Reports of Baseball’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Dan Shaughnessy’s column from Sunday afternoon on the demise of baseball generated a lot of buzz, and the topic has dominated Boston sports talk radio this week. When Shaughnessy, a J. G. Taylor Spink Award recipient, says that Major League Baseball is in trouble people listen. His points are fair, even if not fresh: too many bad teams, slow pace of play, too many strikeouts, the rise of analytics, and the lack of star power are all hurting the appeal of the game. But as Nick Cafardo pointed out on Tuesday night, they don’t appear to be hurting the game’s appeal in Boston.

The Red Sox are victims of their own success (and drama). They broke the curse in 2004, went wire-to-wire and won another championship in 2007, experienced one of the biggest September collapses in the history of the game in 2011, and won another championship in 2013 after a city tragedy. There have been lots of highs, lows, and drama over the last 15 years. What could they do in July, 2018 that could match any of that sports talk radio buzz? What trade deadline deal could possibly top the Nomar trade? No wonder the Sox aren’t talked about as much on WEEI or the Sports Hub as they were 5, 10 or 15 years ago. That doesn’t mean that people don’t care about this team, and it obviously doesn’t mean that people aren’t watching.

The Red Sox sold out every game at Fenway Park from May 15, 2003, to April 8, 2013. [Sure, the sellout streak was a bit of a joke at the end, but it was very real for poor college students trying to get tickets at face value in the mid-2000s.] The Red Sox dominated the Boston sports scene for most of that time. The fact that they are no longer the most discussed team is largely out of their control.

The greatest quarterback and coach in the history of the National Football League are both in New England right now. It’d be shocking if the Patriots didn’t own the region. With the Celtics championship in 2008 and the Bruins Stanley Cup win in 2011, the city’s sports talk landscape became a lot more crowded over the last 15 years. All four Boston teams have never all been this good at the same time.

That’s not to say that baseball is fine and that it’s never been better. Baseball does need to make some changes to adapt to the times. The NFL has shown far more willingness than MLB to tweak its rules over the past 20 years, but baseball has shown an ability to adapt in the past. Lowering the mound and adding the designated hitter seemed like radical ideas at the time, but those ideas worked out okay. Rob Manfred has shown a willingness to make changes and improvements, and I’m confident more will be done.

The changes don’t need to be radical, either. Eliminate shifts [and increase offense other than home runs] by requiring two infielders to stay to the left of second base or by requiring all infielders to remain on the infield dirt. Implement a salary floor to disincentivize tanking and hopefully more decent non-playoff teams emerge. Take a few games off the regular season, and increase the division series to seven games, to make the regular season more interesting.

Baseball ain’t perfect, but don’t tell me people don’t care about the Red Sox the way they used to.

 

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”

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