Post columnist Barry Svrluga’s recent piece on the problems with baseball in 2018 — and the need for radical solutions — prompted dozens of responses from readers, who had their own thoughts about what’s wrong with the game and how those problems should be fixed. Here are some of our favorites.
Move the mound back
We all (well, nearly) want to see the ball get smacked around more. Move the mound back two feet. I know that is probably heresy, but pretty much everything you change in baseball is heresy.
The other thing that needs to happen is get rid of the ridiculous nine- to-10-pitch at-bats because of foul balls. Limit fouls to three or so, and declare the batter out or walked. The smart analytics guys can figure out which would best benefit the game, but one thing would be certain, and that is the end of the interminable at-bats.
— Roger Kurrus
Make home runs automatic outs
Pitcher may throw once to a base occupied by player. Pitcher may continue to do so, but a ball is charged for each extra time. This will increase steals and save time.
Just as a foul bunt with two strikes is an out, so too any foul ball with two strikes is a strikeout. Enough of this silly praising of batters for a “good at-bat” when they foul off five pitches with two strikes.
Except when pitchers are injured, relief pitchers get only X pitches on the mound when coming in to relieve. It’s the manager’s job to have them ready when they leave the bullpen.
My favorite: A home run is an “out,” but each base runner may advance one base if the out is not the third out of the inning. Truth be told, home runs are boring — a slow trot around the bases, which is just dead time. And more balls would be put in play and there would be fewer strikeouts.
— Ted Occhialino
The sound of silence
I think a big problem in Major League ballparks today, certainly for the Nationals, is that management is making the game experience too noisy, too full of electronic ads and generally just too frantic. I assume they are trying to do the same things some misguided museums and other cultural institutions are, livening up the product to compete with video games.
Baseball is a contemplative game. I grew up in St. Louis, attending a few Browns games before they moved, and following the Cardinals avidly, even to this day though I am far away. The broadcasting team I listened to included Harry Caray, Joe Garagiola and Jack Buck. When the Browns were still around, I eagerly watched Max Patkin, “the clown prince of baseball,” in the first base coaches box, put there by Bill Veeck to mimic the opposing pitcher and just generally entertain the fans. While the Cardinals games were generally well attended, there were quiet moments in every inning when I could hear the infielders chatting to each other. In the meantime, until I was old enough to go on my own, my grandfather would explain the nuances of the game to me, as he carefully filled out his scorecard with those confusing symbols.
The contemplative aspects of the game have been badly disrupted in modern times. Free agency means that fans have trouble identifying closely with many of the players that come and go through the revolving door. Current pitching patterns mean that there is little drama generated over whether a pitcher will last for a complete game or get a shutout.
I think baseball management needs to work to restore some of the contemplativeness of baseball. For instance, how about teaching fans by using those obnoxious video scoreboards how to fill out a baseball scorecard, actually showing what to enter after each play? Major league leadership could begin pressuring teams to restore more base stealing, hit-and-run plays, and find some way to discourage today’s excessive focus on home runs by modifying the mound or the bats or the balls. And, finally, let the fans have some silence.
— Mike McGill
More bullpen carts
As a baseball fan of 65 years, I agree that the game has become more boring and less interesting. I haven’t been to a Nats game in three years, after averaging six to 10 games a year from their arrival. And rarely can I sit through a game on TV without surfing the channels. However, I disagree with some of your conclusions. We all know that the exaggerated shifts can be beaten by bunting or going the other way. Even Ted Williams, late in life, admitted that only his stubborn pride kept him from hitting to left against the Boudreau shift. Had he done so, his lifetime batting average might have exceeded .350. Yet few do it or even try. Sitting back and playing for the three-run homer is self-defeating and boring. The real problem is that few teams and few players play fundamental baseball. Bunting, with few exceptions, is a lost art. Hit and run? What’s that?
You are correct that the use of situational relievers to face one batter slows the game. But instead of requiring a reliever to face three batters, maybe limit the warmup pitches of subsequent relievers. Drive the relievers in from the bullpen. Is there any other activity in baseball more emblematic of its snail’s pace than watching a reliever stroll in from the bullpen?
— Ben Mirman
Shrink the gloves
Two possible changes:
1. Move the pitching rubber back a couple of feet to provide batters slightly more time to react.
2. Reduce the size of gloves so more hit balls get through the infield or fall safely in the outfield. I’m sure some part of the higher batting averages in the first third or so of the 20th century was due to the much smaller gloves; wouldn’t go back to that size, but I think some reduction would be helpful.
— Fred Siskind
Lower the mound
If lowering the mound from 15 inches to 10 inches in the 1960s created more action, I’d support lowering it to five inches now. If that doesn’t work, drop it to zero. Why? Lowering the height of the mound will necessitate recalculation of launch angles. This probably will result in fewer home runs but more total hits. Other than that, I’d leave the game alone. Let the hitters learn to hit to the opposite field.
