This past spring training, Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper unabashedly donned his “Make Baseball Fun Again” hat in an effort to shed light on baseball’s lack of individuality.
To some baseball lifers, Harper’s tongue-in-cheek ball cap was seen as too brash and self-serving, an indictment of the latest generation of professional athlete — and especially of Harper himself.
But to the level-headed, the hat and Harper’s comments about baseball being a “tired” sport were greeted with cheers and open arms. See, Harper isn’t just a 23-year-old All-Star with a cocky streak and the fastest bat this side of the Potomac, he’s the best player in his league, the unanimous reigning National League MVP, and the face of his sport — he’s got the game, and the right (if not obligation) to speak out on his own game’s failings.
For decades, baseball’s brightest stars have either been too guarded (Derek Jeter), too boorish (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens), or just flat-out boring. Sadly, baseball’s marketing strategies have become as “tired” and archaic as its unwritten rules and “play the game the right way” imaginary manifesto. Baseball could stand to learn a thing or two from its basketball counterpart, the NBA, by rebuilding its empire around its young, marketable, and personable superstars — attracting those all too pre-occupied millennials and casual fans.
With MLB’s 87th All-Star Game being played this week at San Diego’s Petco Park, here are some ideas as how to spice up the Mid-Summer Classic and attract those all-important younger viewers.
1. The 25 and Younger All-Star Team
A great number of baseball’s best players are all 25 or younger, so why not showcase them all by putting them on the same roster and have them square off against the “old guard?” It’s a simple fix that can still involve fan voting. Since the All-Star Game is a popularity contest anyhow, have the fans vote for their favorite “older” All-Stars and allow coaches, players and general managers to vote on the “youngsters.”
Fans are still involved, youth is served, those deserving of All-Star bids get their recognition, and we can rid ourselves of the winner gets home-field advantage for the World Series gimmick.
Also, imagine the fantasy matchups — Clayton Kershaw pitching against his Dodger teammate Corey Seager, or the reigning NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta against the reigning NL Rookie of the Year winner in Cubs teammate Kris Bryant, or the Marlins’ tandem of ace Jose Fernandez against slugger Giancarlo Stanton!? It gives the game just enough nuance to draw extra eyeballs while giving fans a fantasy baseball feel.
2. Put Players in the Outfield During the Home Run Derby
Managers and front office executives would probably never sign off on this, but it’s fun to think about. Just envision young All-Star outfielders Mike Trout or Mookie Betts robbing Home Run Derby participants Stanton or David Ortiz at or over the fence? The event would highlight the athleticism of baseball’s greatest stars while still idolizing sport’s most dramatic play, the home run. Those catches would run on highlight shows forever.
3. All-Star Game in a Football Stadium
The trend of sporting events being played in non-traditional markets and venues continues to be a popular trend across all sports. College basketball games are played on aircraft carriers, football is played in baseball stadiums (or this year at a NASCAR track), and hockey is being played in football stadiums and all to outstanding reviews. Heck, just last week MLB hosted a regular season game between the Braves and Marlins at Fort Bragg in North Carolina to much fanfare and media coverage.
Baseball games have been played in football stadiums for generations. Granted, the most recent examples of Oakland (formerly O.co) Coliseum, San Franciso’s Candlestick Park, an Miami’s Joe Robbie/Pro Player/Dolphin(s)/Land Shark/Sun Life/New Miami Stadium aren’t the best — but it has been successful before.
When the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles they played their first several seasons at the Memorial Coliseum. Fifty years after their move out west, the Dodgers hosted the Red Sox at the Coliseum for an exhibition game in front of more than 115,000, the largest crowd to ever see a baseball game. Why not do it for the All-Star Game? Make the game feel bigger by making the venue bigger.
Some iconic venues that could play host: Lambeau Field, Michigan Stadium, the Rose Bowl, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, or Arrowhead Stadium in Kanas City.
4. Pitchers in the Home Run Derby
We were so close to getting our wish before Bruce Bochy but the kibosh on Madison Bumgarner entering the contest. Oh, what could have been.
My idea is simple. Take four position players who opted to participate in the Derby and let them draft the hitting pitcher of their choice. Keep the recently adopted bracket style that was instituted last year, and give each hitter (and pitcher) the standard five minutes to hit as many long balls as they can.
The catch? Pitchers’ home runs count as two points, and for every three that a pitcher hits, their position player teammate gets an extra minute added to their allowed time.
Kershaw, Arrieta, Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon (strictly for comedic purposes), paired with Big Papi, Stanton, Bryant and last year’s Derby champ, Todd Frazier?
Sign me up.
While some of these ideas are off the wall and downright goofy, they highlight the largest issue that faces baseball today — it takes itself too seriously. The game’s unwritten rules and fluid, unidentified, and often times bigoted, code of conduct has held the game back for years. As American attention spans dwindle, the game itself is more difficult for younger and casual fans to wholly invest in.
It is time for baseball to progress, it is time for baseball to be fun — for everyone, especially its younger, more talented generation.
— Written by Jake Rose, an avid baseball fan who also is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.