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Can New Year's resolutions save our national pastime?

THIS WINTER's Hot Stove League isn't so hot. Instead of the usual welcome chatter among fans concerning new ballparks, player trades, managerial hirings and firings, the World Series, and spring training, a nationwide yawn is echoing throughout the baseball world. The message is deafening: Baseball no longer is America's national pastime. It's blase and passe. No, the citizenry doesn't suddenly despise the Grand Old Game. It's worse. No one even cares about it anymore. Baseball now is this country's No. I ho-hum sport, and with good reason. Ticket prices are too high; games are too boring; ballparks are too big and impersonal; players and owners are too greedy; umpires are too bossy; fans are too obnoxious; and TV's presence is too prevalent. Too bad. But it's not too late to change. After all, this is the month for New Year's resolutions. So here's a get-well wish list for baseball: * Hold the line on ticket prices. If it hadn't been for record crowds in Toronto and Baltimore (both cities boasted new ballparks and contending teams) attendance would have bottomed out completely. A family of four can not afford to lay out more than $100 for tickets, parking, hot dogs, and soda. These families have spoken with their recession-depleted wallets, staying home in droves. * Speed up the game. Baseball traditionally has been known for its leisurely pace, but there's a big difference between an unhurried, well-played contest and flat-out boredom. Games that once whisked by in 2:15 are now 3:30 snooze festivals. This can be fixed easily. Widen the strike zone (to where it belongs, between the letters and the knees) and cut out the two-plus-minute breaks between innings. Sixty seconds is plenty of time. Heck, fans might even get to see the players run on and off the field again, instead of the "do I really have to?" gait currently on display. * Build traditional ballparks. Actually, the word "ballpark" is a misnomer. Large, concrete monstrosities lined with Astro-turf only can be called "stadiums." These Roman Coliseum-esque structures are designed to host numerous events: rock concerts, tractor pulls, football games, political conventions, but certainly not baseball. Actually, some teams have the right idea. Orioles Park at Camden Yards, which opened in 1992, is a throwback to a bygone era when ballparks seated less than 50,000 people, the stands allowed fans to be close to the action, and the architecture had a charming turn-of-the-century aura. Similar designs are being implemented in Cleveland and Colorado. Still, those who run baseball just don't get it. Not only did the Chicago White Sox move out of Comiskey Park a couple of seasons back (it was baseball's oldest major league field, dating back to 1910), but they ripped down Comiskey and replaced it with a parking lot to accommodate their new stadium. It's an old story in Chicago, for the Windy City is the same place where the Cub owners installed lights in Wrigley Field (talk about sacrilege) after 72 years of nothing but day baseball. And now there's talk in Detroit that the Tigers will leave Tiger Stadium (built in 1912) for a new site in the suburbs. No surprise here. After all, the last two world champions--Minnesota and Toronto--call a dome their home. * Create an atmosphere of loyalty. This is a tough one, because capitalism--as it should be--is the order of the day in baseball, and that breeds greed. The 1992 Toronto Blue Jays serve as a perfect example in microcosm. Less than one week after Toronto had won its first World Series in franchise history, some dozen Jays had filed for free agency, ready to fly the coup for more money. Meanwhile, management declined to offer arbitration to outfielders Dave Winfield (who won the Series clincher with a 10th-inning double) and Candy Maldonado (who provided several key post-season hits), in essence saying: "Thanks for the memories, fellows, but if you want a raise for helping us win the championship, be on your way." * Stop the umpires from showboating. It's bad enough to watch the selfish, me-generation players pumping their fists skyward over bloop doubles and taking curtain calls for cheap home runs. The umpires, though, are supposed to be above hot-dogging. Instead, they show up players with exaggerated out and strike calls, and just love to bait a hot-headed strikeout victim into an argument. Arbiters once walked away from potential frays. No more. Today, umps follow and taunt the game's participants until the latter snap and get thrown out of the game. * Immediately eject all those loudmouths who scream obscenities in the stands. It really has gotten ugly out there in fan land (so much so that parents can't, in good conscience, bring their kids to the ballpark, lest their offspring hear a curse-filled chant emanating from the grandstand or witness some drunk taking a swing at dad for daring to root for the wrong team). Who wants to pay top dollar to see a long, boring game and then be the target of some drunken lout whose idea of a good time is passing out five nights a week? * End night baseball--at least after-dark World Series games. The Fall Classic used to be just that--the Fall Classic. Now, the networks have turned it into a string of mini-Super Bowl productions, and we all know how unwatchable Super Sunday is. Moreover, a generation of children--and their sleep-starved parents--are being cut off from what once was this country's most cherished sporting event. Today, the witching hour just could be the death knell that forever relegates baseball to secondary status.

Then again, who knows? The designated hitter, multi-purpose stadiums, Astro-turf, domes, ridiculous rainbow uniforms, player strikes, ownership lockouts, even New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, have all failed to finish off baseball in the past. For millions, the game still burns bright, but be warned, the eternal flame is beginning to dim.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Society for the Advancement of Education
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:professional baseball
Author:Barrett, Wayne M.
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Column
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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