Baseball has an old man stink

If baseball had an apartment, I imagine it would have plastic-covered couches, black and white pictures and a candy jar filled with Necco Wafers and Werthers Original Butterscotch candies.

Economically, the sport is healthier than ever. But baseball is getting old. America’s past-time now appeals to an older audience more than any other major sport.

On Oct. 23, Bloomberg News released a story citing that the median age of the 2012 World Series viewer was 53.4 years-old. Comparatively, the median age of viewers during the NBA finals was 41 while the average age of prime-time viewers for NFL games was younger than 45.

If the sport does not change, the TV broadcasts will eventually look like a golf broadcast, with commercials for Citi Bank, Cialis and Cadillacs. That can only last so long before the average viewer’s dinner coincides with an afternoon first pitch. Baseball needs to attract a younger audience, and should start by shortening game time.

This summer, the Boston Globe calculated that the average Red Sox game lasted three hours, 11 minutes, and 34 seconds. Last season, the average NFL game lasted three hours, 11 minutes, and 56 seconds.

While the games run for essentially the same amount of time, the average baseball game includes much more spitting, scratching and strapping of Velcro. The NFL and NBA feature far more action that helps keep fans’ attention.

The nature of baseball makes the sport vastly different from most other sports. Baseball is the only sport where the defense has the ball. Baseball is not based on time, but requires a completed series of events in order finish the game. All this helps contribute to a lot of standing around instead of action.

Baseball seems the most resistant to change of the major sports. Fanatics argue that any changes to the rules would violate the sanctity of the game, but baseball officials have made efforts to shorten games, adding a replay system similar to the NFL where managers can challenge plays. MLB thinks challenges will cut time arguing and more calls will be correctly made.

Challenges could help shorten games, but MLB should take cues from their advertisers and be wary of any games lasting longer than three hours. Baseball can limit mound visits or pitching changes, both of which would also help shorten games to a more viewer-friendly product.

Think of it this way: In what other sport do coaches have virtually unlimited chances to stop the game? Basketball, football and even hockey have a set amount of timeouts for each team. Baseball managers or catchers can go give their pitchers an impromptu therapy session on the mound whenever they want.

The mound visit scene in Kevin Costner’s classic baseball film Bull Durham kinda has it right. The mound visits I was a part of when I played baseball normally would focus on strategy, but others were simply to stall time or tell a joke to calm down. While those instances can be hilarious for players, they do not make good TV for viewers at home.

During the semifinals of a tournament I played in, my pitcher struggled to throw strikes as the game reached the end. With the winning run on base, I called timeout and went to the mound to offer some sage advice.

“Knock, Knock,” I said.

He cracked half a smile and answered, “Who’s there?”

“Interrupting cow,” I said.

As he began to respond, I interrupted, “moo.”

I know, it’s a terrible joke I stole from South Park, but he laughed. I laughed, and the next pitch he threw was a strike. Unfortunately the batter crushed it into the gap causing my team to lose the game.

What’s the moral of the story? Don’t tell bad jokes, and baseball really should limit the amount of visits to the pitcher’s mound during a game.

Speeding up the game will not solve the problem of an aging fan base completely, but faster games can only help baseball attract a younger demographic. Without a younger demographic, the Old Country Buffet 4 p.m. dinner rush might be the best place to catch a game.

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