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Saturday Sports: Possible Changes In Baseball


Now it's time for sports.


SIMON: It's spring training time, and Major League Baseball owners say that without major changes in the game they fear the national pastime, it could be a thing of the past. Howard Bryant of and ESPN the Magazine joins us from Arizona. Howard, out there for that great book festival in Tucson?

HOWARD BRYANT: You know, I did the Tucson book festival a couple of years ago. But no, I'm just here for Giants and Cubs and A's and Indians...

SIMON: Spring training.

BRYANT: ...And all of the great spring training baseball from the Cactus League.

SIMON: The Cubs finally win the World Series and now the owners want to change all the rules. What's going on?

BRYANT: (Laughter) Well, what's going on is I can give you - Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said it best, right? He said 100 years ago, the most popular sports in America were boxing, baseball and horse racing. And now nobody cares about boxing or horse racing, so we shouldn't feel like we're invincible. Baseball is in trouble even though revenues are at $12 billion.

They think - the owners, that is, think that the game is too slow. They think that in an era of people who have short attention spans with small screens that the game needs an interjection, shall we say, of a little bit of pace. And so what they want to do is they already got rid of the time on an intentional walk. No more four pitches...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Go down to first base when you get a signal from the dugout.

SIMON: That'll save 15 seconds right there, yeah.

BRYANT: (Laughter) Exactly. And there's a battle going on here. There's a battle that's taking place between the owners and the players. That's something new in baseball, right? And so the - baseball's not going to look the way we've seen it before. And I think that you've got the purists who are really upset about it. But the real question that a lot of the baseball people, that the players feel is that - do you want to watch baseball or do you want to watch something else? If - why are we rounding the bases if you want to save time when you hit a home run? Are you here to watch baseball or are you here because you - you know, you want to make dinner reservations after the game?

SIMON: Yeah. What about getting rid of, I don't know, let's say a quarter of the ads? That'd speed up the game, right?

BRYANT: That's the battle, Scott. That's the one - and it's really interesting when you parse the words. When you listen to the owners, they'll tell you that we don't have a problem with time of game. We have a problem with pace of play. And when you frame it that way you can blame the players. If you frame it in terms of time of game, then you immediately say - which a lot of fans have said - well, why are the commercials so long?

Well, commercials cut into the money, and so far nobody has been willing to cut into the money. Obviously, you've got two and a half minutes in between - in between innings.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: You could shave 25 minutes off of a game, but then you'd also be shaving into profits, and you know what that does.

SIMON: Yeah. I have a problem almost more than the length of the game with how late the games start, particularly in the championship season. And I think it's hard to get a new generation of fans if most of them have to go to bed before they can see the end of the game in the eighth or ninth inning.

BRYANT: No question. There hasn't been a World Series day game since 1987. How about some postseason day games? How about making the game a little bit more accessible? But right now what you're really going to see is battles over mound visits instead of cutting into commercials.

SIMON: Now, you mean you can't - oh, the number - limiting the number of times that a manager or a coach can go to the mound.

BRYANT: Exactly. The famous scene in "Bull Durham" where they're all sitting there talking about...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Having dinner and...

SIMON: Candlesticks.

BRYANT: And the rest of it.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: And candlesticks, they make a nice gift.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of, thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: Oh, my pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO CITIZEN SONG, "THE HOP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.