How the MLB Could Make Baseball more Interesting

I’m very casual when it comes to baseball nowadays. I’m a Cubs fan, I used to watch all the games, but I just couldn’t sustain a consistent passion for it. I still keep myself updated in terms of moves the team makes and their position in the standings and all that but I just can’t stay invested in the action, day to day. Part of that is probably because I just don’t find baseball as a sport all that interesting. The games are too long and the 162 game schedule is daunting, to say the least. The MLB can be fixed, and here are some ways I think they can do it, some being smaller ways and some being larger.

First off, this one has to do with pitchers. I propose to put a 15-second time limit on pitchers from the time the pitcher receives the ball back from the catcher to the time he gets on the rubber on the pitcher’s mound. Not all, but some pitchers (mostly relief pitchers) take way too long after receiving the ball to make the next pitch. Some pitchers will catch the ball, walk around the mound, take their glove off, rub the ball up, grab the rosin bag, adjust their hats, take three deep breaths, and then, finally, they are ready to take the sign from the catcher.

Fifteen seconds is more than enough time to be ready to throw the next pitch. If the pitcher is not toeing the rubber within 15 seconds of receiving the baseball, the count (number of balls and strikes) on the batter will automatically get a ball added to it. For example, The first pitch of the at-bat is taken for a strike, making the count 0 balls and 1 strike. The catcher throws the ball back to the pitcher. If the pitcher is not on the mound/rubber within 15 seconds, the count automatically gets a “ball” added to it, making the count 1-1. This rule would absolutely speed up the game, especially in the later innings when relief pitchers are inserted into the game.

My second proposed rule is that if a batter does not swing at a pitch, he is not allowed to step out of the batter’s box. Or, if the batter does decide to step out of the batter’s box after swinging at a pitch, the pitcher does not have to wait for the batter to return to the box to make the next pitch. Some players, after taking a pitch, take a long time getting regrouped. They will readjust both batting gloves, take a few practice swings—how do I say this non-graphically? uhmm…”adjust themselves” —and look at their bat before stepping back into the batter’s box. And the pitcher has to wait on the batter before he can throw the pitch.

Not with this rule enacted. If the pitcher is ready to throw the ball and the batter is not ready, TOUGH! Throw the ball! Let’s get this game moving! Of course, the batter can still request the umpire for “time” at any point, just like the current rule states. After a batter swings (whether he misses, fouls the ball off, or puts the ball in play), the batter is allowed to step out of the batter’s box, and the pitcher has to wait for the batter to get in the box before making a pitch; unless the umpire thinks the batter is taking too long and allows the pitcher to pitch the ball (that last part is already part of MLB rules.) This rule, along with my first proposed rule of limiting the pitcher to be on the mound within 15 seconds of receiving the ball, should definitely speed the game up.

 

Next. DH or no DH for Both Leagues. This is the one thing that I care the least about, but I do think that both leagues should play under the same rules. Either have both leagues implement the designated hitter or have the pitchers bat in both leagues. I can understand the arguments on both sides: In the National League, where there is no DH and the pitcher bats, there is more strategy involved with pinch hitters, pitching changes, double switches, etc. At the same time, with the American League and the DH, there are no “breaks” in the lineup since the pitcher does not bat. All of the other professional sports leagues’ different conferences operate under the same rules. The NFL doesn’t allow 13 players to play defense in the NFC, and only 12 players play defense in the AFC; both leagues play under the same rules. Baseball should be the same way.

Take the Human Element Out of Calling Balls and Strikes. You might find this controversial, just saying. This is one of my biggest problems with baseball: The strike zone and how it differs from umpire to umpire. This might sound like a dumb question, but shouldn’t a pitch be called a strike if it is in the strike zone? And shouldn’t a pitch be called a ball if it is outside the strike zone? I’ll answer for you: Yes. That is how it should be. But it isn’t always true. Umpires have different views of what is a strike and what is a ball. You hear it on broadcasts all the time: “Well, the home plate umpire is giving the pitcher that low strike” or “The umpire is giving that outside corner today.” Shouldn’t the strike zone be the same every day? Why would a pitch thrown on Monday be called a strike while the same exact pitch on Wednesday is called a ball? Just because there is a different umpire that day? That does not make any sense to me. If there is the technology to accurately distinguish a ball from a strike every time (Spoiler: There is!), why not use it? A pitch inside the strike zone is a strike.

