This season of MLB will be like no other, with new rules promising to have a dramatic impact, not only changing the way the sport is played but also how it’s consumed by viewers. Between implementing a pitch clock, the shift ban and bigger bases, among other wholesale changes, MLB has effectively trimmed the fat, cutting down on redundancies that were slowing the game’s progress. It will take some getting used to (Dodgers vet Miguel Rojas says he needs the pitch clock like a hole in the head), but the early returns have been largely positive, with tangible evidence to support baseball’s reinvention as a leaner, more efficient watch than its stale, embarrassingly outdated predecessor.
Purists have long resented the notion that baseball needs to be “fixed,” preferring the methodical, almost leisurely pace of games, unspooling over the course of nine hard-fought innings. But, in adapting to cultural tastes increasingly shaped by social media, baseball had no choice but to evolve, packaging its product in ways more accessible to younger audiences with fleeting attention spans. Through two weeks of exhibition play in the Grapefruit (Florida) and Cactus (Arizona) Leagues, MLB has reported noticeably shorter games with more offense, addressing—in remarkably short order—two of the game’s longest-standing hurdles, each posing significant threats to the development of new fans.
Maybe the pendulum will swing back the other way as teams, in their lust to unearth any perceived advantage, find workarounds to combat some of the new rules (the Red Sox have already exposed a loophole related to the shift ban). But, if these trends hold, baseball will be well on its way to shedding its reputation as stagnant and ill-equipped for the digital age, presenting a new, sleeker version of America’s pastime. Of course, only time will tell if these improvements bring about lasting change, restoring baseball to its past relevance in a saturated entertainment landscape.
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