Why Is Baseball and Its Fans So Resistant to Change?

Mark HauserCorrespondent IIFebruary 20, 2009

Admittedly, I am not a big baseball fan.  I appreciate the strategy that is involved, but it is just too slow for my tastes.  However, I like all sports to a certain extent.  The beauty of all sports is that, unlike many Hollywood movies, you never know the ending of a particular game, match, season, series, or which team (or who) is going to win the championship that year (or that event).

The unexpected can keep you on the edge of your seat in any game or match either because you are unsure of who is going to win, or because a great athlete pulls off a spectacular play.  However, I see no reason why the journey getting there has to be identical as it was over 100 years ago. 

Tradition has its place in everything in our society, including sports; but, there is always a balancing act between the sacredness of tradition and the improvement that change can make.  Baseball and baseball fans, in my opinion, have always over-emphasized tradition and have continually failed to see the advantages of change.  For heaven's sake, it is a sport, not a religion (yes, even if you are a fanatic).

Football and basketball are constantly adjusting their rules, schedules, playoffs, conferences, leagues, and anything else they can think of to keep their sport fresh and make it more exciting.  They can tell by studies, attendance, and television ratings that their fans enjoy a certain amount of scoring (for example) for their optimum viewing pleasure, and they adjust their rules slightly to do this.

Football is as popular as ever and has replaced baseball as our national pasttime.  Basketball is doing well also, and I suspect the NBA playoffs starting this week will get high ratings because of the ideal Boston-Los Angeles matchup. 

As for hockey and soccer, do not even get me started with their problems.  Yes, I know, soccer fans, that soccer is the world's most popular sport. But, it is the fifth most popular team sport in the US.  And soccer will never make it big in the US until they change the rules to allow for more scoring.  Who wants to watch a sport where a 2-0 first half score is an insurmountable lead?

Enough said.

Hockey, by allowing unnecessary clutching, grabbing, holding, tripping, elbowing, checking, and most of all, fighting, denies their athletes a chance to show off their exciting athletic skills (e.g., stick handling and skating).  A larger rink, as there is in international play, would also help.

Baseball and their fans resist any change no matter how small, reasonable, or advantageous the proposed change.

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For example, some fans were going to commit suicide merely because interleague play was proposed.  And baseball itself added interleague play at least 50 years after it should have and without a good reason.  How about we deny some naturally great rivalries (e.g., Yankees-Mets, Cubs-White Sox) by not allowing them to play?  That makes a lot of sense.  Interleague has only been good for baseball and it was fought tool and nail.

The same can be said for the addition of the Wild Card team and, hence, the extra round of playoffs.  There was great resistance at first and now practically everyone loves it.  However, I think baseball has it wrong—the first round of the playoffs should also be best-of-seven.  It seems unfair and, frankly, silly that you can get eliminated in fewer games merely because it is the first round.  Basketball realized their error and corrected this.

I wonder how many centuries go by before baseball corrects this mistake?

The designated hitter is more complicated because it is not so clear whether this is good or bad for baseball.  I know some of you have strong opinions about this, but, for once, I do not.  However, it seems dumb to have it in one league and not the other.  I know technically MLB is two leagues, but in reality, it is more like one league.  And if baseball and its fans would just stop worrying about tradition for one second, they just might find it more productive to be one league.

If you need more examples, how about how slow it was for MLB to allow Afro-Americans to play?  Was that tradition too?  How about how long it took them to start testing for steroids and even longer to have any real penalties for a positive test?

I think the last couple of weeks of the season (four wrong homer calls) has shown that baseball has been too slow (again) to add instant replay to get certain calls right.  By the time three umpires decide to get together, then actually get together, discuss who saw what wrong, and then make the wrong decision, they could have looked at the instant replay and gotten it right.  Oh, gosh, how terrible, traditionally, the call was always made on the field.  As with the above examples, I guarantee you that none of the baseball gods will roll over in their grave if you make this change.

In addition to making changes too late for no good reason, baseball does not change things that it should change.  Like speeding up the game to make it more exciting.  How about not allowing the batter to step away from the box, or enforcing the rule about how much time a pitcher has between pitches.  Something, anything, to speed up the game.

How about making all the baseball parks (i.e., fields) the same size.  I cannot imagine playing football one week on a 100-yard field and an 88-yard field the next week.  How about a 10-foot basket in Boston and nine and a half foot basket in LA?  Yes, to me, this tradition, for lack of a better word, is moronic.

And, while we're at it, can we get rid of all that disgusting tobacco chewing/spitting and excessive crotch grabbing that baseball players like to partake in?  Baseball players do more crotch grabbing than a Sopranos episode and Michael Jackson video combined.  The last thing that a person needs who is trying to enjoy his hot dog (after all, he/she needs something to do, the batter just stepped away from the box again) is to see a grown man regurgitate brown saliva out of his mouth at the same time he is checking his manhood (or lack thereof), all the while on national TV (and/or in front of 60,000 fans).

Sorry, this is one tradition everyone can do without.

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