Laird: This feels like the last chance for baseball

Ken Laird
May 19, 2020 - 10:21 pm

It took an act of God, but baseball has been given the chance to save itself.

Will they embrace the opportunity that this Pandemic has presented? Or will they be left standing at the crossroads like the famous bluesman Robert Johnson, trying to refresh their rideshare app?

The three summer months approaching may be the most important in the history of America’s Pastime. 

If baseball gets it together to play, they’ll take center stage with more eager eyes and young fans watching since perhaps the ‘Long Gone Summer’ of 1998.

If baseball doesn’t get it together, the sport may well wither and die by the roadside.

Oh sure, it’ll always exist in some form. But do Rob Manfred and Mike Trout want to see their game struggle for survival somewhere between the popularity of MMA and Russian table tennis?

The NHL and NBA can skip a playoff run and be fine. They’ll return in the fall and start fresh, with one postseason run missed due to a natural disaster beyond their control.

But for MLB to lose a whole season? And to lose it less because of the health risk, but rather primarily due to everything people currently hate about the game - stubborn, elitist millionaires and billionaires haggling over details nobody can relate to - that will be the virtual death knell.

Honestly, can you stand to read one more article in The Athletic or The Wall Street Journal breaking down what revenue split owners and players want in their new negotiations? Or one more Twitter headline describing the latest pampered millennial pitcher complaining about losing a minute fraction of his check?

Nobody cares about opening your financial books. Figure it out. Get on the field.

And while you’re at it, why don’t you use this once-in-a-generation pause to make changes. Real changes that make the game more watchable for, you know, the fans that might again pay to watch someday. Don’t just get back. Get back better.

Pace of play is the obvious elephant, but instead of mouthing the phrase how about really enacting change? With a living and breathing pitch clock in full effect, not a phony limit on mound visits that no team ever reaches. Keep hitters in the box. Let Chris Sale write the new rulebook while he rehabs his Tommy John surgery, because the game flow of his nights on the mound are a joy to watch.

Sure, chicks dig the long ball, but fans fall asleep at strikeouts. Launch angle swings have officially jumped the shark. How about re-modeling the game after 1980’s and 90’s games we’ve been forced to watch the past few months? Varied units of speed, defense, hitting AND power. Make Homers Great Again.

While you’re at it, market your stars a little. It’s worth a shot. Maybe someone will emerge beyond Trout that anyone nationally has heard of.

Connect with kids. Start a World Series game or two before 6 p.m.

Grow the game again in small towns. Instead of ripping the sport away from Pawtucket, Binghamton, Chattanooga and Erie, extend The Show beyond the big cities and actually care about these places. These were the very roots that once grew the sport to begin with. Make these small revenue streams count as much as Boston and New York City.

Consider a salary floor. Make every owner pay to play, and every team in the league relevant again.

If the short season works, think about keeping it.

If the players need something in return, think about letting them hit free agency sooner. 

But whatever you do, at the very least, get the F back to work. The time is now. Or it may really be never.

The pandemic is teaching America how to live without sports in their lives, and if baseball balks until 2021 they may never find a place in those lives again.