How a 16-inch softball rule can help make baseball watchable

How a 16-inch softball rule can help make baseball watchable
Forget this baseball stuff. I'm watching football. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo of the Chicago Tribune)

I was listening to The Boers & Bernstein Show on my way home from work on Thursday and the hosts were discussing how tedious many people find watching baseball to be, especially with a team like the Boston Red Sox that intentionally tries to gum up the works and slow the game down.

I'm with "many people" on this one. I don't remember the last time I watched a baseball game from start to finish. Why? Too sloooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

MLB.com had the following gem in a June article on its website:

The average time to complete a nine-inning game in the 1970s -- not including on-field delays -- was two hours and 30 minutes. That increased to an average of 2:57 in the 10-year span from 2000-09. Through Thursday, this year's league average was 2:51, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

In the playoffs, game times have been longer. Last season, nine-inning regular-season games lasted an average of 2:52, while in the postseason, that number jumped to 3:30, according to STATS LLC.

Sure, football can take three hours. But more action takes place in football. Players tackle people other than Zack Greinke in football on a consistent basis. (Will avoid the easy joke: except for those on the Bears defense. Oh. Oops. Guess I didn't avoid it.)

Baseball is a slower-paced game with less action and it shows in the ratings.

According to an NBCSports article, Game 1 of the World Series did average more viewers than the atrocious Monday night football game between the 1-4 Giants and 0-6 Vikings – but not by much in the ratings world.

And this year's Game 1 rating was even a significant improvement over last year, according to the L.A. Times.

Purists will say nothing is wrong with the game. New fans (whippersnappers) just have shorter attention spans. And it's true. People do have shorter attention spans. Many new fans (whippersnappers) are turned off by the pace of baseball. Too bad for them, the purists say. Keep the game the way it is.

dos-equis

And we certainly can follow their advice and most likely will. But give the current game a decade or two more and it will become a fringe sport. The largest debate will be whether golf or baseball will be the more relaxing sport to watch on a spring Sunday afternoon while one naps.

However, it doesn't have to be that way. Just saying. There are ways to speed up the sport. Crazy ways, which – of course – are the most fun ways.

I played 16-inch softball for the first time this summer. And there's a specific rule that I think would make baseball imminently more interesting and watchable.

Let's consult with the rulebook of the Chicago Sport and Social Club, shall we? (I don't know whether this is the actual authority on 16-inch softball rules, but they are the best at showing up in Google rankings so I'll pretend that makes them in charge.)

This is the rule that can save baseball from blase:

2. All batters will start with a one ball, one strike count.

I know. I know.

The baseball purists are screaming in agony about now. But then again, baseball purists also hate bunnies.

Photo by Larry Moore via Wikimedia CommonsWhy do you hate me, baseball purists? I am adorable.

Why do you hate me, baseball purists? Why? I am adorable. (Photo by Larry Moore via Wikimedia Commons)

Let's go through some of the reasons why starting every at-bat with one ball and one strikes might not be a terrible idea.

1. It will speed up the game – significantly: This is obvious. With one less ball and strike available for each at-bat, the time per plate appearance will decrease. Innings will be shorter. That three-hour game might become a two-hour game.

2. Starting pitchers will stay in longer and put less wear and tear on their arms: Seriously, who wants to watch middle relievers? That's like saying you would rather watch Brock Osweiler over Peyton Manning. Also, less pitches mean less injuries and less constant yammering over pitch counts. Win, win.

3. More aggressive hitters: I believe less batters will take the first pitch with this rule. Nobody wants to risk being a strike away from walking with their head down back to the dugout after the first pitch. Enough with this working the pitch count nonsense. Swing the bat!

4. Less wild pitchers: Only three balls? The Carlos Marmols of the world are relegated early in their careers to middle relief. And middle relievers aren't even needed much with the new rules. The defense rests.

Maybe these are just the crazed ramblings of a bitter Cubs fan striking back at the sport that has caused him so much grief as the dreaded Cardinals continue their annual march to shoving the Cubs' failures into my face. But maybe, just maybe, this rule is the way to bring life back into the sport.

Nah, probably just the crazed ramblings of a bitter Cubs fan.

• Going for Gusto is a blog by Joe Grace. Please support Going for Gusto by liking the Facebook page at Facebook.com/GoingForGusto.

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