— Steve Baker
Too much Strat-O-Matic
I have followed baseball closely since 1955 (I was 10 years old then growing up in North Carolina and fell in love with the game during the ’55 World Series thanks to our 13 inch black and white TV — the state of the art in those days.)
What is happening to the game is sad indeed. One thing’s for sure: Even though I’m approaching 74 years of age, I guarantee you I can stand up there and strike out … and I’ll do it for nothing! (In my way of thinking, strikeouts — once “shameful” — are boring, perhaps akin to the NFL’s former extra point kicking distance while home runs are more like field goals from 35 yards. Give me a little hit-and-run occasionally!)
And these farcical shifts make a joke of scoring a baseball game. Yes, I remember the shifts they put on for Ted Williams — and he “made ’em pay”— but the great Splendid Splinter was the exception. Seemingly baseball — so dependent on computer data versus old-fashioned managerial instincts — now emulates the old baseball board game Strat-O-Matic instead of the other way around. So hand me the dice and save me some money.
Bottom line is: If they’re losing me, they’re truly in trouble.
— Lawson Deaton
Fans look bored
I don’t go to Nats games anymore. Getting there’s a hassle. But mostly, it’s just too dull.
Baseball’s joined football in becoming better on TV than in person. You can see more. Close-ups, replays, etc.
But now, I mostly listen on the radio and keep the TV on in case something interesting happens. Which is rare. Because TV baseball is dull, too.
I see the faces of the people sitting behind home plate. They look bored, glancing at their phones, yawning. Contrast that with the fans you see watching hockey and basketball (even football) on TV. They’re excited to be there. Not those fans behind the plate. What a great advertisement for MLB.
I also see the defensive shifts you mentioned. Looks wrong to me, all the infielders on one side. Does it work? Probably. Is it exciting? Please.
And the launch angle? Maybe a few more homers. But more strikeouts than hits, more lazy flyballs, and fewer base runners. Less action.
Bottom line: If they’re losing me, a white guy in my 60s who used to love the game, they have big problems. And my 30-something son, who loved baseball as a kid, pays no attention at all anymore. He’s all-NBA.
— Dave Cassidy
Elephants never forget
I develop models of how animals and people move through space and time. Using mathematical models, satellites and drones, I try to anticipate how rhinos, elephants and poachers move over immense tracts of land on a given day. With this knowledge, I can strategically deploy Rangers to intercept poachers before they reach a target animal.
We can adapt this model to baseball: Where should pitchers throw a ball to a specific batter, how to move players into optimum defense positions, and how to use the pitch placement to shade infielders to the highest likelihood of an intercept, getting to the batted ball. It is what we call the shift.
Now, I suppose baseball could rule that you must keep two infielders on both sides of second base. Maybe the third infielder could not cross the vertical plane between home and second base until the pitch is delivered, contact is made, at the top of the windup, whatever you want. It is tough to enforce and will likely result in a player being stationed inches from the second base center line. While this may not have the same direct impact as the most radical of infield shifts, it will still skew the advantage to the defense.
Here is what I have learned from tracking things in Africa: Go where you are unexpected, change patterns of movement, cause instability, and create doubt in the mind of the actors that what they had previously been expecting will now change.
For Bryce, choke up on the bat, forget launch angle and smack a single to left.
I very carefully monitor the behavior of my good guys (Rangers) and bad guys (poachers). The latter will change tactics, so I need to anticipate and counter. Baseball should be the same. You can beat the shift but not if you are trying to hit the ball into the next Zip code.
Except, money talks. If home runs are paid a premium, you cannot rationally expect players to execute a great sacrifice bunt.
Sadly, catching poachers will be easier than getting baseball players to hit sac flies. I do not believe baseball can legislate change in the game.
Here is the real problem as I see it: a failure to cultivate young fans who understand the game compounded by adults who do not pay attention at the game.
[Recently], I did some data collection in Section 215. At any given time during the game, over 25 percent of the fans were looking at a handheld device. I know because I counted. Two kids in 215 Row C (expensive seats) never looked up at the game for three innings. I sit right behind them, and they were totally disinterested. Not surprisingly, their mom and dad spent those same innings texting.
We can argue the shift, launch angle, exit velocity, automatic walks (I hate that), speeding up the game, anything. It does not matter if folks are no longer interested in baseball. Attendance figures and TV audiences tend to suggest this.
The real question for MLB is how to cultivate the fan base, especially youth, to enjoy what makes baseball different from other sports. Unfortunately, I don’t have an easy answer.
The lesson for today: work hard in school and hit the ball to left. Wherever you are, that’s where you will be. At the ballpark, shut up, put down the phone and immerse yourself in a beautiful thing.
— Tom Snitch
I have thought about this for some time. I am from Baltimore, and I used to go to Orioles games at Memorial Stadium.
It was different back then. Pitchers threw the ball almost as soon as they got it back from the catcher. Catchers did not look at the dugout before each pitch to see what the manager wanted to throw. Batters did not step out of the box after each pitch. There was no pitch count. Pitchers went as far as they could. If they ran out of gas, only then was a reliever brought in. It was fun to see if the hitters could get to the pitcher in the late innings.
