Major League Baseball (MLB) is suffering a sharp decline in attendance so far this year. Compared to the same point last year some 800,000 fans have opted to stay away from ball parks. Home runs are up, strikeouts are up, even overall revenue is up, but seats remain empty.
Often cited as a contributing factor is old stadiums with large capacities versus the more intimate smaller parks with a lesser number of seats. The smaller venues tend, on average, to draw more fans. Another possible problem is the length of the game now, which MLB has been looking at for several seasons.
I’m no expert, but I think another problem is that the game has been turned over to statistic-gobbling geeks. One need only look at the concept of the pitch count. Think back to April 1 of this year. The Baltimore Orioles are in Toronto playing the Blue Jays. The starting Orioles pitcher, David Hess, is throwing a no-hitter. He completes the sixth inning looking good. Players in the dugout have begun the process of avoiding him lest they jinx the potential no-hitter.
Hess comes out of the dugout to start the seventh inning and gets the lead-off hitter to line-out. The excitement grows, even in another team’s building, as the prospect of an early season no-hitter becomes more real with every out. But wait, here comes Orioles manager Brandon Hyde to the mound. Surely he’s just checking on Hess, giving him a little breather. It defies baseball lore (if not statistics) to even think he would remove him from the game, having tossed 6⅓ innings without giving up a hit. But that’s just what happened.
Hess’ reaction was shock and awe. But, having thrown 82 pitches Hyde determined it was time to yank him in case he should hurt his arm and jeopardized his season or career. I say this is the sort of thing that will kill baseball.
The Orioles are having a tough year. Had Hess completed a no-hitter the team would still be in dire straits, but a no hitter is (or was) one of those wonderful aspects of the game. A pitcher at his very best challenging each batter, and, starting about the fifth inning, doing the math in his head. Fielders feeling the tension grow as the game moves along and the situation becomes apparent, but still wanting every ball to be hit to them. Fans holding their collective breath with every hit ball, especially those long foul balls. Then sitting back and recouping while the other team bats.
Unfortunately fans, players – particularly Hess – were denied this because of a pitch-count. I suspect there is an player agent involved in this somewhere, trying to protect their meal ticket at the expense of good old fashioned baseball.