It seems we’re all in agreement that baseball—once known as America’s pastime—has seen better days. While football and basketball (despite President Trump’s assertion that the NBA’s television ratings are “very bad”) continue to surge in popularity, interest in baseball has largely stagnated.
Between its hyper-regionalized fan base, relative lack of marketable stars (sure Mike Trout is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, but would you even recognize his voice?) and lethargic pace of play (a product of the growing “bullpenning” and “launch angle” trends), it’s no wonder why MLB has fallen behind star-driven leagues like the NBA and NFL, particularly among the millennial demographic. The gap is widening with MLB falling further and further behind in the battle for our collective attention spans with no end in sight.
Well aware of its dwindling relevance in a cluttered entertainment landscape, baseball has taken drastic measures in its attempt to win back younger audiences, adopting a number of changes (three-batter minimums, extra innings beginning with a runner on second base, 16-team playoffs) aimed at speeding up games and, in the case of expanded playoffs, appealing to as many teams and markets as possible. Purists concerned about the game’s integrity (of all the major sports leagues, MLB’s fan base is easily the most stubborn) have fought it every step of the way, though one particular tweak—the league’s recent move to seven-inning doubleheaders—has proved surprisingly popular.
Fans have quickly taken to the new format, enjoying the noticeably brisk pace of doubleheaders in contrast to the endless nine-inning marathons we’ve grown accustomed to in MLB. National baseball writer and former beat reporter for the Mets, Orioles and Yankees Marc Carig would like to take it even a step further.
There are hot takes. There are scorching-hot takes. And then there are “five-alarm, call the fire department!” hot takes. Carig’s is definitely the latter of those three. You knew the “game is sacred” police would knock on Carig’s door sooner or later and sure enough, Jayson Stark showed up to read him the riot act.
Carig’s polarizing call to action predictably drew criticism with some accusing the long-time baseball scribe of hating the sport he’s covered since jumping on the Orioles’ beat for the Washington Post in 2006. But not all responses were negative with many in agreement that seven-inning games are more entertaining than the nine-inning, reliever-heavy crawl that’s polluted the game for years.
Baseball’s biggest criticism is that games are too long. Teams dipping into their bullpens earlier than ever has only exacerbated the issue, making the nearly four-hour product almost unwatchable to casual fans. But the seven-inning model would seem to solve that problem—fewer innings would warrant fewer pitching changes, keeping the pace of play relatively swift.
Ever the realist, Mike Gianella, a lead fantasy writer for BaseballPro, explained why, in the long run, seven-inning games might actually have the opposite effect with teams likely to abandon starting rotations altogether in favor of 12 and 13-men bullpens.
And what about the record books? Reducing every game by two innings would be the equivalent of chopping 36 games off MLB’s 162-game slate, making all previous records obsolete. Twenty-game winners and 50-homer seasons (though maybe not with “three true outcomes” making a comeback) would go out the window. Statistical continuity would be a thing of the past. Essentially, we’d be starting over from scratch. Knowing how owners operate, this would also give teams a built-in excuse to reduce player salaries, creating a whole separate set of issues.
I don’t think we’re close to adopting seven-inning games as the new standard in MLB, but I also never thought we’d see extra innings start with a runner on second base, so what do I know?