Here’s How to Save Baseball When it Returns After Covid-19
Everyone is wondering what some of our familiar institutions and pursuits will be like after Covid-19 has its way with us. For instance, baseball.
Our National Pastime has been on the ropes. Performance-enchancing drugs, cheating scandals, dwindling attention spans, shrinking attendance, and other sports have been pounding away at baseball's midsection for years. And now, the coronavirus is angling for a 2020 knockout. Contingency plans are in the works to salvage part of the season. Let's appraise these ideas, and add a few others.
Los Angeles Dodgers' slugger Josh Turner has proposed using a home run derby format to replace extra innings and settle the score after nine inning deadlocks. No, thanks. Crash Davis said in Bull Durham that strikeouts were "fascist" and the designated hitter should be outlawed; the home run derby is similar.
The game needs more batters hitting triples and testing the legs and arms of outfielders. And more triple-plays, as infielders execute their choregraphed ballet to pull them off. When the ball is not in play on the field, baseball's most alluring moments can't occur.
A shorter schedule. If ballplayers do get back to work in 2020, this necessity may be a godsend for the game. The season is too long and needs a contraction anyway. Each regular season game will take on new importance and the drama will build quickly toward the playoffs.
Alternate stadiums are being considered as temporary homes for teams in pandemic hotbeds, like New York City. Sure. This makes sense beyond the safety measures it ensures. If you could treat smaller communities--like Utica, New York, or Omaha, Nebraska, or Knoxville, Tennessee--to Major League Baseball, think about the positive, grassroots public relations it would engender.
Modern young fans would have an opportunity to fall in love with the game and its stars, just like millions of rural fans without home teams did across the midwest in the mid-20th century when the Cardinals or Cubs reached them hundreds of miles away from St. Louis or Chicago through the mighty signals of KMOX or WGN radio.
When it comes to broadcasting, baseball needs a little transfusion. More Bob Uecker (pictured above), please. A mediocre big league catcher, he's been the play-by-play announcer for the Milwaukee Brewers since 1971. He brings knowledge and a sense of humor, claiming he once helped the Cardinals win the pennant when he "came down with hepatitis." Every broadcast should strive for more fun.
Of course there are other Ueckers out there. The recently retired Vin Scully painted masterpieces with his words. Jon Miller does great impressions. Former players Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow rib each other endlessly during games.
Comedian Dennis Miller was a riot on Monday Night Football in 2000. The reasons he lasted only one season may have had more to do with the faster pace of football than his abilities as a sports entertainer.
In baseball, the long stretches between pitches and innings beg for entertainment. Again, baseball needs to get less boring. Amusing anecdotes and story-telling would help.
As for some other rules changes...
- Eliminate managerial trips to the mound. Any essential communication can take place with hand signals from the dugout.
- Change the required attire of coaches and managers. They don't need full uniforms. Sweats will do.
- Keep the umpires on the bases and at home plate. No jobs need to be lost. But, for crying out loud, let a robot determine balls and strikes. That darn tennis "eye" has never missed a call.
- Remove an outfielder during extra innings. All international hockey overtimes have been 3-on-3 since 2019 and the Winter Olympics will use the reduced player format starting in the 2022 Games.
- Enforce some limits on free agency. My grandfather once told me being part of a community is crucial. The free agent system is American, but it has destroyed some of the localism in sports.
Post-coronavirus baseball will be different. There may be opportunities to make it better.