Can baseball make a comeback?
With strikeouts piling up, scoring plummeting, attendance falling and games often descending into all-or-nothing bores, it’s no wonder that some people are calling for radical change to baseball.
The sport faced a similar challenge 50 years ago, dogged by a scoring depression and lagging fan interest. In response, baseball’s rules committee lowered the pitcher’s mound 5 inches and tightened the strike zone, making it harder for pitchers to dominate the game. That sparked more scoring the next season — and more exciting games for fans.
If those fixes could breathe new life into the sport then, there’s no reason a similar strategy wouldn’t work now.
Today, infield shifts — where teams load three players on one side of the infield — are gobbling up hits and forcing hitters to obsess over launch angles to lift balls over the infield and into the seats. So, a good place to start would be requiring two infielders on each side of second base, spreading them out in a traditional defensive alignment.
Lowering the pitcher’s mound also worked in 1968, and it’s worth considering dropping it some more to help reduce the elevation advantage that pitchers have, especially in today’s era of often overmatched hitters facing down 100 mph+ pitches. And a pitch clock, requiring pitchers to throw to the batter within 20 seconds, could move things along, squeezing some dead air out of games.
This year’s playoffs have featured some exciting matchups, but oftentimes teams have suffered through collective slumps that have become endemic in the sport. In the National League, the Colorado Rockies scored a total of two runs in three games as they were swept by the Milwaukee Brewers, while the Atlanta Braves got shut out twice in their four-game series loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Over in the American League, the Cleveland Indians managed just six runs in three games in a losing effort to the Houston Astros. And those were among the best-hitting teams in baseball.
The 1968 season was known as the “Year of the Pitcher,” when pitching was so dominant that Carl Yastrzemski was the only player in the American League with a batting average over .300, the standard for excellence in hitting. Pitcher Bob Gibson led the National League with a 1.12 earned run average (ERA), the best since the Deadball era (an ERA under 3.00 is generally considered very good). Attendance fell for the second straight season and many people wrote off the sport as too boring, especially compared to faster-paced ones.