Today’s guest columnist is Kevin Gallagher of Save The Game.
The 99-day lockout that ended the dispute between Major League Baseball and its players is in the rearview mirror. Trades and roster moves have been abundant, and spring free agent contract signings crossed the $1 billion mark. Everyone’s favorite team is undefeated as the 2022 season beckons. Yes, all is right in the baseball world…
Actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
While MLB may have removed the obvious labor strife warts, there are far bigger problems that threaten the long-term health of baseball.
And they begin with the game itself. Simply stated, the pace of the game is a yawner. Youth participation—both on the field and in live attendance and television viewership—is in steady decline.
Because of that, the Save The Game initiative was born. Our movement begins with working toward a 1 million signature petition calling for change. This is an effort to get the attention of MLB executives, owners and front office executives, harnessing the energy of fans’ discontent to push MLB into facing the realization that its product is very much in jeopardy. It must either change or not survive.
The Save The Game movement has an unusual origin, coming into being as an outgrowth of an instructional book I wrote designed to improve the hitting skills of young boys and girls: Teach Your Kid to Hit … So They Don’t Quit. Teaming with former nine-year MLB infielder Jeff Frye and my fellow former college player, Pat Geoghegan, we founded Save The Game not to reinvent the wheel, but rather go back to the wheel that brought the game to popularity in the first place.
Our hopes and goals are simple: to revive baseball by bringing back the livelier pace of bygone years.
The game does not have the amount of action or entertainment it once had, because it’s lost the fundamentals of contact hitting, stolen bases and going to the opposite field that ruled for over a century. The game fails to draw new customers, and the current fan base is aging. The day will come that there will not be a big enough customer base to support the business. It’s plain to see MLB has lost its entertainment value because of its reliance on the power swing and strikeouts. America’s youth is not engaged with MLB because the game has become too slow. Baseball could lose its relevance and become a niche sport, following the path of boxing and horse racing.
We’re not scolding the commissioner, the owners or players. Rather, we want to partner with them to give baseball a much needed shot in the arm.
Baseball insiders realize all is not well. Thus, they’re changing rules, from bringing the DH to the National League, to the dubious runner on second base to start each extra inning, to seven-inning doubleheaders. But none of those Band-Aids will stop the bleeding.
Let’s face it, the home run may be exciting for a minute, but with only 2.46 homers per game, there are huge lapses in action. That has consequences: lagging TV ratings (down 50% for the World Series since 2003) and postseason advertising dollars (MLB’s $468 million in 2018 trailed the NFL’s $1.7B, March Madness’ $1.3B and the NBA’s $970M). The most disturbing statistic of all: By 2016, only 7% of those under 18 were watching baseball.
The change has to start with a player’s swing in youth baseball, and includes contact hitting and keeping the ball in play instead of swinging for the fences. More balls in play makes the youth game more entertaining, engaging younger fans. These skills learned in youth can then filter up through the high school and college ranks, and eventually into the pros, creating a better game—and more fans—at all levels.
Over the past few months, we’ve talked to hundreds of former and active players, GMs, executives and scouts, and, yes, even one owner. The vast majority agree with our movement and encourage us to continue. Then there are the journalists, and Little League, high school and college coaches who are on board. Unfortunately, most high-level insiders won’t go on the record on the topic, at least not yet.
That’s where our fan-driven movement comes in. It’s giving fans a chance to do something besides sit back and lament—or just walk away from the game completely. Some of the initial steps on our agenda include: forming an advisory board for MLB composed of former players, media and fans, with youth representation, to develop ideas and concerns and give a voice to the fan; providing a platform for alignment with the MLB Players Alumni Association; and providing youth organizations with a coordinated approach and process for parents and coaches to teach kids to hit.
It’s just a start, but MLB needs to understand that rescuing the business of baseball goes way beyond resolving the latest labor dispute. The key lies in saving the game itself.
Kevin Gallagher, a former college and minor league baseball player, is the author of the instructional book, Teach Your Kid to Hit … So They Don’t Quit, and a co-founder of Save The Game.
(This column has been updated in the 11th paragraph to provide citation links and to clarify the numbers cited.)