Water Cooler Talk Day 1: Will Baseball Ever Reach The Height It Did In 1998?
Every weekday morning I will be putting together ‘water cooler’ topics that have quick thoughts or stats that you can use, as well as opening questions to ask each other throughout the day.
Since ESPN went the baseball route with the latest 30 for 30, ‘Long Gone Summer’ highlighted what many will consider the last time baseball was relevant. The time everyone in the country was glued to every single pitch that McGwire and Sosa saw.
McGwire. Sosa. It was about them, then baseball followed.
ESPN highlighted a stat on Sunday highlighting that the 1998 baseball season had ratings 21% higher than any other season on the network. Fans cared, and better yet, non-baseball fans cared too.
The question that I kept asking myself throughout the documentary was how can we get the excitement around the game back?
Well, for starters, we need the game of baseball back (another article, another day).
It’s a complicated question, right? The beauty of this race was that it was every single day. While yes the game of baseball benefitted from the race, at the end of the day it was not about the game, it was about home runs.
The short answer to this complicated question is that if we were to ever see a race like this again, would fans be able to follow it without a skeptical eye? If it did happen again I would say; ‘Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.’
Many people have taken the stance; "Baseball games need to be shorter, it's the pace of play that is killing the sport!" Is this really the case? Sure, games can seem to drag on in comparison to other leagues, but those leagues are built around a different sport.
The average game in 1998 lasted 2 hours and 52 minutes, while in 2019 the average was three hours and 10 minutes.
Did the addition of 18 minutes from the "best time in baseball" create the idea of the "pace of play is killing the sport"?
What if speeding up the game is just a simply easier, and cheaper excuse as to why fewer people are watching. Adding in a pitch clock to speed the game up by no more than 5 minutes is much less expensive than investing in long-term marketing to enhance the product we see on and off the field.
Again, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.
What do you think? Ask a coworker, family member, friend, will we ever see the game of baseball return to the height of 1998, or have they struck out?