One is a juggernaut on a heat-seeking missile’s path for more (of everything), and it is powered by an audience that cannot get enough. The rocket may crash one day, but it’s not going to be tomorrow, so full speed ahead.
The other is losing its grip on a romantic national pastime label as it retreats toward becoming a regionalized sport that, while wildly popular in pockets such as this one, is fading elsewhere.
One has a salary cap that comes with the pluses and minuses that offers. The other doesn’t, and seems to have little interest in considering it.
Two drastically different sports. Two distinctly different directions. Too many traps to fall into, usually, when comparing and contrasting the National Football League with Major League Baseball.
But after seeing the NFL’s wildly successful postseason roll on after producing what is being praised as one of the most thrilling weekends of playoff football ever put on display, and watching baseball continue to slog through the process of attempting to end a self-imposed lockout, it’s a sad-but-true reality that baseball really would be better off borrowing some ideas from the big, bad NFL.
People are also reading…
No, I’m not talking about the Rays shaking down Tampa Bay in a rigged relocation scheme. I’m talking about some common-sense solutions already embraced by football that could help baseball stop losing ground.
Bring on the clock. MLB games in 2021 averaged 3 hours and 10 minutes. That’s a new high for the second consecutive season, despite MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s war on pace of play.
I don’t think there needs to be a three-batter minimum. I don’t think there needs to be an extra-innings rule that turns games into Little League theatre, or a rule about mound visits that rarely gets triggered, or a ban on defensive shifts, or some other shocking adjustment. I do think baseball could benefit from a strictly enforced 15-second pitch clock (17 seconds if runners are on base) that forces hitters to be in the box with eight seconds left, and limits the amount of time a pitcher can step off the rubber.
That was the approach used in the Low-A West level of the minors last season, and it shaved off a per-game average of 21 minutes of dead time. That’s significant.
If Patrick Mahomes can lead a game-tying drive in 13 seconds, 15 seconds is plenty to prepare to pitch and hit. Everyone in baseball agrees games are taking too long, but the sport continues to slow-play the most obvious solution that would cause the smallest amount of fundamental change to the game.
Add the pitch clock. Actually enforce it. These pitchers and hitters are elite athletes. They could and would adapt.
Stop ignoring the other clock. Not the pitch clock. The actual clock.
The NFL, per Elias Sports, just pulled off this past Saturday and Sunday its first postseason round in league history that featured four games that had a game-winning score on the final play. And you know what? People got to watch them. All of them.
Sunday’s electric finale, the Chiefs’ 42-36 overtime win against the Bills, kicked off at 5:40 p.m. Central and was in the bag by 9:15 despite an overtime.
None of the six games played in the 2021 World Series started before 7 p.m. Central. Half of them lasted longer than 3½ hours. Two lasted four hours. Atlanta fans who watched their beloved Braves win the series-deciding Game 6, in Houston, were up past 11:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night in their Eastern time zone.
What is the cost of ending your biggest games of the year at a time when a future generation of fans is asleep?
Keep a lid on labor beef. The NFL in March will celebrate the one-year anniversary of its most recently passed collective bargaining agreement. A narrowly approved deal between players and owners came despite the pandemic and some contentious negotiations. Do you remember hearing much about those negotiations? Me either.
They happened pretty quietly. Issues were solved. Compromises were made. NFL owners got the expanded postseason they wanted. NFL players got more money via a higher share of league revenue and bumped-up league minimums. Most importantly, for football fans, the NFL is set on labor issues through the 2030 season.
Meanwhile baseball owners and players managed to turn their bitter negotiations about the 2020 pandemic season into a depressing appetizer of the current and ongoing CBA standoff. The owner-led lockout squandered an offseason of promotion and now threatens to scramble spring training plans if a new deal cannot be reached soon.
Monday marked the first day of in-person negotiations between decision-makers on both sides since the start of the lockout. The best news out of it was that both sides are scheduled to meet again Tuesday.
The NFL, love it or hate it, is soaring. MLB, already receding, remains unplugged due to infighting. So, yes, there are some cross-sport lessons to be learned.