To state the obvious, we are an ADD culture, and baseball is suffering as a result. Baseball is a pastoral game that facilitates conversation, relaxation, and an appreciation for in-the-moment strategy. As our culture has moved away from a slow study of strategy and towards skimming, scanning, and appreciating only the most immediately pleasing aesthetics, we find ourselves more drawn to football and basketball, whose pace and urgency demand our divided attention.
Given that it preceded television’s advent by 75 years, baseball was not designed for a television audience. It is a game that can be played daily due to its relatively light physical toll, and that means a lot of games are played. It was a game meant to offer entertainment by participation, not by observation. Baseball is America’s pastime because that is how Americans passed the time when they didn’t have Netflix to binge: there was a local ball park and a game on. For the sake of socialization, let’s go!
But because many games are played and the action is slow, baseball can take place in the background, almost as a pretext for visiting with the person with whom you attend the game. No one game (shy of the playoffs) is all that important, and that means no one play is all that important. In turn, that means you didn’t have to pay rabid attention like you do for football. The pace of the game matched our former pace of life.
Times have changed, but the sport can’t evolve to keep up. With so many television options before us, ratings for baseball (and interest in it) will continue to drop.
So, as one who loves the game and appreciates it for its charm, strategy, and athletic demands, I would like to propose a radical change to the way it may be viewed. It requires no rule changes or offenses to the integrity of the game. It will please both kinds of television audiences: those who watch the game to relax, and those who watch the game wishing it would hurry the heck up.
The proposal is really quite simple: offer two airings of the same game. One airing would be just as it is now: a live, full broadcast, all 3-plus hours of it. The second airing will begin later as an edited, “tape-delayed” option. It will skip over all the boring bits and can be available on a subscription channel or a stream. A three-hour television event just got reduced to a 1.5-hour event––a far more manageable sitting in the 21st century.
So, if a game begins, say, at 7 p.m. EST, the delayed, edited version begins at 8:30 p.m. EST. Both games end at about the same time, or if the edited version catches up to the real version, you have a simulcast of the live game.
After all, do we really need to watch every batter adjust his batting gloves between pitches? Do we really need to watch the catcher straighten out signals with the pitcher? Do we need to sit through commercials while the dozen or so relievers per game warm up? For that matter, do we even need commercials? Perhaps they can be eliminated with an in-screen box that changes throughout the game, brainwashing us to eat Nathan’s, drink Budweiser, or drive Ford.
What about replays? Surely a few minutes can be cut out of each of those. (Or eliminate them altogether and enjoy the human element of the game!)
The NFL Network has offered something like this for years when they would replay games, but cut out unnecessary commercial breaks, one-yard running plays, halftime, and official reviews. Aside from (in all likelihood) already knowing the outcome of the game, it is a great product. Can MLB do the same, only in the moment, when a viewer can reasonably avoid updates on the game for an hour or so?
There are a few reasons not to do this, of course. Would you have a separate set of announcers who would anticipate dead time, or would you edit around the original announcers? Some might say we can already effectively do this with DVRs. And there is the doubling of resources and the splitting of audiences.
Still, baseball needs to rethink whether it wants eyeballs or not. This is a way to get them relatively cheaply. It, at least, offers one less excuse not to enjoy America’s pastime.