All this talk about having to speed up the game of baseball over the past few years is a bunch of nonsense. Basketball was losing viewership because the quality of the product on the court had significantly dropped. The NFL is crying about losing ratings, too, unable to see the obvious flaws in their game (two-and-a-half-hours of beer and truck commercials to 30 minutes of football play. As a fan of all these sports, I contest that a three-hour baseball game isn't the problem with baseball, just like it's not the problem with the NFL, NBA or NHL... it may be the problem with NASCAR, but that's beside the point. Baseball isn't too slow, and here's why.
So what is baseball missing? What's the problem with baseball if it's not the (alleged) slow pace of the game?
Baseball is Missing Characters of the Game, Slow Pace Be Damned
Al Hrabosky was a freaking lunatic... Mark Fidrych was absolutely crazy, talking to the baseball between pitches. Dave Kingman was a God-damned beast compared to everyone else on the field, and he was all or nothing... Reggie Jackson was brash, confident and arrogant, but he was clutch... Babe Ruth revolutionized the game while being a womanizing, drunk fat guy... Rickey Henderson told you he was gonna steal second - and third - and he did it in your face, anyway... Nolan Ryan would punch a hole in you with a fastball if the game called for it... Tim Raines slid in head-first so he wouldn't bust his vial of cocaine in his back pocket (ahem... allegedly)... Jeffrey Leonard flew around the bases with one "flap down" after hitting a dead-center shot in Busch Stadium in the '87 playoffs... Barry Bonds called his shot against F-Rod in the World Series and he was unapologetic about it. Goose Gossage intimidated everyone in baseball except for George Brett... Billy Martin was a sonofabitch at all times to everyone, ever... The early 90s had "The Nasty Boys" of the Reds and a team of linebackers playing for the Detroit Tigers: Cecil Fielder, Mickey Tettleton, Rob Deer et al... and you'll notice that all these players are retired - they're all from another era. And if that's your argument with me, you're making my point:
What baseball is missing is a cast of characters that we love to watch.
Seriously, when's the last time a baseball player got in front of a mic after a game and actually spoke his mind. When's the last time a baseball player came out and said, "Yeah, I hate that guy. Next time I see him, I'll put a fastball in his ribs and you can tell him I told you so."
When's the last time a baseball player said, "No, I don't have to tip my cap to those guys. We're the better team. We all know it. We just played like crap today and we gave those scrubs a free win."
All these guys are crazy competitive, otherwise they wouldn't be in the Major Leagues.
All these guys are egotistical, otherwise they would never have thought in their lifetime, "Sure. I'm good enough to be one of only 800 guys on planet Earth to play in the Major Leagues. I think I'll give the Major Leagues a shot."
All of us who have ever played a sport competitively have ended up hating a guy on another team. We've all called someone a terrible name on the field or on the court. Hell, we sit at home on our fat asses now and say, "Joey Bats is a punk! He got what was comin' to him!" or, "Pablo Sandoval's a fat, lazy slob. What a joke to eat your way out of the league. He ain't hurt - he's held up at the buffet line."
I mean, I would never say those things... but you know some of you have.
And some of you are screaming at me with anecdotal examples of when certain guys blew up, and you're right. And what happened to those guys the next day? The media KILLED THEM for it and their team's upper office of pasty, chunky stuffed suits told them, "You need to hold a press conference an apologize and never do that again." In other words, you're neutered - check your sack at the door and play nice. I mean, go be competitive and go kill the other team, but act like you're all nice and happy. Team Prozac.
Yup - I just turned the channel, too. But the NFL is just as bad - in fact, I think it's worse, and the NBA has completely abandoned team basketball and hard defense making it largely unwatchable to those of us who remember the "good ol' days" of the NBA with Magic, Bird, Jordan and the lost-art of defense, passing and blocking shots.
Like me, if you understand the game of baseball, you don't see a slow game. You see the pitcher thinking about every pitch. You see the runner on first trying to see if he can read the pitcher. You see the batter wondering, "He just threw me a fastball away, but now he's down 2-1. Does he come back with a fastball? Does he think that I'm thinking he's gonna come back with a fastball? Is that F'ing changeup coming that I hate?"
That's what's happening between pitches. That's what's happening during the "slow" part of the game. And that's just part of what's happening. The Manager is thinking, the fielders are remembering the scouting reports on how this particular batter bats against this type of pitcher and why, and where he's most-likely to hit the ball - and that's all nine guys out there. The guy on deck is watching and thinking and learning with every pitch. And we, the fans who understand baseball, are watching, thinking, anticipating, analyzing, waiting, wondering... and then the pitch happens... and then something awesome happens, or not, and we do it all again. The anticipation between each pitch is part of the excitement of baseball.
Meanwhile, the NFL goes to commercial or they're reviewing the play because the 90-year-old ref made a terrible call while wiping off his trifocals... meanwhile, LeBron James is telling everyone on the floor to clear out and just watch while he barrels through the paint where no shot-blocking specialists live anymore because 7-footers are, somehow, enamored with shooting threes and trying to dribble the ball.
Speeding up the game of baseball is not what we need. We need characters in the game to draw fans to broadcasts and to put butts in seats. Guys like Reggie Jackson and Nolan Ryan and The Nasty Boys. Managers like Lou Piniella, Billy Martin and Hal McRae. And we need to let them be who they are.
And one more thing...
Give me characters, give me attitude - not punks who talk trash and can't back it up. Save that for football and basketball where the most rudimentary, standard-issue, fundamental plays are, for some reason, celebrated every time they're accomplished. "Wow! You made a tackle, just like you're supposed to do! Now dance around and scream like an idiot for performing your only job function! Woooooo!!!"
Appropriate bat flips; appropriate beanings (ribs and asses only, please); and honest, locker-room, post-game speak-your-mind interviews with the players, team management be damned. If we get that, a three hour game will be fine, and it will be anticipated as an event when the fans have something - or someone - to look forward to watching.