I don’t really follow baseball anymore.
As a rabid Yankees fan who devoured everything about the game for nearly 40 years, I never thought I’d say that. But I’ve ashamedly had to repeat it a lot lately.
That’s because baseball has become completely unwatchable. Once team front offices were taken over by Ivy League geeks, the game took a horrible turn for the worse. The sad devotion to analytics has sapped baseball of all the things that once made it great.
Nowadays, it doesn’t matter if you strike out over 200 times, so long as you can hit the ball over the fence. (Nonsense.) A walk is just as good as a base hit. (It isn’t.) And an out is just an out, so never give them away. (No more sacrifices, squeezes or stolen bases — how fun.)
And that’s not the only thing that stinks, in my opinion. I hate how emotionally and physically fragile players have become. I despise the superimposed strike zone on TV that’s turned everyone into an armchair umpire. I can’t stand instant replay. The shift drives me insane, but not nearly as much as that stupid runner who starts on second during extra innings.
But the issues go even deeper than that.
One recent Saturday night, I had a rare hankering to watch the Yankees. But not this year’s team. No, I watched the Yankees play the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game Seven of the 1952 World Series on YouTube.
That game demonstrated all that was once glorious with our national pastime but is now gone. The pitchers hurled like they were double-parked — even in the final game of the season, with everything on the line. I can only remember two batters stepping out of the batter’s box the entire game.
I timed just 11 seconds in between pitches of a Johnny Mize at-bat for the Yankees. In today’s game, thanks to all the step-outs, practice swings, re-securing of batting gloves and adjusting of helmets, you can expect at least double or triple that much time to pass from pitch to pitch.
I got to see Phil Rizzuto bunt, Mickey Mantle homer and Jackie Robinson give pitcher Allie Reynolds fits when Robinson reached third base in the fourth inning. The Ebbets Field crowd gasped every time he juked toward home, but he never went.
There was no inane banter between broadcasters Mel Allen and Red Barber, probably because there were no massive lulls in action. With a combined 12 strikeouts and walks, the game lasted just 2 hours and 54 minutes. The Yanks won, 4-2.
The last Yankees game I attended — Game One of the 2019 American League Divisional Series — featured 39 strikeouts and walks and took a whopping 4 hours and 15 minutes. I remember marveling at the time that I’d never attended a Yankees playoff game — and I’d been to many — and felt bored.
The average length of a baseball game in 1952 was 2 hours and 25 minutes, according to Baseball-Reference.com. In 2021 it was 3 hours and 10 minutes. Games have become so long that even the most devoted fans can’t watch the whole thing.
My stepson Jake is about as big a baseball guy as any 16-year-old. He loves the Yankees and follows them religiously, but even he can’t watch an entire game. He usually follows the updates on his cellphone and watches something else. When there’s a potential rally, he’ll turn the game on. So, essentially, watching baseball has become a passive experience, like waiting for a baby to be born.
My lack of interest is part of an alarming national trend. Baseball attendance and TV ratings have steadily declined over the past decade. One New York Times contributor recently even went as far as to propose placing Major League Baseball under the auspices of the Library of Congress or the National Park Service, lest it fold one day and be forgotten forever.
While I think that’s a bit hyperbolic, the game certainly has its problems. But they’re easily fixable. If MLB wants me to tune back in, I have a few suggestions for the players. Stay in the box and swing. Put your foot on the rubber and throw. Make contact. Choke up when there are two strikes. Protect the plate. Go the other way. Steal a base. Sacrifice a runner over. Try to hit .300. Move the game along!
Or pretty soon, nobody will be watching.
Nick Buglione is a teacher, a freelance journalist and a former editor of the East Meadow Herald.