A pitch outside the strike zone is a ball. Simple! This would also stop a lot of arguments (and some ejections) between managers/pitchers/catchers and umpires. I am not saying that home plate umpires are bad at calling strikes. It is a hard job, and they get the call right the vast majority of the time. Umpires make mistakes because they are human. That’s okay. But if baseball can take missed calls out of the game, wouldn’t it be logical to do so? I am also not saying there shouldn’t be home plate umpires at all: there is still the need to call balks, call fair and foul balls, etc. but the MLB should allow the technology to accurately call balls and strikes accurately 100% of the time.

 

Why I Believe the NHL is the Most Entertaining Major Sports League

The National Hockey League is a lot of fun, and a lot of that is correlated to the sport of hockey. I’m a hockey player myself. Call me bias all you want. It doesn’t matter because hockey is the most action-packed and fastest-paced sport there is. It’s non-stop, end to end, back and forth. Drama ensues at every turn of the game. The momentum swings are like no other and this is part of the equation. Yes, every other major sports league is light years ahead in terms of branding and popularity, but that doesn’t mean they’re more ENTERTAINING. There’s a difference. Let’s dive in.

The most glaring thing that makes the NHL stand out is the playoffs and the trophy that is hoisted at the end of them. The Stanley Cup. A full 82 game season followed up by a playoff run requiring you to get through 4 straight rounds and win 16 games. Think about that for a second. The amount of luck that is required when it comes to staying healthy all year and avoiding injuries. The trophy itself is the oldest and standing at 35 inches high, it’s also the fanciest.

Yes, the NFL playoffs are a thriller. But the winner has to win four games max. Most winners need three wins, including two home games, before they get to be Super Bowl Champions. Major League Baseball only has three rounds of playoff action, the first one being a best-of-five series. As for the NBA, usually, the winners only have one or two competitive series when they win, if that at all.

The Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in all of sports. Four grueling best-of-seven series’ where players work their tails off like absolutely no other sport. The intensity in playoff games is like no other. As i said, the playoffs also last two months. In the end, winning the championship matters. And the NHL’s path to winning it all is the longest, most exciting, most difficult, and most thrilling.

Dont think i forgot about this. Commercials. What can you complain about? Three two-minute time-outs during each period. None during overtime or shootouts. In the NFL, one team scores (and they need to review) followed by a five-minute break. The extra point becomes another commercial break. Kickoff becomes another commercial break. MLB? They have commercials every half-inning, that’s 18 commercials guaranteed a game, plus reviews and if a team changes its pitcher. The NBA? Well, the last 40 or so seconds of a game take beyond 10 minutes to finish. So that becomes boring.

With the NHL, you know what commercials are coming. Six minutes between commercials is nothing to complain about. And that’s all there is.

Next up, sudden death overtime. No other sport does overtime right like the NHL. MLB goes to extra innings which drag on, yay. NBA gives teams five minutes to outscore the other, or it drags on forever. NFL plays one quarter, otherwise, it’s a tie. Usually, the losing team doesn’t get a chance to possess the ball in overtime. The NHL has the best finishes to their games. Even before the current 3-on-3 format was established, 4-on-4 was thrilling with the speed and open ice. Say what you want about the shootout, but the suspense makes it exciting. And 5-on-5 action to determine playoff games set up amazing finishes.

The players in the NHL are loyal. For the most part.

In so many ways, money controls sports and athletes. How many athletes say it’s not about the money yet they leave to go to an undesired place to make more dollars?

In the NHL, superstar players have a long history of sticking together to one team their entire career. Bobby Orr and Maurice Richard stuck to one team. Nicklas Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman never left Detroit. Ditto for Joe Sakic in Colorado. Until his final year, Martin Brodeur stayed with New Jersey. Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane have no real thoughts about leaving their cities. It’s much easier to admire athlete loyalty more than money. And the NHL proves that like no other.

 

Also, players come from all over the world in the NHL.

Almost every NFL player is American. Very few aren’t American in the NBA. Once again, not a lot of people around the world will follow if there isn’t much diversity.

In the NHL, players come from all over the world. Aside from Canada and the U.S., superstars come from Russia and all over Europe, especially Sweden, France, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. David Pastrnak and Alex Ovechkin are huge in their respective homelands even if they’re playing in North America. That just makes it more enjoyable for fans all over the world. And so, making the NHL becomes a bigger deal when scouts are scouting from every corner of the planet.

