No, seven inning games are not a solution to baseball’s problems

63 Comments

Dan Bickley of AZCENTRAL Sports has a column touting Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall as the next baseball commissioner. Why? Because baseball is dying, you guys:

The sport no longer needs tradition, once the primary selling point. It needs reinvention and imagination. The proof can be seen at the All-Star Game, where the average viewer in 2013 was 53 years old . . .

Demographics are a legit concern, actually. It’s better to have a lot of butts in the seats than fewer butts in the seats, but the age of the butts is important for the future. It may be overstated a bit in baseball’s case in that baseball is quite famously a game people abandon in their teens and 20s only to come back to when they’re older, but MLB can’t always count on that. So, no, when someone goes after the demographic I’m not necessarily going to break out the BaseballIsDying-o-Copter to combat it.

Of course, there is some less relevant hand-wringing here:

Meanwhile, the Home Run Derby has become laborious and irrelevant, with players taking pitch after pitch after pitch. It’s the same type of inactivity that defines and dooms the sport. It also shows just how out of touch baseball can be, such as when an excoriated drug cheat (Nelson Cruz) makes the All-Star Game by popular vote.

How can baseball be out of touch — the implication being that it’s out of touch with its fans — when it is the fans who voted Cruz in? Indeed, preventing Cruz from playing despite the fans wanting him in the game would, by definition, make baseball out of touch. But don’t worry. He has a solution:

But then MLB has to get aggressive. It needs to think about seven-inning games and lowering the pitcher’s mound. It has to find a way to increase the action, hacking away at the fatty blocks of inactivity clogging most every game.

Thus is the nature of most baseball-is-dyingism: overstating problems and leaping to radical solutions which evince an ignorance of baseball and the context in which it is played. Anyone who thinks that, say, lopping off innings and thus fundamentally altering the game is a way to deal with slogging game times before, say suggesting that rules regarding times between pitches be enforced or more minor rule tweaks like rules against stepping out of the box or even changes to the way pitching changes are made probably doesn’t know about or care about such rules. They’re assessing baseball from the outside with the eye of a hired gun consultant who doesn’t care about what happened before or what happens after. All they want is to be able to say “problem solved” and move on to something else.

You never see people who know or care about the game say stuff like this. It’s just the tourists.

Columnist bashes Bryce Harper’s fundamentals, “write it,” says Nats player

Bryce Harper
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tom Boswell of the Washington Post wrote a column over the weekend about how the 2019 Nats are looking really, really good. And for the most part it’s a column that makes a lot of sense. The Nats added some key pieces this offseason and, because so much of their underachieving 2018 season was based on health, particularly in the bullpen, there is reason to be optimistic this coming year.

There is one weird passage in the middle of the column, though: a swipe at Bryce Harper, his fundamentals and his attitude. The upshot: Boswell is arguing that losing Harper to free agency is addition by subtraction:

Though few mention it, subtracting Harper, while it will cost 34 homers, a .899 career OPS and some amazing hair flips, would help any team improve its attention to fundamentals. When the most famous player on the team can’t go 10 days without failing to run out a groundball or overthrowing a cutoff man by 15 feet or throwing to the wrong base or being caught unprepared in the outfield or on the bases, it’s hard to demand total alertness from the other 24.

“Write it,” one prominent Nats vet said.

The “Write it” is what has me most fascinated.

It could possibly be read in two different ways. One way would be for that to be the non-committal reaction of a player when Boswell bounced his Harper-is-a-slacker theory. Saying, in effect, “you write that if that’s your take.” It seems far more likely to me though, that Boswell is echoing the off-the-record sentiments of Harper’s former Nats teammates and the “write it” is an encouraging plea to give public voice to that which the player has chosen not to.

If it is the latter, this would only be the latest of many anonymously-sourced disgruntled sentiments from the Nats clubhouse over the years. Former manager Matt Williams had a full-scare revolt on his hands that made it into the media. Last year Dave Martinez’s clubhouse had someone saying negative things to the press as well, and it was so bad that GM Mike Rizzo sent off a useful reliever — at a time when the Nats really, really needed a useful reliever — because he was the suspected source. If Boswell is giving voice to some anti-Harper sentiment in Nats camp, it’s just more soap opera from a bunch that, historically, can’t seem to handle their issues in-house.

As for the substance: I don’t watch Harper as much as Nats fans do — and I can’t say that I’ve ever heard anyone describe him as some sort of lazy slacker — but sure, there are players who are more fundamentally sound than him. It’s also the case, though, that Harper has always been judged more harshly for his deportment than a lot of players in the league, so I’m not prepared to totally defer to word of mouth — especially anonymous word-of-mouth — to someone slamming him on that stuff.

It’s still pretty interesting, though, that in an offseason in which the average fan’s take is that Manny Machado is the no-hustle slacker who should be avoided, that Machado’s former teammates have had no complaints about him, while Harper’s former teammates seem to have the knives out for him.