Red Sox Hall of Fame broadcaster Joe Castiglione has been on the call for 36 years. But that doesn’t mean he’s a dinosaur who’s content with seeing baseball further devolve into a plodding game full of strikeouts, home runs and pitching changes. Much like the average fan, Castig thinks it’s time to pick up the pace –– and he has some bold ideas on how to do it.
Despite trimming around the edges with ideas like shortened commercial breaks and the batter’s box mandate, the average game is taking more than three hours for the seventh straight season. A typical ballgame clocks in at a cool three hours and seven minutes so far in 2019, which is up three minutes from last year.
The Red Sox are even worse offenders, with 19 of their 31 contests expanding past the three-hour mark. Sixteen of their games have been longer than the three-hour, seven-minute average, including six affairs that have blown past three-and-a-half hours.
You could almost drive to Manhattan in the amount of time it sometimes takes the Red Sox to wrap up nine innings.
One of the biggest culprits, of course, is the proliferation of home runs, strikeouts and walks. MLB is on pace for 6,361 home runs this season, which would be an all-time record, surging past the 6,105 long balls that were smacked in 2017. So far, nearly 36-percent of plate appearances have ended with one of the three true outcomes.
While all of these systemic changes may create good broadcast fodder, Castiglione says he doesn’t believe this style of play is conducive to attracting young fans to the game.
“We need more action,” Castiglione told WEEI.com on the phone recently. “The strikeouts aren’t exciting anymore.”
As a young baseball fan, few things were more exciting than seeing Pedro Martinez or Randy Johnson blow away hitters with high heat and devastating breaking balls. But the number of strikeouts has increased for 13 straight years, removing the luster from the whole ordeal.
Some of the culprits, such as hitters focused on launch angle and managers removing pitchers the moment they display a modicum of attrition on the mound, cannot be legislated out of the game –– though the three-batter minimum, set to be enacted in 2019, will eliminate the turnstile of relievers that are usually summoned during the latter innings. But there are some changes that can be made to make life more difficult for the pitchers. One of the bolder ideas is lowering the mound, which last happened in 1969, after seven starting pitchers boasted ERAs below 2.00 and Carl Yastrzemski won the batting title with a .301 average.
“The strikeouts are a danger,” Castiglione said. “The ball isn’t put into play, and there’s a lack of action. I don’t think young people relate to that. You have to do something –– like lower the mound. These guys are all airing it out at 96 or 98 mph, and even if they do blow out, they got somebody to replace them. They don’t have to worry about seven innings. They only go five or six, and then you get somebody who goes just one inning –– at the most. But I think it is a danger when the ball is not in play. It was exciting when Clemens or Pedro were striking people out. But when your average pitcher is striking out nine or 10 (batters), it’s not exciting. We need more action.”
In addition to lowering the mound, Castiglione thinks batters need more room to operate on the field. Far too often, they’re faced with alignments that feature three infielders on one side of second base and outfielders standing where they’re most prone to hit the ball. For years, shifts have been thought of as a natural evolution of baseball strategy. Managers now possess the tools that tell them where batters are most likely to hit the ball, so it only makes sense to position fielders as such.
But all of this shifting is removing the randomness from the game, and also encouraging hitters to swing for the fences.
“I was always of the opinion that hitters should adjust to shifts, but it’s pretty hard to do when pitchers are throwing 97 or 98,” Castiglione explained. “So I think I would legislate it where you have two infielders on each side of second base. They can move when the ball is delivered, but the Atlantic League is trying that right now.”
So count Joe Castig, whose trademark nasally cadence is synonymous with Red Sox baseball, as a proponent for radical reform. Baseball’s increasingly interminable pace may provide him more time to bond with his array of new broadcast partners, but he knows it’s not the best product.
Most of all, Castiglione remains flummoxed at the lack of a pitch clock, which the players union continues to fight.
“I am thrilled about the three-batter rule,” he said. “We just need them to go to a pitch clock, which I’ve seen work in the minor leagues. But if a lefty reliever can’t get a right out, then get somebody else. It’s that simple.”
Castiglione's ideas for improving baseball aren't confined to solely the game on the field. After watches scores of anonymous lineups come through Fenway Park so far this season, he also believes it's time for MLB to establish a salary floor in order to prohibit teams from overtly tanking.
Attendance has declined for six straight years and is down again, probably because so few teams are worth paying to watch.
"It’s bad for the game to have tanking teams," Castiglione said. "I know Houston tanked and they won a World Series, and they’re still a power, but it doesn’t work that way for everybody. You’ve got to draft well and make good trades and have some good luck. But I do think teams should have a minimum payroll, especially when they’re getting revenue sharing. They’re all making huge profits. It's sad it's gotten to this point."
All of these self-improvement suggestions don’t mean Castiglione isn’t enjoying the job as much as ever. He says he’s liked working with different partners and was in stitches sitting alongside Sean McDonough for a stretch of games last month. But unlike other old-timers around the game, he recognizes the need to adjust, especially because of all the great young talent around the team. Castiglione contends this is best group of youngsters the Red Sox have ever had, and he wants the city to embrace them.
We just need to make sure Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts can be enjoyed in sub-three hour intervals.
“This is the best group of young players I’ve ever seen. They’re really good kids,” Castiglione said. “’I’m talking about character and talent –– a combination of the two. They play well together, because they’ve known each other for so long. But this group of kids –– I told Red Sox management last year –– is such a great group of kids to be around. They’re refreshed, they’re friendly, they’re unselfish. With Mookie Betts, when somebody else hits a home run, it seems like he’s happier than when he hits a homer. Xander (Bogaerts) is the same way. They’re really so much fun to be around. They’re just so much fun to deal with.”
ESPN sticks with underwhelming Monday night booth: ESPN announced Wednesday Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland will return to “Monday Night Football” this season. Jason Witten will rejoin the Cowboys, opting to take head shots at a blistering pace rather than subject himself to Joe Tess’ cheesy one-liners.
In all seriousness, Witten’s removal from the booth is addition by subtraction. He added little to the broadcast besides cliches and malapropisms, and his absence will give the opinionated McFarland more room to operate. Mercifully, the Booger Mobile has also been retired, so he’ll join Tessitore in the booth like a big boy.
While Tessitore-McFarland is an underwhelming duo on paper, perhaps they’ll grow into a formidable duo. Ratings for MNF increased by eight percent last season, despite the constant complaints levied at the new team.
History shows announcers don’t affect ratings. If the MNF numbers hold steady for another season, maybe management won’t see a need to splurge for Tony Romo.
Time not kind to Francesa: In a blistering column, the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand questions whether WFAN can trust Mike Francesa on the air anymore, given his proclivity for gaffes and jaw-dropping ignorance. This week, Francesa got himself into trouble for lambasting Giants sixth-round Corey Ballentine for getting shot last Saturday night, saying it reflects poorly on the organization.
Francesa continued to sour in the immediate years following Chris Russo’s departure. But now he’s become beyond parody.
Dale has new No. 1 enemy: Few things are more entertaining than hearing the usually mild-mannered Dale Arnold express disdain towards another WEEI colleague. marC James is the loudmouth who now finds himself in the crosshairs, with Dale just referring to him as “the analyst” Wednesday, while bashing his Celtics takes.
There’s only one way to settle this: Dale and marC James host together one day this summer. Four hours, two men, no holds barred. They’re both wrestling guys, so this shouldn’t be difficult to figure out.