It’s because of this that hockey at the Olympics is super entertaining. You get to see all these different guys playing for different countries. I remember when I first saw Slovenia playing and out comes Anze Kopitar. Granted, the NHL doesn’t always want to send their players to the Olympics but hey, the point still stands.

With all of this in mind, the NHL has to be the most entertaining league. They have a long ways to go in terms of making things even more diverse but progress is definitely being made and hockey is always going to be enjoyable.

 

 

Why the NFL Draft is the Best of All Major Sports

The NFL draft…..a spectacle that I believe even non-football fans should admire, and rightly so, it’s the perfect example in professional sports of how the draft SHOULD be run. In every sense, top to bottom.

First, a little background information. The draft has been in New York City since 1965 and has had to move into large venues as the event has grown incredibly in popularity, drawing in fans from all over the place who are looking for an easy reason to paint their faces and wear their favorite jersey in April. Tickets are free, but long waits in line can be expected for fans hoping to get a live glimpse of their team’s high profile picks, or to boo at their team picking the “wrong” player. Fans have to arrive early in order to attend the draft.

The current format consists of seven rounds and each time is assigned a selection in each round, with the team with the worst record from the prior season being assigned the first pick in every round. The team with the second-worst record gets the second pick, and so on. Ties are broken by teams’ strength of schedule. The Super Bowl winner would of course always pick last.

The first overall pick generally gets the richest contract, but other contracts rely on a number of variables. While they generally are based on the previous year’s second overall pick, third overall, etc., each player’s position also is taken into account. Quarterbacks, for example, usually demand more money than offensive linemen, which can change those dollar figures slightly.

Each team has its representatives attend the draft. During the draft, one team is always “on the clock”. In Round 1, teams have 15 minutes to make their choice. The decision time drops to 10 minutes in the second round and to 5 minutes in Rounds 3-7. If a team doesn’t make a decision within its allowed time, the team still can submit its selection at any time after its time is up, but the next team can pick before it, thus possibly stealing a player the late team may have been eyeing.

This happened in 2010 for example

The first reason why I think the NFL draft is the best of any major sports league is because of the age at which the players are drafted. As most football fans will know, players are drafted out of college ball and are usually around the age range of 23-24 ish. This makes for a draft that’s entertaining throughout because at this age the players are more mature, meaning a lot of the guys can come out of the draft and make an impact on their respective team that they were drafted by within a year or two at the most. This makes each team’s picks even more valuable because you can get guys deep into the later rounds who are impact players right away. It rewards the best scouting rooms in the league and as a fan, it does nothing but ramp up the intensity altogether.

As a Bears fan, (yeah go ahead and laugh but jokes on you Justin Fields will be running the league in no time) I remember the last draft when it was announced that the Bears were trading up from pick 20 to 11 to select Fields and I absolutely couldn’t believe it. This was not just because of how much skill he possesses and potential, but also simply because at the age of 22 you know he can come in and make an impact instantly. It also simply gives the fanbases of the weaker teams more hope because they know that if they can just get their draft picks right, they’ll have guys who can be effective players instantaneously.

Another great thing about the draft is the bread and butter draft order process, or should I say, lack thereof. It’s simple. The order of the selections is entirely based on the standings. The lowest-ranked team picks first, second-worst picks second, and so on. You may be thinking, “well shouldn’t that just be obvious that the worst team always picks first?”

Think again.

The NHL uses a lottery system that has received its fair share of hate, and I can’t say I disagree with a lot of it. The team’s logos get thrown into a small ping pong ball and while the teams with the worst records have a higher chance of being drawn into that first selection, there’s still much too high of a chance that a team who probably doesn’t need the best pick will be lucky enough to draw first overall.

I also just can’t help but believe that the NFL does a great job when it comes to marketing the draft. You see it all over the place when it’s coming towards draft time and everyone gets excited. Of course, the overwhelming popularity of college football helps immensely with this, because fans end up knowing every single thing about every draft prospects’ life from top to bottom.

Regardless of this, the media attention of football and the popularity that the sport has plays into what makes the spectacle of the NFL draft so good. When there is a general sense of hype and excitement, it just ends up spreading throughout each and every fanbase, with all of them hoping for a memorable draft night that will change the future of the franchise in a heartbeat, and one draft can do this because like I said, the NFL draft is deep into the later rounds most the time, filled with diamond in the rough players who can make an impact right off the hop.

