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Changes MLB Should Take From the KBO

Written by Eli Kleinmann

A preseason KBO game in Seoul, South Korea. (Courtesy of the Associated Press)

While we wait for the return of MLB it is time to take a serious look at the game of baseball. Major League Baseball has seen a steady decline in average attendance and underwhelming World Series ratings. Clearly America’s pastime is in need of some changes and with MLB on hold and the only live baseball on right now being from the Korean Baseball Organization, the MLB should use the differences between the two leagues as inspiration for the changes needed. With that in mind, here are the four ideas from the KBO that could improve the game of baseball here in America.

Baseball needs to give up the unwritten rule against bat flips.

Jose Bautista’s Bautista’s bat flip in the 2015 ALDS. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

Bat flips can be an exciting part of the game and something that helps fans remember the moment long after the day it happens.

Look at Jose Bautista’s ALDS home run back in October 2015. It is a home run that everyone remembers, but it was not even a walk-off or a hit that sealed the World Series. His bat flip made it one of the most memorable moments in MLB history.

While Bautista captured greatness with his bat flip, other MLB moments have struggled to do the same. This has led to the continued loss of popularity of baseball. In order to reverse that trend, MLB needs to focus on how to help it’s players rise to stardom and allowing bat flips is the perfect place to start.

Currently Mike Trout is one of the best players of all time, yet he, along with most players in Major League Baseball, has a lot less name recognition compared to the stars of the NBA and NFL. Of course, that is in part due to the popularity of those leagues, but it is also a reflection on what the unwritten rules allow baseball players to do. Players need to be allowed to express themselves when they make a great play or come through for a big time hit. In the NFL, celebrations have become a huge part of the game and in the NBA, players celebrate after hitting a big time shot. A homerun needs to be treated the same way. It needs to be viewed as a celebration. That is how it is viewed in the KBO and that is exactly how it should be viewed here. A bat flip is a celebration, not an attempt to disrespect the pitcher -- it is a celebration for a hitter who just accomplished an incredible feat. So if the goal is to expand the marketability of baseball to the next generation of sports fans who like the big plays but also love the celebrations that come with it, then the acceptance of bat flips needs to be a priority.

If all these reasons do not convince the league that bat flips need to be accepted, then how about the fact that when pitchers attempt their retaliation it comes in the form of a 90 plus mile an hour baseball coming at a player’s body? Players can get severely hurt and that is something MLB needs to prevent. For a sport that is already losing fan enthusiasm the last thing that it needs to be dealing with is the perception that when players celebrate the retaliation from the opposing team could very easily hurt them. This idea that it is okay to hurt anyone because they offended you, much less just because they are celebrating their own achievement is embarrassing. It is something that Major League Baseball needs to work hard to get rid of.

I understand that accepting bat flips is not a change that can happen in a day, a month or even a season. It is a process that could take a generation but if we keep telling ourselves that now is not a good time to try then we will never get it done.

It is time for bat flips to become a part of Major League Baseball so let’s not wait another year, let's start now.

Universal DH

David Ortiz (batter) is one of the best designated hitters in MLB history. (Courtesy of The Boston Globe)

It is time for the National League to adopt the designated hitter. The most obvious reason is that having a designated hitter will limit the danger to pitchers. We see it all too often that pitchers get hurt either batting or running the bases, and injuries off the mound even plague some of the best pitchers in the game including Adam Wainwright, Jacob DeGrom, and Masahiro Tanaka. The game is at its best when those guys on the mound are dealing, not on the disabled list.

Adding the designated hitter will increase the offense in the game. Baseball struggles to garner the attention of other sports such as basketball or football. Baseball is notorious for being slow and at points, boring. Added offensive production is the best way to attract more excitement from the casual fan and that is exactly what a designated hitter can provide. Gone will be the days when a team loads the bases only to have the pitcher spot coming up or when teams can pitch around the eighth batter in order to face the pitcher who is almost always an automatic out. With a designated hitter in the lineup teams will lose the liability of the pitcher’s spot in the order. As Max Scherzer puts it, “baseball will be going from ‘a pitcher swinging a wet newspaper’ to ‘a real hitter hitting home runs’ and everyone who calls themselves a baseball fan should want that.”