Most of all, what has detracted from my enjoyment of the game is the practice of routinely bringing in hard-throwing relievers in the last two or three innings. Who can hit 99 mph fastballs with movement? The game has become too predictable.
— Alan Rosenthal
It’s all about the fundamentals
Please let me politely take issue with you assertion that “radical” rule changes are needed to “fix” baseball.
If you watched the Nats [during a recent loss], you saw the Red Sox nearly squeeze four infielders onto the right side when slumping, overpaid Bryce Harper came to bat in the ninth, down three with a runner aboard. Rather than simply square to bunt and dribble something (anything) serviceable down the third base line to sustain a last-chance rally and make the defense think twice about future shifting, Bam Bam instead flailed away with all his might and ultimately struck out by fanning at an eye-high fastball away.
If players making tens of millions annually have time to take groundballs at first, then they’ve got time to learn to bunt. After all, Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Ernie Banks, Roberto Clemente and even slugger Willie McCovey, among other ’69 all-stars, all could have laid down a bunt if their opponents had ever dared to leave the left side of the infield undefended.
It’s not the front-office algorithm geeks who’ve created baseball’s overpriced boredom. I blame this generation of multimillionaire players who lack many fundamental baseball skills yet show little to no interest in remedial learning. For example, when was the last time you saw a Nats player hit one in a gap or down the line and properly cut first base on the way to second with his left foot instead of his right? Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Lou Brock, Richie Allen, Davey Lopes and even the dopey Rickie Henderson and Vince Coleman never cut a bag with their right foot because they were taught that doing so makes it harder to control your momentum and will slow you down. But now it’s very rare to see a young Nats millionaire cut a bag with anything other than his right foot. No wonder they’re always getting injured on the base paths.
And don’t even get me started (again) on sliding. Why in the world would you choose both to slow your stride as you prepare to dive for a bag and then expose your dainty fingers and wrists to that immovable bag and a defender’s spikes when you could go in hard with stronger feet and legs like Brock, popping up and being quickly ready to take another bag if a throw gets away?
Bottom line is: Rule changes may be helpful, and I’m not necessarily opposed to some that have been discussed. But unless modern players develop sound, fundamental skills, the trends toward less action and more empty seats will likely continue.
— Darren McKinney
Drop the blackouts
Baseball is too difficult to watch on TV.
Growing up, I turned on the TV almost every day to watch the Red Sox and developed a serious loyalty that has lasted over the more than 40 years since I have lived outside of New England. When they were in pennant races or the World Series, I watched them on broadcast television (and no, we don’t need to rehash the details.) Because I saw them on TV, I went to Fenway as often as I my dad would take me.
Unless you have an overly expensive cable package, it’s nearly impossible to watch baseball. I subscribe to mlb.tv to watch the Sox, but am blacklisted from watching any Nats or Orioles games, whether they be on the road or at home.
In their greed for every last dollar, MLB is shutting itself off from developing a new fan base — and alienating its existing one. Several times, I have thrown my hands up in the air and said forget it. (Easier to do when the Sox are playing poorly; I’m back this year. Though what to do with the playoffs?)
This is no small thing. Every other industry seems to understand the concept of loss leaders save MLB. Yes, the games are too long and perhaps too many players strike out (I think it’s a thrilling thing to watch; almost as fun as a home run) but fans don’t even have the opportunity to be bored when it’s this difficult, and expensive, to simply watch the game.
And if you don’t watch, you’re not going to be interested. Which means you won’t go to the ballpark.
If MLB is really interested in regaining its fans, it should broadcast games and it should absolutely drop the blackouts on its paid subscriptions.
— Norman Maynard
Robot umps now
I’d make three suggestions for improving the game:
1. Automate the strike zone. Way too many pitches outside the strike zone are called strikes, which causes batters to strike out more on called strikes, and also causes them to expand the zone that they have to cover. “Personalized” strike zones are often defended on the grounds that “batters can train themselves to recognize them,” but why should batters be responsible for doing the umpire’s job?
2. Restore the general admission ticket. It would give fans much more incentive to go to Who Cares games if they knew that if they put out 10 bucks they could then sit in any unoccupied seat behind the (say) 10th row of the reserved sections all around the park, including between the foul lines and behind the plate. Today’s ticket prices are a joke for anyone who doesn’t want to sit in the nosebleed sections.
3. Shorten the time of games, or more specifically, shorten the time between pitches, and enforce the rule instead of ignoring it.
— Andy Moursund
Don’t mess with the game. Instant gratification has taken over our society. Don’t advocate for changes to force stuff to make so-called fans happy.
— Tom Martella
My fix would be that after six innings, if a game is on pace to last over three hours, starting in the seventh inning every batter would start with a 1-0 count. Then each succeeding inning, batters would start with 1-1, 2-1, 3-1, then 3-2 counts!
— John Alarie