 

 

 

 

 

Why the NHL Reconnecting with ESPN was huge for the League

Prior to the National Hockey League’s 2004-2005 lockout, ESPN had been partnered with the NHL and had the rights to show the league’s games. It was always exciting. Gary Thorne, who was the main play-by-play guy at the time, made a career out of incredible calls. A lot of which would send goosebumps down your entire body, including this call on Paul Kariya’s 2003 Stanley Cup Finals goal.

Not to mention, 5 games a week were also shown on ESPN 2, only adding to the pure excitement of hockey being broadcasted by such a large network. However, when the lockout I previously mentioned came along, ESPN refused to get into a bidding war, eventually losing the rights to broadcast the league and the company went on to sign a massive deal with the NBA and Monday Night Football. At the time ESPN felt that they would be overpaying for the rights to a league that simply just wasn’t popular enough to justify it.

The NHL moved to NBC Sports from 2005 onwards which proved to be underwhelming, to say the least. NBC never really did a good job of marketing the league itself and it was painfully obvious just how far ahead the other major sports leagues were in terms of how well marketed they were. Add this to the fact that hockey is simply just not as popular as baseball and basketball or football in American sports and you realize that the NHL could ill afford to be behind the 8 ball when it came to marketing.

But, in a world where streaming is now taking over, and after a 16-year absence from the NHL….it again made sense for ESPN to reconnect with the National Hockey League. The Walt Disney company which owns ESPN and ABC announced a 7-year partnership that would see 25 games a season and half the playoffs broadcasted on either ESPN or ABC, as well as four of the seven Stanley Cup Finals in the deal. It was later announced that ABC would televise 10 of the games in the 2021-22 season, consisting of the Thanksgiving Showdown and a Saturday Game of the week package beginning in late February. ESPN will air 18 games.

As for streaming, it was announced that 75 exclusive national games would be broadcast on ESPN+ and Hulu with most of them being on Tuesday and Thursday nights this season.

Like I said earlier, the NHL will never be as popular as the NFL, MLB, or NBA but that doesn’t mean the league can’t grow due to this deal. With ESPN being the worldwide leader in sports the game now has the potential to grow globally. In order for this to work though, ESPN will have to post the league a lot on their Instagram and Twitter feeds. For example, if they posted a Connor McDavid end-to-end goal and a random sports fan just getting exposed to hockey saw it, this would be the kind of benefit the NHL needs.

Diversity in hockey is also a big thing when it comes to popularity, it’s a touchy subject, but most of the league is predominantly white. Other factors like how expensive the sport also contributes to the problem.

 

The larger media coverage will allow for more fun personalities in the league. The NHL has been pretty bad when it comes to showcasing individual personalities. The few fun personalities in the league are mostly from Europe like Alex Ovechkin and David Pastrňák, which only make up 27% of the league. Larger media coverage will allow for more personalities and make the league fun as a whole.

That’s a key thing for the league though, being fun. During the 1990s, what killed the league was when teams like the New Jersey Devils won games 1-0 or 2-1. And I know this will not sound good, but the Islanders will not be marketed that much on ESPN. The Islanders fit the description of those ’90s Devils that win games 2-1 and do not score that much. The NHL should promote the physical aspect of the game but mainly prioritize the scoring aspect of the game because frankly, that’s where the game has headed in today’s world.

But ESPN must have good play-by-play announcers and analysts or this deal will go down the drain fast. If you have ever watched baseball on ESPN you know why this is a big concern. They cannot have Barry Melrose be on every broadcast in the playoffs or regular-season game. That will kill the sport and make it excruciating to watch for even die-hard hockey fans. They need to bring in guys like Brendan Burke, and especially Gary Thorne. Considering the retirement by Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, the NHL is looking for its next voice. Someone who can be remembered for giving us all goosebumps.

I think it’s an absolute tragedy that Gary Thorne isn’t calling NHL games anymore. As I stated earlier in the article, his antics and just the pure delivery of his calls are something that the casual fan can latch onto, which is what all of this is about in the first place.

The only way this goes wrong for the league is if the NHL ruins it themselves. If they continue to not give the most boisterous players enough of a platform to be themselves then even ESPN won’t be able to help. We need to see more of a player like Ovi behind the scenes. Fans will love it and at the same time, you will see the casual fan get drawn in. I’ve known so many people myself who didn’t really like the sport of hockey itself but they’d come tell me that they thought so and so was a cool person and player. The NHL can grow if it wants to.