Shortening the season

Major League Baseball needs to shorten the regular season. The KBO plays 144 games and that should be a goal for MLB. A shortened season can create more intrigue for each game because every game will matter more. If there are only 140 games, it will be harder for a manager to just give a game away because each game has added value. While 22 games does not seem like a lot to lose, 22 games has completely changed teams seasons in the past.

Evan Longoria’s walk off home run on the final day of the 2011 season. (Courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times)

In 2011 the Boston Red Sox led Tampa Bay Rays by nine games in the wildcard standings on September 1st which at the time was a lead that had never been overcome that late in the season. Over the next month, the Red Sox went 7-20 while the Rays went 17-10, and on the final day of the regular season, the Rays overcame the nine game deficit in the standings and clinched the wild card spot on a walk off homerun by Evan Longoria.

Fast Forward one year later, when the Oakland Athletics won 13 out of the final 15 games in August, but by September 24 the A’s trailed the Texas Rangers by 5 games in the standings with only nine games left to play. Then the A’s went on another streak and won eight out of their last nine games, including their final game of the season against the Rangers, in which they clinched the American League West division.

These two moments are compelling evidence that streaks of just over 20 games can alter a team's entire season.

By shortening the season those moments will not be lost, in fact it is quite the opposite. With fewer games, teams will not just put in their long reliever and be content with a loss when they are down four or five runs. The shorter season will encourage them to do everything in their power to try and win those games because if a team gets hot like the Athletics or the Rays it will have a larger impact in a 140 game season compared to the current 162 games. With baseball looking for ways to add intrigue in the game, increasing the value of every game would certainly be a start to the solution.

Changing the playoff format

Shortening the regular season gives an opportunity to add games to the postseason and expand the playoffs. Playoffs are always the most exciting part of sports so the opportunity to expand them should be greeted enthusiastically.

Baseball’s goal should be to add more teams to the playoff. By adding teams to the playoffs more teams across the league will try and make playoff pushes instead of selling all of their players at the deadline. This also increases fan participation. If more teams are in the playoff hunt it will attract fans to follow their teams in the regular season because they know that their team has a chance to make the playoffs. Currently baseball has the fewest number of teams that make the playoffs each year in the major four sports in the United States. The NBA and NHL both have 16 teams in the playoffs while the NFL just expanded their playoffs to 14 teams total. In comparison, the MLB is way behind at just 10 teams total. Expanding that number will keep more fans watching through the fall as sports such as football, basketball and hockey begin play.

Some fans worry that an expanded playoff will damage the integrity of the game and devalue winning during the regular season. This is not a legitimate concern. The better teams will have higher seeds and preferable matchups and by expanding the playoffs, more fans will experience the excitement which benefits baseball. If Major League Baseball adds six more teams to the playoffs, then that keeps six more fan bases engaged.

Additionally, the current playoff format does not generally lead to the best team winning the World Series. In fact, since 1969 only 13 teams with the best record in baseball have won it all. Compare that with 7 Wild Card teams winning the Fall Classic since 1995.

The Washington Nationals, a Wild Card team, celebrating after winning the 2019 World Series. (Courtesy of CBS Sports)

Yet the idea of wanting the best teams to make it to the Fall Classic is a good argument. MLB should give the best team in each league a bye, similar to what the KBO does for their playoffs. The bye will bolster the teams chances to make it to the World Series in two ways. First, the team will get one round off which means they need to win fewer games in order to get to the World Series. Second, a bye will provide the team with some needed rest days after a long regular season. This gives the team less incentive to let the best players sit during the end of the regular season because there is a good chance that they will be fighting for the bye and the teams want to keep their players fresh for when they do have to play in the postseason.

Major League Baseball needs to create excitement in a sport that is quickly losing popularity. The goal is not to change the game of baseball that we all know and love, but as is to improve the game, to strengthen the game and find a way to make the game one that is more loved by all.

Originally Published on Riding the Pine

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