I’ve been following baseball for 25 years, most of it while the game was under the watchful eye of Allan “Bud” Selig, acting come actual commissioner since 1992. Bud’s retiring as of January, and as of yesterday his replacement has been named: MLB’s current chief operating officer Rob Manfred. Not exactly “new sheriff in town,” but a new sheriff nonetheless.
It’s no secret that Major League Baseball has been on a bit of a decline over the past, well, any amount of time you’d like to choose. I’ve been thinking this week not about the game’s new commissioner, but of what occurred 20 years ago this week: the players’ strike which cancelled the remainder of the regular season and, for the first time in 90 years, the World Series. In 2014, if the rest of the season were called off today, would as many people care? Those who did would certainly be older, as we hear constantly about baseball’s aging fan base. Aging and whiting, somehow, too. How many more articles do I need to read this summer about how few blacks there are in the game and how such a small number of black kids (I refuse to say African American) play the game today? Oh, but don’t worry, baseball has hired Bill Bean as its Ambassador for Inculsion “to assure all MLB stakeholders of an inclusive and equitable workplace and provide awareness and educational resources that help mandate the league’s workplace code of conduct.” Bean, a former player and current homosexual, “will focus not just on sexual orientation, but also intersections of race, gender and other issues of diversity.” Yes, baseball is saved.
If baseball has some real fundamental changes to make, I doubt Manfred (Selig the Second) is the man to do it. But I’m biased; I already like the game. There’s only one rule change that really would make the game more accessible and enjoyable for the average fan, and that’s to shorten the game to seven innings. Let’s face it, most people leave after the seventh inning stretch anyway. But with 140 years of playing nine, that’s just not going to happen any time soon. And what do I care about pleasing the “average fan”?
In the era of Twitter, Facebook, iPads, and movies and music on demand, maybe a pastoral 19th century game just doesn’t play anymore for the tech savvy and violent. I really don’t know what the future holds for the national pastime. The black eye of the strike was healed by Cal Ripken Jr. The black eye of steroids, still somewhat lingering, was healed in part by a national movement behind the post-9/11 New York Yankees and the benefit of a few good World Series matchups in a row. The slow bleed of today’s maladies? Football, soccer, too many online distractions? No immediate remedy in sight.
The game still works for me as is.