By Nick Buglione
I don’t really follow baseball anymore.
As a rabid Yankees fan who’s devoured everything about the game for nearly 40 years, I never thought I’d say this. But I’ve had to repeat it a lot lately, embarrassed.
That’s because baseball has gone completely unwatched. When the teams’ front offices were taken over by Ivy League geeks, the game took a horrible turn for the worse. The sad devotion to analytics has robbed baseball of all the things that once made it great.
Nowadays it doesn’t matter if you hit over 200 times as long as you can hit the ball over the fence. (Nonsense.) A walk is just as good as a base hit. (It’s not.) And an out is just an out, so never give her away. (No more casualties, bruises, or stolen bases – how much fun.)
And that’s not the only thing that stinks, in my opinion. I hate how emotionally and physically fragile players have become. I despise the televised strike zone that turned everyone into a chair umpire. I can’t stand the instant replay. The shift is driving me insane, but not nearly as much as that stupid runner who starts second on extra innings.
But the problems go deeper.
On a recent Saturday night, I had a rare urge to see the Yankees. But not this year’s team. No, I watched the Yankees play the Brooklyn Dodgers in game seven of the 1952 World Series on YouTube.
This game demonstrated what was once glorious about our national pastime, but it’s over now. The pitchers hurled like they were double parked — even in the last game of the season, when everything was at stake. I can only recall two batters stepping out of the batter’s box throughout the game.
I measured only 11 seconds between pitches from a Johnny Mize at-bat for the Yankees. In today’s game, thanks to all the step-outs, practice swings, re-tightening of batting gloves, and adjusting of helmets, you can expect at least double or triple that time to pass court-to-court.
I’ve watched Phil Rizzuto Bunt, Mickey Mantle Homer and Jackie Robinson miss pitcher Allie Reynolds’ fits when Robinson hit third base in the fourth inning. The crowd at Ebbets Field gasped every time he juke home, but he never left.
There were no goofy banter between broadcasters Mel Allen and Red Barber, likely because there weren’t any massive hiatus. With a total of 12 strikeouts and walks, the game lasted just 2 hours and 54 minutes. The Americans won 4-2.
The last Yankees game I attended – Game One of the 2019 American League Divisional Series – included 39 strikeouts and walks and lasted a whopping 4 hours and 15 minutes. I remember at the time marveling that I had never been to a Yankees playoff game — and I’ve been to many — and feeling bored.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, the average length of a baseball game in 1952 was 2 hours and 25 minutes. In 2021 it was 3 hours and 10 minutes. The games have gotten so long that even the most devoted fans can’t see everything.
My stepson Jake is as big a baseball guy as any 16 year old. He loves the Yankees and follows them religiously, but even he can’t watch a full game. He usually keeps track of updates on his phone and looks at something else. When there is a potential rally, he turns on the game. Basically, watching baseball has become a passive experience, like waiting for a baby to be born.
My disinterest is part of an alarming national trend. Baseball attendance and television ratings have steadily declined over the past decade. A New York Times contributor recently even went so far as to suggest that major league baseball should be placed under the auspices of the Library of Congress or the National Park Service lest it one day collapse and be forgotten forever.
I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the game certainly has its problems. But they are easy to fix. If MLB wants me to tune in again, I have a few suggestions for the players. Stay in the box and swing. Put your foot on the rubber and throw. Make contact. Choke if there are two strikes. Protect the disk. Go the other way. Steal a base. Sacrifice a Runner Over. Try to hit .300. Move along the game!
Or pretty soon nobody will be watching.
Nick Buglione is a teacher, freelance journalist and former editor of the East Meadow Herald.