Monday, June 18 , 2018, 10:53 pm | Fair 62º


Zack Warburg and Gerry Warburg: Consumer Advice for New Baseball Commissioner

Election of Rob Manfred as the new baseball commissioner affords the opportunity to look anew at critical challenges. Baseball is as wonderful as when we fans entered our first bejeweled major league park, accompanied by Mom and Dad.

Baseball remains the Great American Pastime. However, with too much time passing between pitches, multiple concerns loom. Instant replay has advanced the cause of justice. But it has also exacerbated a festering problem: the interminable pace of play. Every fan has struggled with dates or small children, who question our sanity for insisting on staying through 4½-hour games.

From declining participation by African-Americans, to the game’s waning attractiveness to Millennials, to international indifference — the game has been dropped from the Olympics — baseball may fall off the screen for restless youngsters worldwide. Herewith, some advice from two devoted fans.

We share a reverence for the traditional game and the sanctity of records. We cringe at yawning attendees who show up in the third and leave in the sixth (you know who you are, Dodgers fans). But after a generation of tolerating steroid-tainted records and introducing record-skewing twists (four playoff wild cards?!?), some further action to advance fan interests is in order.

Radical measures are called for. Following are several ideas (most of them are serious) to speed things up while improving the fan experience.

» Problem: Five-minute mid-inning pitching changes and mound gab fests.

» Solution: Managers point to bullpen from dugout; relievers are motored in on a golf cart. Zero warm-up pitches. No mound conferences.

» Problem: Silly, clown-like appearances on field of aged, uniformed managers.

» Solution: Use an NFL-style challenge flag. Managers must stay on the bench, in civvies, as in other major sports. Leave the dugout, get suspended.

» Problem: Batters step out and adjust their jockstraps and gloves after every pitch.

» Solution: Automatic strike for leaving the batting box.

» Problem: Pointless intentional walks consuming precious time.

» Solution: Pitcher points to first base. Batter runs, or he is out.

» Problem: Showboating, bat-flipping Puig-like hot dogs calling attention to HRs.

» Solution: Sixteen-second time limit to circle bases. Flip the bat, get ejected.

» Problem: Interminable pick-off attempts by slow-as-molasses pitchers.

» Solution: Two per batter; third is a balk. Like replay challenges, use ‘em wisely!

» Problem: Two and one half commercial-filled minutes between innings. More during playoffs.

» Solution: Fight owner-ad revenue greed. Limit to 60 seconds, then pitcher delivers.

These modest changes would cut average game times as much as an hour. They would greatly assist improvement of game quality, with negligible impact on records. 

Now, about the fan experience. Here, perhaps even more creativity is called for.

» Problem: Rich, no-show jerks with $500 behind-homeplate-seats = lifeless TV

» Solution: Top of fourth inning move fans from upper deck to bring energy behind home plate and completely fill the lower deck. Arrive late and lose your primo seat.

» Problem: Idiot fans in primo seats who forget their gloves.

» Solution: Every 10th game, ball has gold stamp, redeemable for $1,000. Watch the energized scrums that ensue.

» Problem: Lengthy rain delays

» Solution: Player goggles. They don’t stop football and pond hockey for weather!

» Problem: The all-time date-killer = extra innings.

» Solution: Take a page from NHL. Start the 10th inning with three infielders and two outfielders. Eleventh-inning ties resolved, like soccer, with a five swing HR Derby.

Finally, if the next generation of Americans is to treasure live baseball, kids need to experience a few real-time World Series games that end before 1 a.m. Require 6 p.m. local start times. Owners should also abandon the obscene more-is-better approach to between-inning advertising. Improving the game here may sacrifice a fraction of the $8 billion in annual revenues 30 owners reap. But, it would be a sound investment; it would do more than any other move to tell fans that owners get it.

Owners struggle to overcome the image of an anti-trust-violating cabal, self-interested billionaires who rip off cities for sweetheart stadium deals, then charge $40 for parking and $10 for sodas. We hear owners pledge they’ll be “faithful stewards of the game.” The commissioner is handpicked by the owners but supposed to support fan interests. Move on even a few of these items, and he’ll send a positive message for generations to come.

— Zack Warburg is a computer engineer in Santa Barbara. His father, Gerry, teaches public policy at the University of Virginia’s Batten School. Both are lifelong San Francisco Giants fans.

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