The lasting image of the 2023 MLB season will be the Texas Rangers being crowned champions after a year full of packed houses, rule changes, and a new excitement surrounding the once-dying sport of baseball. Everyone who had thought the sport could never be saved was proven wrong in a year full of fresh new changes that brought attention back to baseball. For the sport, this is only the beginning.
Baseball is a sport that likes to stay the same. The leisurely pace and less violent action is the core idea that has stayed with the sport for as long as it has existed. However, not everyone appreciated long afternoons watching very little action happen. It showed in ratings and attendance slowly dipping year after year. Casual interest seemed to die off more and more by the season. Younger fans grew bored and uninterested easier during games, and a common problem seemed to be the pace of play that had many games beyond 3 or even 4 hours.
The Rule Changes that Saved MLB
However, the MLB instituted a new Collective Bargaining Agreement which allowed for many rule changes to speed up the game and provide more action for spectators. Finally changes were being made to make watching a game more appealing. Speeding up the average length of a game by half an hour or more naturally makes it more appealing. The downtime where a pitcher slowly shuffles around while a batter scrapes dirt out of his space has been shortened. When the Umpire says “Play Ball!” a timer starts and the game gets moving.
This timer is the main savior baseball has needed for ages. Games move along much faster, but the action of the game hasn’t been lost. The time where players gawk at foul balls has been. Early on in the season, there was an adjustment period for players and fans. The clock wasn’t displayed on every TV scoreboard while fans figured out what they liked and didn’t like about it. After the adjustment period, it was hardly noticeable. Fans watched games, and went to the stadiums. It was a beautiful sight to see. Unless you thought about how short the games were becoming, or saw a rare violation, it was in the back of the mind.
On the front of the mind was the increased offense. Home runs may be fun, but they aren’t the only way to score in baseball. Regular hits advancing runners eventually leads to runs being scored, and defenses had done something against it called the “shift” for a long time. However, to encourage action off regular hits, the MLB instituted a new regulation on where defenders can be during a play. This increased the batting average throughout the year, and there were more exciting plays resulting from routine ground balls. Less routine, and more deviation from the norm is always more fun.
Something else being more fun is the bigger sizes of the bases. The increased sizes of the bags entices players to steal more, which they did. This is yet more action everyone can enjoy and overall made base-running more friendly to the offense. We didn’t say goodbye to the amazing defensive game, but the offense was much more prevalent. Game after game felt high scoring and exciting. You can no longer say the sport is boring because nothing happens. Stuff happens, and it’s fun again. I am excited to put on baseball games again.
Faster Pace Baseball Means More Fans
These rule changes all had a purpose: Bring fans back to the sport. It seems as though they did just that. Attendance increased 9.6% from the previous year, and it won’t be going down anytime soon. Most teams had reason for people to go to the games, even if it was the faster experience. TV ratings also experienced a slight bump, but it wasn’t nearly as substantial as the attendance increase.
The increase that was most noticeable was the attitude around the sport. More people than ever talked about it. Story-lines surrounded every team, making them worth talking about. The rule changes made it a more watchable product anyone could put on and enjoy. Now, more than ever, there’s reason to watch your local team, and the stats show that people are back to supporting baseball. This is huge for the sport. Evolving with the times is something the MLB has needed to do for a while to remain relevant outside of random summer afternoons.
More Progress Can Be Made
There’s still room to grow. The MLB is not nearly as popular as the NFL or NBA, and struggles to get the same attention as those leagues especially when they are directly competing. With this much growth of the sport in just 1 year, it’s very possible we see more and more people returning to or even beginning to watch baseball once again to possibly rival these other sports. I see one big thing holding it back. Weekday afternoon games.
Seriously, the MLB can’t expect to grow if it can’t see that weekday afternoon games are a problem. Not everyone can get out of work or school for baseball games. Sure, weekday afternoons work in the summer, but after August is over, anything earlier than 5 or 6 local time is going to be a problem. Every other league has figured it out, but it seems as though baseball is behind the curve there.
Despite this, I think the national pastime is back in the spotlight and is ready to go back to being one of the top sports globally. Many countries around the world have recently adopted baseball, and America is also getting back into it. For the sport, 2023 is just the beginning of a new golden age. We hope you’ll stay with us during this golden age!
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