NBA basketball is the best sport to watch on television, bar none.
It’s the perfect dance, a constant tension between want and gratification, that keeps you glued to the screen until the very end.
No, your team won’t score every possession, but that’s the point — every basket feels like a fight against the odds — even though the odds aren’t really stacked against your team. It’s a hit every at-bat, a first down every pass attempt, a goal every power play.
But wait, isn’t this a Phillies blog? So why are we talking about basketball and not America’s pastime?
As much as it pains me to say it, MLB baseball has become just that — a sport stuck in the past, refusing to adjust to the modern sports fan’s viewership. Sure, baseball is popular in its local media markets, but my argument today isn’t about TV ratings.
It’s about how the MLB is making the sport I love more complicated and harder to watch — the result of their decision to not bring back several rule changes from the 2020 season.
I am particularly upset with the absence of four of these rule changes — universal Designated Hitter, seven-inning doubleheaders, expanded playoffs, and adding a runner on 2nd base in extra innings.
Addition of Runner on 2nd Base in Extra Innings
Let’s start with perhaps my chief complaint: the decision not to return the addition of a runner on 2nd base in extra innings. As a die-hard Phillies fan, I love when games continue past 9 innings. OK, maybe love is a bit too strong of a word, but my mixture of anxiety and excitement is fairly unique in my sports viewership. Will we get a walk-off hit or a bullpen blow up? It’s more likely to be the latter, but still. It’s exciting. The only problem? I get bored. The downside of extra innings is that they don’t end. Today’s fan — especially among the millennial and Gen-Z demographics — bores easily and can pick from literally any form of entertainment you can think of. Why should they stick around for another hour of an already slow-paced game?
Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, these endless extra innings hurt the quality of the game. Games that progress into the 11th inning and beyond wear out bullpens, killing your team’s pitching for the rest of the week. In a 162-game season, do you really want to watch some position player throw meatballs over the plate at 12 AM on a Wednesday night? Adding a runner on 2nd base in extra innings — especially when he must be the last out of the previous inning — creates a win-now atmosphere and makes extra innings what they should be: exciting.
The Departure of 7-Inning Doubleheaders
Next up — the departure of seven-inning doubleheaders. Admittedly, as a fan of a team that so often squandered leads after the 7th inning, this take might seem a little biased. And yes, these seven-inning doubleheaders undoubtedly change the game’s strategy and style, but damn, were they a blast to watch. If your team swept the double-header, you were elated. If your team split, you were still happy, and if they got swept, well, at least they’ll have a chance for redemption the next day. Moreover, Nine-inning games are long — an average length of 3 hours and 7 minutes — and have only gotten longer, even with rule changes like the 3-batter minimum for relief pitchers. I’m not saying that all games should be seven innings; this is the MLB, not high school baseball, for crying out loud, but throwing in a double-header once every couple of series breaks up the monotony of the regular season.
Seven-inning doubleheaders heightened the stakes of the game — every run felt like the difference-maker, each at-bat more important than the last. In a sport so often criticized for its ploddingly slow pace, the MLB needs to do everything it can to make the scoreless first few innings feel just as important as the final stretches of a close game. After all, there are 162 of them. What makes today’s game more appealing to the modern fan than the rest of the summer slate?
The final two rule changes that have failed to return in 2021 — the universal DH and expanded playoff format — irk me from both viewership and quality of game aspect. Let’s start with the universal DH. In truth, my issue with this isn’t as much with the National League losing the DH, but instead in the rule’s unilateral nature. As much as the MLB doesn’t want to admit it, the American League is not a different league or tier of professional baseball than the National League; it’s the other conference like in the NBA or NFL. The AL does not play a different sport than the NL, and it’s all just baseball.
In granting the AL sole possession of the DH, the MLB has created stark differences in roster creation, game strategy, and pitching performance between the two ‘leagues.’
It’s not only ridiculous; it’s the main reason the Phillies didn’t repeat as World Series Champions in 2009. The New York Yankees rode to victory on the back of their DH and World Series MVP Hideki Matsui – while the Phillies were left with Matt Stairs when playing at Yankee Stadium. Am I tired of seeing chances to score with two-outs squandered by having Aaron Nola strike out on three pitches? Absolutely. Would I care if the AL had to face the same fate? Not at all.
Expanded Playoff Format
Now, finally, the last bit of my whining. 2020’s expanded playoff bracket — featuring 8-team fields in the NL and AL consisting of the top two teams in the division, plus the two remaining teams with the best record in each league — was just plain fun. The first-round best of 3 series — following a 1-vs.-8, 2-vs.-7 format — was an exciting way to predate the divisional series that often feel too predictable. Did I watch any of the first-round? Admittedly, I did not, as I was still bitter over the Phillies’ late-season collapse, but I loved the idea. As I said earlier, baseball games are long, and there are many of them, so every attempt to make each game more significant must be made.
Noteworthy, too are the elements of hot streaks and upsets. A team’s momentum means more in playoff baseball than in any other sport — it’s the strange mix of chemistry and performance that lets underdogs take down the ostensibly more talented, higher-profile behemoths. Upsets are one of the main reasons people watch sports — expanding the playoff bracket to give room to hot, underdog teams and incite upsets felt like the MLB was leaning into the nature of the sport of shying away from it.
To be clear, all of my complainings comes out of a love for the game.
It’s the sport I grew up with. From listening through the radio while I was still in the crib to watch the Phillies win the 2008 World Series, baseball contains some of my fondest memories.
It’s the sport that I’m most passionate about and can dissect the best. My favorite thing to do is still to sit down and watch the Phillies play on TV.
I’ll always put them on before anything else, except maybe the 76ers. They’re a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
Featured Image: USA Today