Fenway Park

Finally, MLB tries to save itself

Major League Baseball saw a problem and acted.

That alone merits praise.

Usually MLB addresses its challenges, as they are called in press releases, by offering half-measures or ignoring them in hopes that they will go away.

Finally, MLB clearly grasps that its fan base is shrinking. Finally, they are opting to do more than beg for players to top dawdling outside the batters box and on the pitchers rubber. Finally, they are using clocks to quicken the game’s pace rather than leave it to the umpires’ various whims.

(They should also dismiss bottom-of-the-barrel umpires like Angel Hernandez, Doug Eddings and Laz Diaz to stop the strike zone from floating hither and yon. Oh well; maybe next year.)

They also fired a shot across the analytics bow: More fans pay to see players play than excitedly chatter about OPS, WAR, bat angles and exit velocities. Teams will not longer be able to put four infielders on one side of second base, with one of them serving as a short fielder on the outfield grass.

Batters will not be relied upon to stow away their stubbornness to beat the shift the old-fashioned way – by hitting the ball the other way. As team managements’ obsession over sabermetrics reached a boiling point, runs became scarcer – and so did action.

They made the bases bigger, going from 15 inches to 18. Mainly that is being done to prevent injuries, particularly among middle infielders. MLB also hopes it will inspire teams to attempt more stolen bases. We’ll see if it works out that way.

Many uniformed MLB personnel have never quite understood why 4-hour games should be shortened by all available means. There were some who groaned about the 15-secod pitch clock with the bases empty and 20 seconds with baserunners. Batters did some whining over the elimination of limitless pauses between pitches as they mulled over the meaning of life and generally adjusted themselves.

Such pauses, some players suggested, add a dollop of anxious waiting to the game’s most dramatic moments.

There was a time when that argument merited respect. Fans voted that down when they began leaving tie games after the seventh inning.

Our culture changed. No one under the age of 6o continues worshipping baseball’s bucolic beauty.

Every other big-league sport has at least attempted to keep up with cultural changes. None of their changes have been completely successful; some have inspired traditionalists’ rants. But at least they saw their products’ flaws and adjusted.

Major League Baseball has decided to join them.

Welcome to the 21st century.

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