In case you’ve missed it since Rob Manfred took over as Commissioner of Major League Baseball, he has immediately been out to improve the sport. Some ideas like removing defensive shifts have been met with stark criticism, while the improvement towards pace of play has been generally accepted. The newest suggestion the sport has heard involves shrinking the strike zone.
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As Major League Baseball looks to reinvent itself, the sport continues to strive to draw new fans in. One of the most obvious ways for baseball to cater to the casual or fringe fan, is to make the game more offensively focused, while shortening the experience as a whole. In recent years, pitchers have continued to own the strike zone, causing for scoring to be at a premium. Fans have grown anxious sitting through a three-hour contest in which only four combined runs get scored.
The question is whether or not drastic changes are good for the sport.
For the longest time, baseball has allowed the strike zone to be what it is. Shrinking the zone would force pitchers to hone their craft to an even higher extent. Batters would be allowed to be even more selective at the plate, which could be counter-productive to looking towards shortening the length of games. A smaller strike zone would give umpires a heightened level of influence on a game as well, something that is already an area of controversy.
The other issue is that we have seen baseball try to reinvent itself before, and it led us to where we are today. Following a lockout, Bud Selig was searching for a way to rejuvenate the sport. Offense was going to draw fans in, and the longball was the highlight of the show. Enter Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Their home run chase brought baseball to new heights. The sport became must watch television, and fans around the country needed to find out who would distance themselves from the other.
With the home run chase came followers, or maybe adopters is a better word. Because baseball turned a blind eye towards Sosa and McGwire, they also turned a blind eye to Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, and a host of others. Baseballs were flying out of stadiums, and while fans loved it, players continued to use every performance enhancing drug they could get their hands on. All of a sudden, it was out of control and needed to be stopped.
The above example isn’t to suggest that simply shrinking the strike zone or looking for offense is going to bring another stained era on the game, but it provides words of caution. When looking to make drastic changes, all of the ramifications need to be considered, and when they get surpassed, are you ok with the result?
Baseball is a sport that many will never enjoy, and even less will understand. At some point you have to wonder how far you go to cater to those people, and risk losing the interest of the ones already in your corner. There’s no doubt changes are coming to Major League Baseball, but which ones and how significant they are remain the key.