Paolo Federico-O’Murchu, Columnist
The most exciting inning of baseball I’ve seen lasted forever. It was Game 5 of the Rangers versus the Blue Jays in the 2015 ALDS playoffs. It involved crazy rule interpretations, three errors and an amazing Jose Bautista go-ahead home run. In short, it was the perfect baseball inning. It lasted 53 minutes.
Rob Manfred, the Commissioner of Baseball for the MLB, is rightfully concerned with the tepid interest of the American public, specifically the younger generations. Baseball’s viewers are the oldest demographic compared to other major American sports. His solution is shortening the game which has admittedly lengthened in the past few years.
However, the small rule changes, like removing intentional walks, only shave 11 seconds off per game. Bigger picture suggestions like adding base runners in extra innings have been rightfully met with disgust.
What Manfred fails to understand is that us youthful viewers do not blanch at the length of the game, but the tedium of it. Football games are longer and sodden with commercials, but the excitement of the sport draws viewers. While baseball can never match the barbaric nature of football, it can become more dynamic, and that starts with changing the unwritten rules.
Baseball players are encumbered with a code of ethics dating back to the start of the 20th Century. Players cannot show emotion on the field, and should always act like they’ve “been there before.” Unlike football and basketball, anyone who celebrates or trash talks is seen as disrespectful to the other team and the institution of baseball.
What capped off that Blue Jays-Rangers inning was that the unwritten rules were broken. Bautista did not just hit a homerun, he flipped the bat afterwards. The bat flip was the GIF — the pimping of the hit after an emotional roller coaster is what we remember. The fact that it was followed next season by Rougned Odor punching him in the face just added to the excitement.
There are some indications that changes are coming, but it’s slow. There is some phenomenal young talent in baseball, and players like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado add youthful energy and fiery quotes to the game. However, Mike Trout, the best player in baseball, has adopted the Derek Jeter strategy of being extraordinarily dynamic on the field, and having the personality of slightly curdled milk. He has been lauded for preserving the tradition of baseball, which is code for having no personality. Overseas teams can provide a blueprint — Hispanic players are known for being exuberant in their play, and the Korean league features cheerleaders and abundant bat flips.
I am not advocating a loss of decorum in baseball. A rookie should not be flipping off the pitcher after every hit. But if baseball is to stay relevant, there must be more “GIF-able” moments. Changing baseball’s culture will not be easy. A big reason baseball has remained stagnant is that pitchers feel entitled to retaliate against hitters celebrating by beaning them next pitch. Hitters would rather not show excitement and risk getting hit by a 95-mph fastball. Therefore, MLB should strengthen rules allowing umpires to eject pitchers intentionally hitting batters. Displayed emotion must no longer be seen as disrespect but rather a part of baseball.
In short, Manfred should be less concerned about the seconds of gameplay and more bothered by the ambivalence exhibited by the players during it.