Seven innings? Does baseball really need to be reinvented?
APR 08, 2014 3:00p ET
Buster Olney somehow got a “high-ranking executive” to say -- alas, anonymously -- something really interesting: Baseball games should last only seven innings!
I’d like to just reprint the entire passage, but it’s long and I don’t want to upset anyone. So instead I’ll bullet-point the thing. No, scratch that. I’ll make a list, with numbers for ease of reference later. Trust me. Everything will come out OK in the end.
According to this high-ranking executive,
1. Games take too long, so
2. they should be shortened to seven innings, which
3. might bring the young people back.
To which Olney responds,
4. Well, maybe, except
5. the fans wouldn’t accept it, because
6. the numbers are sacred.
OK, I’ll go ahead and run that particular part:
We talked it out, and I started with this: It'll never happen. Too many fans are emotionally invested in the numbers built on the tradition of 27 outs: three at-bats for each of nine hitters who make up a team, for 27 outs. Baseball folks like their numbers to fit neatly.
Twenty-seven outs represent a perfect game, and to change that ... well, it's not quite sacrilege, but you might need a constitutional amendment. The opportunity for 27 outs means more at-bats for hitters, and with those at-bats the most notable achievements are created.
Three thousand hits. Five hundred homers. Two hundred hits in a season. None of that could happen if the games were reduced to seven innings, and no era of seven-inning games could be compared with anything that happened in the past, which would be blasphemy for many, many followers of the sport. We know this because of how angry fans were over what they perceived as illicit violations of statistical achievements: Hank Aaron's record of 755 home runs being broken; Roger Maris' record of 61 homers being broken.
I think Buster’s concern about the fans is misplaced. I suppose it depends on your definition of “many, many followers of the sport,” but I haven’t actually detected a great deal of ANGRY FANS marching through the streets with BLASPHEMY on their minds. There’s certainly been some anger, but much of that was ginned up by baseball writers who genuinely were (and remain) angry at Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds and their ilk. To many, many writers of the sport, the violations were illicit, but I think it’s misguided for the writers to assume that huge mobs of baseball fans share their disgust.
Granted, there are disgusted fans. But here’s the funny part: The disgusted fans are the older fans, when it’s actually the younger fans that we’re supposedly trying to mollify with shorter (and presumably) quicker games.
See, you can’t have it both ways. And I’m willing to bet pretty good money that your average Millennial doesn’t really care about your 3,000 hits and your 500 homers and your 200 hits in a season or your 755 or your 61. Those are numbers for old dudes like me and Buster who memorized those numbers like people used to memorize Bible verses and Shakespeare sonnets.
What’s more, shortening games to seven innings wouldn’t necessarily make the games more appealing to younger people. Shortening the games to seven innings, in isolation, would create all sorts of other issues. You think there are a lot of strikeouts now? With only seven innings, strikeouts would skyrocket immediately, as starting pitchers would be asked to pitch only three or four innings and managers would use even more hard-throwing relievers with the platoon advantage. Essentially, baseball would become a three-man game: pitcher, hitter and catcher.
Granted, you could easily (theoretically) construct an interesting sport that included seven-inning games. But you would have to institute various measures to help the hitters, including (but not limited to) lowering the mound and somehow limiting pitching changes. And while these measures would probably “work” to varying degrees, getting Major League Baseball and the Players Association to agree on one radical change would be nearly impossible. Let alone all of them.
My personal opinion is that the game should be reinvented, starting with the basics -- nine players trying to stop one player from getting around the bases -- but reconsidering everything else. You can’t change just one thing, though, because all the things are too closely interrelated. And the decision makers won’t even consider reinventing the game unless it seems to be in real danger.
Which it’s not!
Someday I’ll write more about this somewhere, but I can tell you with 100 percent certitude that the alarmists were saying EXACTLY the same thing about baseball and young people in the 1960s. Howard Cosell, to name just one of many, wrote a long magazine article in which he argued that baseball, without radical changes, would essentially be wiped out by not only professional football, but also basketball and hockey.
He was wrong, and so was everyone else. What Cosell and everyone else didn’t realize is that people in America come to baseball as they age, just as they come to bird-watching and model railroads and dark socks with shorts.
Again, I don’t mean to suggest that baseball is perfect. Baseball’s not close to perfect, and I would embrace efforts, even radical efforts, to approach perfection. But there’s simply no real incentive for anything radical to happen. Because in case you haven’t noticed, Major League Baseball is printing money.