The State of Major League Baseball: Where Does the Sport Stand?

We’re about one week into this new baseball season. Whether your front yard has snow covering it or not, the real ushering in of spring has already happened.

No matter the weather, the dawn of a new season always creates an excitement inside of us that is just hard to explain. The anticipation, the coming of warm weather, and the sights and sounds of a new season just get us giddy.

The first pitch of the 2017 season was thrown in Tampa Bay.

The Tampa Bay Rays do not attract a large crowd. (Sept. 22, 2016 – Source: Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images North America)

Yes, Tampa Bay.

You know that team that has finished last in attendance since 2012? That’s where the season opened, with a game between the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays had 68 wins last year and did nothing over the offseason to sway us to believe they’ll gain any more wins than that. The Yankees are a young team, but are nowhere near as high-profile as they once were.

Essentially, the 2017 season began with two rebuilding teams.

This spawns a very important question and one that must be asked: What is the state of baseball?

It’s clear that baseball just isn’t the sport it once was. The games have become too long. With every passing year, the average game times become longer and longer. Add on a new generation that has a much shorter attention span, and you have a problem.

Commissioner Rob Manfred presented a plethora of new ways to speed up the pace of play: no defensive shifts, automatic baserunners in extra innings, shrinking the strike zone, limits on visits to the mound, pitch clocks, and restrictions on the number of relief pitchers a team can have and when they can be used.

All would help the sport in many different ways.

For one, the pace of the game would be sped up. With baserunners already on in extras, 14-inning games that go until 2 am will be a thing of the past. Though they aren’t common, they still happen enough for the MLB to take action against them. With pitch clocks and restrictions on visits to the mound, the game would be drastically sped up.

Kris Bryant and the Cubs will play an important role in the future of baseball. (Nov. 1, 2016 – Source: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images North America)

Also, there would be more runs during a game, which would result in more action. Defensive shifts stop a lot of base hits and runs from going through the infield. With that gone, there would undoubtedly be a lot more runs on the board and offensive statistics would almost be as high as they were during the steroid era.

But, these changes were never enacted due to the players’ union’s rejection of these ideas. In response, Manfred has threatened to enact those changes for next season no matter what the players’ union thinks.

Instead, Manfred was forced to enforce much more insignificant changes to help pace of play. On intentional walks, the batter will take first base without having to see four pitches. Managers must decide on reviews within 30 seconds. Umpires only have two minutes to review a play. If they can’t decide within those two minutes, the call stands.

These changes will help pace of play by a matter of minutes every few games. That is nowhere near enough to truly speed up the sport and keep fans engaged. The changes Manfred originally introduced would extraordinarily help pace of play every single game. It could reduce a game by 15-20 minutes and would most definitely increase run production.

Another problem with Major League Baseball is that storylines are few and far between. After the Chicago Cubs won the World Series last year, there don’t seem to be many marquee storylines for this upcoming season and the future. The Cubs and the Boston Red Sox no longer have curses, no team seems to be a villain, and Alex Rodriguez is gone.

The league clearly needs to evolve to current standards and a new generation of fans who want fast-paced, high-scoring baseball. This new generation isn’t like the old generation. For them, life is too busy and fast to set aside four hours for a game.

So for baseball, it’s time to reinvent itself. It’s time to become a much more upbeat game that will attract these new, short-attention-spanned generations for years to come.

Maybe it was fitting for the first game of the season to be played between two teams who are rebuilding. It’s a representation of how the sport is in rebuilding mode as well.

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