love if he would stand up to FOX and TBS and tell them that baseball games (especially these exciting playoff baseball games) should never start later than 7:00 pm.
I mean for God's sake, Game Three of the NLDS between Philadelphia and Colorado started at 10:00 pm on a Sunday night!
But I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he didn't. It's the 21st Century, not the 20th Century. The sooner that Major League Baseball acknowledges this, the better. Not just for the sport, but for the kids like my brother as well, who have no idea what they're missing.