This year’s World Series was one of the best in recent memory. And much of the nation saw very little of it.
Baseball, we have a problem.
Slow games and late starting times ensured that those with daytime jobs or school did not see much of the historic World Series, which ended in the Houston Astros’ first championship in franchise history.
In Houston’s 13-12 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5, it was 4-4 after four innings, and, by then, the clock had moved past 10 p.m. in Toledo.
Networks are dictating starting times. Game 5 started at 8 p.m. because it aired after FOX’s NFL doubleheader. But it is hard to believe the network was happy about a World Series classic ending after 2 a.m., which Game 5 did. Negotiate a playoff schedule for next year that will have no playoff game starting later than 7 p.m. At least young fans will see some of the games.
But baseball’s biggest problem is pace of play. Houston’s 5-3 Game 3 victory took 3 hours, 46 minutes to play. A regular-season game was a record-setting 3 hours, 5 minutes in 2017. Up until the mid-1940s, games were close to two hours.
Prior to this season, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred tried to implement a 20-second pitch clock, limit mound visits by the catcher to once an inning, and raise the strike zone, but the players’ union rejected his efforts. He can unilaterally impose the rules in 2018. He should do that if the union refuses to negotiate.
Relief pitchers should also be required to face at least three batters and the strike zone needs to be enforced. For the 11th season in a row, Major League Baseball set a strikeout record in 2017. But expanding the strike zone would actually force hitters to be more aggressive and try to put the ball in play earlier in the count.
Major League Baseball had a golden opportunity this season to capitalize on the national anthem controversy that is affecting NFL ratings. But attendance this season dipped below 73 million for the first time since 2002. And baseball’s showcase, the World Series, highlighted one of the big issues turning off fans: pace of play. It is time to get the game moving.
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