Less Might Be More for Baseball to Recapture Lost Appeal

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

April 3rd, 2019

While life may not be a spectator sport, baseball has been nothing but for me. As a son of a baseball junkie, a long-suffering Cleveland Indians fan no less, a general fondness for the game undoubtedly rubbed off on me. But my interest in the day-to-day goings-on in the major leagues has admittedly been dormant for a quarter-century with little sign of awakening.

Early Memories of the Game

As was the case with horse racing, my awareness of baseball occurred around age nine. Dad had played in high school and been fruitlessly rooting for “The Tribe” since 1954, but I have no memory of him watching what few games may have been on television at the time. He undoubtedly listened to many Minnesota Twins broadcasts just to keep tabs on the local team, even though his dislike for them has never abated since the day they arrived from Washington in 1961.

Having no love for the Twins, Dad was more likely to be at the racetrack than at the ballpark when I was young. Perhaps if the Twins had stayed at the outdoor Metropolitan Stadium rather than moving inside to the aesthetically unappealing Metrodome, things would have been slightly different, but most likely not. The track was always the less expensive and more gratifying of the two options.

Nonetheless, baseball eventually made its way into my life. I began collecting baseball cards and watching the Cubs and Braves games readily available on cable. Dad even began taking me to a few Twins games, the biggest being Game 6 of the 1987 World Series against the Cardinals. The eruption that occurred after Kent Hrbek’s grand slam that afternoon is a moment indelibly etched in my memory.

"The eruption that occurred after Kent Hrbek’s grand slam that afternoon is a moment indelibly etched in my memory.

Being the contrarian like Dad, I eschewed homerism and “adopted” the Chicago White Sox as my team. While not on WGN-TV as often as the Cubs, whom I also began taking a liking to, they were easy enough to follow, especially late at night when reception of WMAQ-AM from the Windy City was generally good.

The League Championship Series and World Series became must-see viewing for me in the late 1980s and early 1990s, even when the teams I preferred weren’t involved. There was always incentive to tune in and root against the “Bash Brothers” and the rest of the Oakland A’s.

We first visited Chicago in 1989 and, while I didn’t get to see a game, a friendly groundskeeper allowed me an opportunity to walk around the field at old Comiskey Park, “The Baseball Palace of the World.” It was a died-and-gone-to-heaven moment. We went back the following summer and took in a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, a White Sox game in the final year at old Comiskey, and some horse racing at Arlington and Sportsman’s all in the span of three days. What a trip!
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Old Comiskey Park, Chicago, 1990, by Rick Dikeman/Wikimedia Commons

When It All Began to Change

During the time the White Sox were consistently competitive in the early 1990s -- though not quite enough to end their three decade-plus pennant drought -- I learned more about the history of the game and began to sour more on the direction the majors were starting to go. Like many, I was turned off by the 1994 strike, but not nearly as much as I was by the addition of two more franchises, a third division in each league, and the wild card. Major League Baseball, to me, was starting to lose focus.

The sport my Dad followed in his youth seemed positively idyllic in comparison. The regular season lasted just as long, but the league itself consisted of only 16-20 teams. No dilution of talent there. Games were often finished in 2 1/2 hours or less, the ballparks were outdoors and on natural grass, and whoever was in first place on the final day of the season got a direct ticket to the World Series.

It was bad enough that the fourth best team during the regular season in each league now had a chance to win the World Series via a wild card spot. But, the final straws for me were the addition of two more teams and the (in my mind) dreaded introduction of interleague play. Not only was this no longer my Dad’s league, it wasn’t even mine.

“Not only was this no longer my Dad’s league, it wasn’t even mine.”

My interests and tastes were undoubtedly changing at this time anyway, but baseball was hardly adapting for the better as attention spans were getting shorter and competition for the entertainment dollar was increasing. All these changes might have been good business, considering the league, by most accounts, is flush with cash. However, I haven’t seen a resulting stabilization in baseball’s slide in popularity or imprint on the national consciousness.

Viewing Baseball in a New Light

If I could wave a wand and make the league into my ideal, my changes would be no less radical to some. A reduction in the number of franchises and in regular-season games played by a minimum of 20 percent would be a start. Why we need 162 games to determine who should make a playoff is beyond my comprehension. To reward teams that actually do well in the regular season, I’d also prefer a simple two-team LCS and World Series playoff format as before.

"Why we need 162 games to determine who should make a playoff is beyond my comprehension."

I no longer live in a city with a major league team (the closest being Cincinnati), but I still enjoy catching a game once every year or two. I’ve attended games in Philadelphia and Baltimore in recent years, and hope to finally catch my first game at Target Field in Minneapolis this summer.

My baseball fix now tends to come via the college game, specifically my alma mater the Louisville Cardinals. A 56-game regular season plus the NCAA tournament is almost the right amount of baseball for me, and it mirrors horse racing in the respect that players are around for two to four years and then leave to make room for the next group.

Baseball remains a terrific game and a fascinating watch in person but, at its highest level, there is simply too much of it. Life is too short to be asked to spectate that much.

Vance Hanson is a racing analyst for BetAmerica and Brisnet. You can read more of Vance's work at Brisnet.com.