Tape-measure home runs (steroids) and high-scoring games (steroids) get the credit for bringing Major League Baseball back from its 1994 strikepocalypse. But there’s much to be said for pitching dominance, as well.
2012 has been called the “Year of the Pitcher” and Felix Hernandez’s perfect game on Wednesday was baseball’s third of the year -- the most ever in a single season. Attendance is up 4 percent this year, and everyone can admit that great pitching can compel them to watch a random baseball game more than hitting can. Think about it: Are you more likely to flip on the end of a Mariners-Rays game if it’s 12-9 or if there is a perfect game on the line? It’s a no-brainer. A pitcher flirting with a no-hitter or perfect game is the only thing that will make many casual fans ever watch a game that doesn’t feature their hometown team.
So it’s clear: Baseball needs pitching to get even more dominant to grow the popularity of the sport. These six tweaks can make that happen.
1. Raise the mound -- Following a dominant pitching season in 1968, MLB dropped the height of the mound from 15 inches to 10 inches. It’s time to ratchet it back up. Let’s make the mound as tall as it can be while still being structurally sound. And install a ski lift on it, too. Many pitchers aren’t the most fit athletes in the world. They’ll be out of breath if they have to climb more than 20 inches to toe the rubber. A wheezing CC Sabathia is hittable at any height.
2. Deaden the ball -- Was the ball juiced in the 1990s? Some claim it was. Now it’s time to tip the scales the other way by un-juicing the ball. In fact, why use baseballs at all? A ripe avocado that has been spray-painted white will work just fine.
3. Lower the batter’s box -- Just in case raising the mound doesn’t have the impact we’re going for, lowering the batter’s box will add some more difficulty. Good luck legging out an infield single or stretching a gapper into a double or triple, because first the hitter must climb out of the batter’s ditch after making contact.
4. Stronger drug testing -- Obviously, in the new system, pitchers will not be tested for PEDs. But batters will face even stricter standards. In addition to performance enhancers, common drugs like Tylenol, antibiotics, caffeine and even Gatorade will be banned. Prescription glasses and contact lenses, too. Natural is natural.
5. Strategically grow the grass -- Pushing the fences back would make sense if doing so wouldn’t force massive reconstruction of many stadiums. And we don’t want to be too unfair. If a hitter standing in a ditch can knock an avocado pitched by someone on scaffolding over the fence, more power to him. But there are ways we can change the field. Grounds crews should let the grass in the gaps grow several feet long, preventing balls from ever getting through to the fence for doubles or triples. We could even make these grasslands protected wildlife areas and eject from the game any hitters who dare disrupt the delicate ecology with their batted ball/avocado.
6. Slow-pitch softball rules -- Let's go with four outfielders, and the batter strikes out if he fouls the ball off with two strikes. Both will aid pitching further, and the latter rule change may help keep Yankees-Red Sox games under four hours. That's a nice bonus.