Baseball, the game as we know it, is broken. Something needs to change.
In part one of this “Baseball Needs An Overhaul” series, we discussed that something needs to change for the MLB, in order to keep it from completely falling apart. There are several ways in which I feel baseball could improve. One of those ways, the main focus of “Baseball Needs An Overhaul – Pt. 1”, was a hard salary cap and floor. There were extremely mixed opinions on the subject, and it created a lot of chatter and feedback. Well, let’s keep those creative wheels turning.
Here in part two, I want to dive into a couple of things that need to be fixed:
- Youth Programs
- The DH Position
As I sit here and write this, out on my apartment patio, at this very moment, I hear the laughter of kids. As I took a moment to enjoy seeing kids playing outside, rather than glued to their iPhones, iPads, or video games, the very point of the first part of this article becomes, even more, real to me. These kids are outside playing football when it could so easily be tossing a baseball.
Currently, Major League Baseball operates a few youth programs.
-The Baseball Tomorrow Fund (BTF) is a joint initiative between Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA.) The fund awards grant to organizations involved in the operation of youth baseball and softball programs and facilities.
-Pitch Hit & Run (PHR) is a skills event providing boys and girls the opportunity to compete in four levels of competition including Team Championship events at all 30 Major League ballparks and the National Finals at the MLB All-Star Game.
-Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) is a program designed to increase participation and interest in baseball and softball among underserved youth, encourage academic participation and achievement, increase number of talented athletes prepared to play in college and minor leagues, promote greater inclusion of minorities into the mainstream of the game, and teach the value of teamwork.
-The Urban Youth Initiative has four facets set to it, by the MLB. They are: grow the games of baseball and softball while cultivating diversity in all aspects of the game, make meaningful contributions to the development of urban communities, provide safe and organized recreational activities for urban youth, prepare urban high school players for college and professional baseball and softball programs.
These programs and initiatives sound great. But are they truly productive?
According to the Sports & Industry Fitness Association (SFIA), the number of kids (ages 6 to 12) who play baseball has dropped significantly since 2007. It has fallen from 5.44 million to 4.34 million. Approximately 79% of baseball fans played in their youth. Statistically speaking, as new generations of children don’t play baseball, the MLB will lose future generations of fans and viewers.
When Rob Manfred took over as commissioner of Major League Baseball, this past January, he stated that youth participation was his main concern. Manfred announced that the MLB and the MLB player’s union were entering a joint effort to spend $30M on a few programs meant to improve amateur baseball and make it more available.
Honestly, it sounds great. But $30M? In 2014, Major League Baseball cleared just under $8B in revenue.
With a ‘b’.
Why would you only spend $30M on the future of your organization, when you could invest so much more? And an investment is what it is. You are spending money now, to grow the fanbase and viewers you will have in the future. I’m not asking Major League Baseball to spend ALL of their money. I know they want, and need, to be profitable. All I’m asking is for the kids of today to be able to experience what I got to when I was young: the joy of playing the game.
This doesn’t stop at the MLB headquarters. Each individual team should be dedicating time and money to improving youth baseball in their area. A lot of these teams have their own programs in place, but the focus should be heightened, just the same as for MLB. Individual teams should be building their own future fanbase, just as the League should be building its own.
The focus shouldn’t be limited to here in the United States either. More and more international players are making their way to Major League Baseball. Manfred should focus more time and attention to international youth programs, building a future for children overseas.
If more kids get into t-ball, little league or summer camps, then baseball will raise an entire generation of fans.
The DH Position
Ah… one of the most popular arguments in the game today. Should the American League abandon the DH role? Should the National League implement the DH position?
I have heard both sides of the discussion, as I’m sure all baseball fans have. Some say it isn’t fair for the AL to be able to roster a player who’s only focus is hitting, while the NL has to put in a player whose main focus is pitching. Some say they don’t want to see a pitcher step up to the batter’s box, and hack wildly at pitches, or just go for the bunt.
Now, I will be the first to give credit to some of today’s pitchers. There a few of them who can have a solid at-bat, even some of the AL pitchers. I will also say that it’s fun to watch some of the DHs in today’s game. A lot of those guys have truly brought some power and momentum to their respective teams.
Who has the advantage in the DH dilemma?
Obviously, within the particular league, there is no advantage. Everyone plays by the same rules. However, as interleague play is happening, we have two different sets of rules in play. The home team’s league rules are what is used. So, whether the games are in the AL or the NL, is there any clear advantage one way or another?
Since 2004, the American League has won the most interleague games. Since interleague play was instituted in 1997, the National League has only won more games in four of the years. Does this show us who has the advantage?
Either way, you look at it, no matter what side you take, everyone needs to be on the same page. There should be uniformity throughout both leagues. How would this uniformity benefit the game?
Well, Zack Greinke and David Price made ridiculous amounts of money, just this last offseason. Would you want them hurt by a fastball to the head, or getting a broken leg from sliding into second? Do we want to watch pitchers attempt to hit the ball, or do we want a proven hitter at the plate, giving our team more offense?
On the flip side, is it morally okay to pay someone to stand in the box three or four times a game, and do absolutely nothing else? In the NL, every player plays both sides of the game. Is it fair that the DH could command a high payroll when he sits on his butt for half of the game?
What about when being considered for the Hall of Fame? Should a DH, like David Ortiz, be so easily considered for the highest MLB honor, when he only plays one part of the game? Sure, he may have stats worthy of the Hall, but since hitting was his only focus, shouldn’t that be expected? Should players who play on the defensive side of the ball, as well as hitting, and have somewhat comparable batting stats, be given more priority over a DH?
All baseball fans will have different opinions on youth programs, the DH position, and of course the salary cap mentioned in part one of this series. Different opinions are perfectly okay. The main point of this “Baseball Needs An Overhaul” series is to spark debate, thought, and creativity on what Major League Baseball can do to better the game we all know and love.
I hope you all get a chance to read part one of “Baseball Needs An Overhaul”.