For a very long time, professional baseball has been referred to as our national pastime. However, even if people still continue to use that phrase when describing the game of baseball, I believe that professional football has taken over as our country's national amusement.
Both professional baseball and football are rich in history and have the largest fan bases in comparison to any of the other American professional sports, but aside from the fact that both sports require the players to wear a helmet, their similarities to each other end there.
While those two sports are easily our country's most popular, sadly for baseball, football is now king. Perhaps the saddest part of baseball's decrease in popularity is the fact that the history and tradition that Major League Baseball is so proud of is the very aspect that is holding the sport back. I can understand the hesitation to change something that has stood the test of time for well over one hundred years, and I can even understand how it is nice to be able to say that the game being played today is the same exact game that was being played in the late 1800's. But the warm and fuzzy feeling that may arise from hearing the previous statement is nothing more than a novelty or a ribbon atop a gift box, if you will. What we all want is the gift inside the box. Rarely do we pay such close attention to the wrapping paper, but unfortunately Major League Baseball is doing just that. Time-honored tradition is certainly something to be proud of, but what makes a successful product remain relevant as times change is the ability to adapt. Adaptation is not Major League Baseball's strong suit.
There are several reasons why many people feel that football is more exciting to watch; It's faster, violent, cerebral, filled with parity and the emergence and popularity of fantasy football can't be hurting either. So what can baseball do to be more like football? Clearly baseball is not about to make changes to the rules that would render it a contact sport, though it is fun to think about the possibilities. A pitch clock similar to a shot clock in basketball would be a solution for speeding up the game, and could even make it more entertaining when a pitcher has to hustle to unload a pitch as the clock winds down. The fans could participate by counting down with the clock and that potential distraction could ultimately end up adding an element to the game that would make it less boring.
However, fundamental rule changes are not even necessary right now (not to mention extremely unlikely) but Major League Baseball can institute a new policy that would change things greatly and for the better.
USE INSTANT REPLAY TO MAKE SURE THE RIGHT CALL IS MADE!
I know it's something that we've all heard before, and I can't say that the NFL's use of instant replay is the only reason why it appears to be winning the popularity contest between itself and baseball, but it is one of Major League Baseball's biggest problems and it is very easily fixable. Would fans be so much happier that it would result in baseball again becoming the biggest sport in our country? Unlikely, but it is absurd and frustrating that the technology is already in place and the MLB powers-that-be are refusing to use it because it was not a part of the original game. This reasoning is disturbing in more ways than one, especially since MLB has already decided that instant replay can be utilized when it comes to ruling whether a ball was a homerun or not. So if replay can be used in one aspect of the game, why not others? The reason being told to us is, that using instant replay for anything other than homerun calls could potentially lead to other aspects of the game being reviewable by instant replay, which would ultimately further slow down the game and tarnish it's integrity and tradition if it eventually led to replay review for the calling of balls and strikes. In other words, MLB thinks that if you order a pizza, you have to eat the whole pie.
Using instant replay does not have to encompass the calling of balls and strikes and there are very few, if any people calling for that. Aside from pitches and strike zones, replay should be used to make the correct calls regardless of the circumstances because it is embarrassing for the sport when an incorrect call on the field can be instantly identified by a six year old fan watching the game at home.
There is no reason why a pitcher should be robbed of an accomplishment that many never come close to because of an umpire not having an ideal view of the close play at first base.
There is no reason why a team should end up losing a game because the umpire didn't see the catcher miss the tag when the would-be winning run slid into home.
Even foul balls and diving catches can greatly impact the end result of a game and can be quickly and easily reviewed and called properly.
I am not alone in thinking that it is insane that Major League Baseball has not implemented a more in-depth replay policy yet, but it is even more mind boggling that one of the main reasons for not doing it is the potential slowing of the game. In my opinion, this is a lame excuse to cover up the fact that they just stubbornly don't want to do it because it was never an aspect of the old school, original game. Then again, neither was wearing helmets or batting gloves but those things are now staples in the game. Like many other facets of life, things must change to keep up with the world around us. We are not commuting to work on horseback, we can conveniently bring our computers with us wherever we go and when we don't have our laptops on us, we can access the internet through our phones! If basketball higher-ups were as reluctant to update their game as baseball is, they'd still be using wooden peach baskets instead of steel rims and nylon nets. Baseball is like your great Grandmother who still uses a record player to listen to music. She understands that there is an upgrade available, and everyone tells her that it will make her life easier. In fact, you even offer to convert all of her records into digital files and put them on to her new mp3 player, but she still refuses because she didn't grow up with it and is unfamiliar with it. What's worse is there's a good chance that she'll feed you excuses that don't even make sense.
So in regard to not using replay in baseball because it could potentially slow down the game, I say "Get with the times Grandma!" When you think about it, using more replay in baseball could actually speed up the game! I am not understanding how MLB officials can't see how easy and efficient this would be. Equip the entire umpiring crew with ear pieces or even walkie talkies, then simply employ one additional umpire to sit in a booth at the game with several televisions showing multiple camera angles. Frankly, the additional umpire doesn't even have to be at the game or have access to multiple televisions because as fans watching at home, we all know what the correct call is within seconds. The umpire overseeing the replays can then simply call down the correct call to the umpire on the field. In most scenarios, the right call would be made in under a minute and it would eliminate the manager's disputes and arguments with the umpires, which would also speed up the game.
It can be argued that replay in football slows the game a bit, but that's because it is a different game with different circumstances and rules. It tends to take longer to determine the proper call in football than in baseball, but whether it slows the game or not, there are significantly less teams and fans of the NFL that feel that they have been wronged by a bad call.
Baseball doesn't have to do it exactly like football does though. You don't have to grant each manager the ability to challenge a play. You really wouldn't even need to challenge anything since every play can be easily monitored and called correctly from the eye in the sky.
Utilizing instant replay isn't the reason why professional football is America's sport, but it is a great example of a league that cares more about making the right call, than the outdated traditions that the sport originally featured. I'm not suggesting that the bases start lighting up or we use infrared technology to determine if a pitch is thrown within the strike zone, but modernize the policies surrounding the game so that the outcomes of games are no longer decided by missed calls. If Major League Baseball started thinking more like the National Football League, they might not need imprinted giveaways to help lure fans to the ballpark.