Popo: Note to the Commissioner -- keep your mitts off the game

Posted at 11:00 AM, Feb 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-28 11:00:39-05

I promised myself that if I ever had a son or daughter, I would give him or her the chance to enjoy baseball with the same passion and romance that I had. I looked forward to it.

Then Matthew happened.

I was a stick-and-ball guy -- baseball to football to basketball was the perfect rotation. Matt turned out to be a field-and-stream guy -- fishing to hunting to dirt biking. This wasn't part of the plan.

I took him to the ballpark from the time he could walk. I signed him up for Little League. He'd drive with me to the highest point near our house so we could get better radio reception to hear my team, the Cleveland Indians. It didn't work.

We'd go into a bookstore together. I'd pick up a Sports Illustrated; he'd want Bass Angler. We'd go to Dick's and I'd suggest a new bat; he lobbied for a rod and reel. I'd propose a night at the ballpark; he'd prefer to throw a line into the neighbor's pond.

I finally realized that I couldn't force him to love baseball. I couldn't shove the game down his throat. My mother tried to do that with me with lima beans, and I still won't eat them.

This is what Major League Baseball is trying to do. They want youngsters to embrace the game, and they're willing to change the game to make it happen.

In past weeks, ideas have been proposed to speed up the game in order to make it more palatable to kids. Do they really think a faster game is a better game? A great deal of baseball's lure is its leisurely pace and then its sudden bursts of action.

This argument is decades old at least. I remember discussing it with former Reds General Manager Murray Cook back in the '80s. He couldn't believe the call for quicker games. He thought, "If people were willing to buy a ticket for a game, why would they want to get it over with in a hurry? Why not get your money's worth?"

I think baseball has developed an inferiority complex. It's certainly not as popular as football, and it's not as hip as basketball, so it's intent on adding some dash and flash.

Ideas have been suggested to install a pitch clock or limit visits to the mound. They've already eliminated the pitches on intentional walks. There is also an experiment for games that venture into extra innings. Each team would start each at-bat in extra innings with a runner in scoring position.

It sounds like rules we used to make up on the sandlot when we could only scrape together four players to a side. We'd innovate to suit our personnel. We'd throw the ball to the pitcher's mound to register an out. Anything hit to the right of second base was an automatic out. We'd use imaginary runners if the bases were full.

We did it out of necessity. They're doing it out of desperation.

Obviously the youth of today aren't as interested in baseball as they once were. Baseball doesn't want to go the way of boxing and horse racing, but maybe they should look at economics instead of theatrics. I wonder if any of those guys have tried to take a family of four to game recently and then feed them over nine innings. There are other things out there a lot more affordable.

You see my picture at the top of the page and you probably figure I'm a baseball purist. Far from it. I've always favored the designated hitter -- who wants to see a pitcher come to the plate? -- and I like video replays. Why not get the call right? I'm even OK with meddling with the size of the strike zone if it can create more offense. The pendulum has swung too far in favor of the pitcher.

I think baseball is over-reacting to consultants, accountants and broadcast executives who say the game needs to be modernized. Popularity comes and goes with every sport. Not long ago, the NBA was toxic. That's no longer the case. Not long ago, NASCAR was the fastest growing sport in America. That's changed. Not long ago, soccer was going to take over the world. I'm still waiting.

Baseball is an acquired taste, just like asparagus, Van Morrison and movies by the Coen brothers. Don't force it. Just give it a try and see if you like it.

I should note that my son never became a rabid baseball fan, but he took in every inning of the 2016 World Series because he knew my team was involved in an epic conflict with the Cubs. That was good enough for me. We were in different places, but we could rejoice one night and agonize the next. When it was over, we both felt bad.

For a moment. Then he went fishing.

Maybe I should give it a try.

John Popovich is sports director and anchor at WCPO. Follow him on Twitter @Popo_WCPOsports.