TINSMAN: Home run explosion is saving pro baseball (again)

Brian Tinsman
July 23, 2019 - 11:56 am
Nationals OF Victor Robles celebrates hitting a home run.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

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The calendar says 2019, but Major League Baseball is partying like it’s 1999. And why not?

The home run is king, with more bombs per game than the height of the Steroid Era, and the league on track to crush the single-season record.

Blame it on the baseball itself, the launch angle, the analytics or the game’s over-reliance on power pitching. Speculate on the ulterior motives of the commissioner or the league’s drug detection program, but don’t stop the dopamine shot that comes with each crack of the bat.

Purists, old-timers, and naysayers will wring their hands and tell you that this onslaught of all-or-nothing offense is bad for the game. In reality, it’s the best-case scenario for a sport that must evolve.

According to 2016 figures from the Sports Business Journal, baseball fans are the oldest (57) of any of the big four sports, up from 52 in 2006. That’s nearing the age of retirement.

The challenge for baseball is attracting the next generation of fans without losing its base (pun intended), which has consistently shown resistance to any kind of change.

Keep in mind that Millennials and Gen Z have come of age and do not have the patience to absorb three-plus hours of a game. They want bite-sized entertainment.

Enter the home run, which can be easily clipped for viral social sharing and push notifications. Fans don’t need to watch a minute of a game’s broadcast to keep up with the storylines of the day and the heroics of the game’s biggest stars.

This is America’s pastime made for the modern era and done in a way where everyone can be happy. Fans of offense get seismic blasts to the upper decks. Fans of defense can see double-digit strikeout days. Heroes and villains will create legendary moments.

To be fair, average ballpark attendance in 2019 is down 1.9% over last year’s year-end finals, but this is an outdated metric of success. Baseball, like all entertainment, needs to embrace the modern consumer. That means a live audience with phone in-hand, and an at-home viewer who is probably watching on his phone. In the age of digital ads and next-day shipping, there is money to be made on fans who appear to be disengaged.

Coming out of the 1994 MLB strike, baseball needed the allure of home runs to recapture America’s attention. In 2019, a new commissioner has pulled a card from the same deck, betting that a new generation of sluggers can bring Americans back to the old ballgame.

I say, bring on the dingers.

Brian Tinsman has covered D.C. sports since 2011, both from the team marketing and skeptical fan perspectives. Tweet your criticisms @Brian_Tinsman.

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