14 Days Till Opening Day: Baseball is Boring

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Being an immigrant means taking on the role of full-time volunteer cultural liaison, wittingly or not. The most intentional way I perform this duty is by inviting people over to my flat to watch baseball during the summer. More than a few times my friends have obliged, come over and dutifully tried paying attention, maybe asking a question or two, but the end result is always the same: a palpable boredom. I always apologetically say something like Well, baseball is a game of rhythm, and you have to feel that rhythm to enjoy it, and that takes time. Or hey, it’s a lovely day anyway, right?

And so here comes the news about the league being concerned with the pace of play and the fact that baseball’s fan demographics are the oldest of the Big 4 sports leagues; to attract young kids, the thinking goes, the game needs to be quicker and more exciting.

It’s bullshit. Games have certainly gotten longer, maybe too long, but knocking an average of 10 minutes off the length of a baseball game with various clocks and timers is not how baseball is going to win over the hearts of teenage sports fans. The fact is this: baseball is supposed to be boring. Some would prefer to term “leisurely”, and that’s fine, but at its heart it’s a boring game. The premise of the game is “throw the ball and see if anything happens”, and everyone understands that the vast majority of the time, nothing much will. And that’s perfect.

When I sheepishly tell my Scottish friends about the rhythm of baseball, I mean that in the time between pitches, as the pitcher stares into space while applying rosin, or the batter does his absurd and overlong glove-tightening routine, you’re supposed to be doing something else: talking to a friend, or thinking about pitch selection and strategy, or having a sexual daydream that disgusts you. Take a bite of your hot dog, sip your beer, and empty your mind for a few seconds; even if the matchup is Price vs Ortiz, the inevitable thoughts of your mortality and eternal oblivion won’t be able to fully creep back in before the next pitch is delivered.

This is the point. Baseball isn’t an event, it’s a fixture. It can be exciting at times, like when you accidentally microwave a fork, but the point of the thing is to quietly and reliable do its job: pace lazy summer days and fill nice summer evenings. Other sports have their mid-season exhibitions of tedium between two hopeless teams, with vast, empty swathes of seats and poor television ratings, but in those other sports this is seen as deeply regrettable. In baseball, it’s as essential as a pennant race.

This is anathema to our society’s modern idea of entertainment. It needs to be loud, fast, and sexy, and it needs to be an event. And you just can’t make baseball any of those things without fundamentally changing it. There’s no doubt the league will contort the game into a grotesque, faint likeness of its former self if they think it will increase the chances a teenager asks for a Buster Posey jersey for Christmas, I just think it’ll be a shame.*

*These exact feelings were expressed when overhand pitching became legal, when the pitching box was moved back, when a foul began to count as a strike, when the Deadball era ended and home runs became a thing, when the color barrier was broken, when the mound was lowered, when the DH was implemented, when instant replay was implemented, on and on into the future until the last abandoned ballpark collapses in on itself.

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