Has Baseball Lost Its Cool?

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One of the most storied and successful sports programs at The Prep is the baseball team. With thirty state championships and being the only sport in which The Prep was ranked #1 in the country, baseball certainly has been a powerhouse in this school for a long time. Baseball, though, is not only popular within the halls of Seton Hall Prep. Throughout history, baseball has been the most popular sport for Americans to enjoy as evidenced by its nickname, “America’s pastime.” The popularity of baseball soured even higher with the establishment of a professional league, MLB, in 1869, which still continues to this day. Baseball, however, has in fact lost its cool and its wild popularity. 

In 2019, only nine percent of Americans listed it as their favorite sport, attendance has been declining since 2012, and only seven percent of the people who watch baseball are under eighteen. These numbers are frightening for people like me who would like baseball to continue to flourish for many years to come. In an era of technology at our fingertips and the rise in popularity of fast-paced sports like basketball and football, how can a sport like baseball gain back its cool? I believe that if baseball were to make a few changes, it can certainly gain a younger and more enthusiastic audience, allowing it to prosper in the future.

First, baseball must rid itself of its unwritten rules. For those that do not watch baseball often, unwritten rules are those that are not necessarily in the rule book but are widely understood by players not to do during a game. One of these rules, the one that I believe is causing baseball to lose its cool factor the most, is the one that states batters should not celebrate when they hit a home run. In game 5 of the 2015 ALDS, a game that would decide the winner of the series, Toronto Blue Jay, José Bautista, hit a three- run home run in the seventh inning to put the Jays on top for the rest of the game. This hit was notable in the fact that it is widely considered the best bat flip in baseball history. Everybody knew about this hit because of the flip and it got people talking about baseball in a way in which it had not been for a long time. People that did not watch baseball regularly began to watch the rest of the playoffs to see Jose Bautista hit again; people were captivated. What makes this play infuriating, however, is the fact that instead of celebrating Bautista for what he did for the game, people managing the league asked him to apologize for it. Something that most would see as a great moment in baseball history was instead turned into a dark moment in which Bautista should be apologetic. 

The MLB has attempted to make this change this last season with the “Let the Kids Play” campaign, promoting fun in the sport. This campaign, however, was not preached by all as yet another example of punishment for a bat flip came on April 17, 2019. On this date, Tim Anderson hit a home run off of Royals pitcher Brad Keller. Tim Anderson crushed the pitch and did another great bat flip, angering the Royals Pitcher. Instead of learning from his mistakes and following the new campaign, Brad Keller hit Tim Anderson with a pitch the next time he came to bat. Once again, a home run celebration, something that would allow baseball to spread to a younger audience, was punished, causing others to shy away from them when they themselves him a homerun.

Second, baseball needs to cut down on the length of the game. During the 2019 season, an average baseball game was three hours, five minutes, and thirty-five seconds, a record long in the MLB. The only other major sports league in North America that tops that number is the NFL, a sport that baseball will never be able to compete with. Due to that fact, baseball should look to cut about thirty minutes off its average game length to be in line with the NHL and NBA, which have an average game length of about two and a half hours. I believe baseball can do this by cutting the amount of innings per game to seven. This would be wildly unpopular by most baseball fans and something I do not think will ever happen, but I still believe this would be very beneficial for the sport. 

Since each game is about 185 minutes, that means that each inning is currently lasting around twenty minutes. Therefore, cutting two innings off the game would take forty minutes off the game length, allowing it to reach that magic two and a half hour mark. More people would watch because each inning is now more important and the game time is less. With nine innings, the first three innings can feel by many as unimportant because there are still two thirds of the game to go. With seven, however, the first three innings would be half the game so every run would be amplified in importance. 

As for the high school game in particular, these changes will not make a big difference as games are already seven innings and home runs are not frequent enough. Making them in the professionals, however, can only increase the popularity of the sport at all levels. The two biggest high school sports are football and basketball, correlating with the two most popular professional leagues in North America. The newer, younger generation of baseball viewers would then become interested in the sport and either begin to play it or attend more high school games. 

As someone that has played baseball since kindergarten and has watched it since I was born, baseball is a sport I feel connected to and something I want to see succeed forever. With a new age of people, however, I do believe that the sport must make a few changes and make them fast or else baseball will die very soon. At the Prep, the first baseball state championship was won in 1948, over seventy years from now. This is just one example of the storied history of the sport and a reason why we must protect. Baseball has in fact lost its cool for many, but it can easily gain it back by doing away with unwritten rules and shortening the game length. By doing this, baseball will increase in popularity and once again become America’s pastime.