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Survey yields important thoughts

By Allan Simpson
January 10, 1994

OK, so I like the DH. And I prefer high-scoring games. I'm also a bigger fan of the American League, even though my favorite team is the Expos and my favorite team of all-time is the '75 Reds.

I admit I wouldn't mind seeing limited interleague play. I'd also like to take in a Canada Cup-style international tournament pitting the United States' best players against the best from the rest of the world. An offseason, made-for-TV awards banquet? You bet.

I'd even like to see a clock adopted to speed up all those high-scoring games I prefer.

Obviously, nothing is sacred when the editor of a certain baseball publication is allowed to be just a fan. Frankly, a lot of what I like about baseball and the way I'd like to see the game change runs counter to what appeals to a majority of the game's more devout followers.

That quickly became evident when Baseball America polled its readers on some of their likes and dislikes about the game, and some 2,000 subscribers responded. We published the first set of results from the reader survey in the last issue. The second half is contained in this issue, on Pages 23-26.

Understandably, a number of readers disagree with me on issues ranging from the DH to the way I'd like to revolutionize the game internationally. But that's all right. At least I checked off baseball as my favorite sport.

It was encouraging, though not surprising, that my interest (10 on a 1-10 scale) in both the majors and minors is shared by a large majority of our readers. But I happen to enjoy college baseball and some of the more subtle areas of player development more than the average reader. That's OK too, so long as I never foolishly let my personal preferences dictate the publication's editorial direction.

In fact, it's safe to say there won't be any changes in the paper's content as a result of the survey. If anything, the survey was a ringing endorsement that we're on the right track.

Nonetheless, there was an unmistakable message in the survey, directed at the caretakers of our grand game. Effectively, our readers told ownership to get baseball back on the right track and stop putting their own self-interests ahead of the game's best interests.

Admittedly, the survey's sample size was only 2,000, but BA readers long ago established that they are among the game's most knowledgeable and sophisticated fans. Major League Baseball would be wise to get off the floor and take notice, particularly as the game embarks on a year of potentially dramatic change and even turmoil.

Fans are tired of years of owner-player confrontation. Some 80 percent say it's time to forge a partnership with players, and put the constant bickering behind us. The National Basketball Association has shown there are benefits to a cordial owner-player relationship. Many of our readers, in fact, had a field day detailing ways in which the NBA and National Football League conduct business better than baseball.

Another sobering message--one that particularly hit home with me--was the overwhelming desire for postseason games to return to more reasonable starting times. Ninety-eight percent of our readers believe that postseason games begin too late. Eighty-six percent would like to see an occasional daytime World Series telecast.

Goodness knows, baseball needs to begin addressing how to win back a lost generation of fans, and there's no better way than by making the game's showcase events available to everyone, especially youngsters.

To this day, my fondest baseball memory is Bill Mazeroski's home run to win the 1960 World Series. I heard the game on radio as a 10-year-old elementary school student in far-off British Columbia, and it remains significant because that moment forever hooked me as a baseball fan.

How many kids that age got to witness Joe Carter's home run, one of the most dramatic since Mazeroski's, on live television? I'm afraid not many. Certainly not my 10-year-old son, who was too tired to stay up and watch a most-exciting conclusion to the 1993 World Series.

The World Series is the single best promotional tool baseball has to lure fans, particularly kids. But how many are willing to endure games which routinely drag on until after midnight?

The game's TV ratings continued to deteriorate in 1993. While there's no way of telling whether earlier starting times would reverse that trend, at least more people would be able to see key games in their entirety.

Baseball has operated on a penny-wise and pound-foolish philosophy the last few years, as the expired and grossly overvalued CBS deal proved. It's time for baseball to refuse short-term gain in favor of long-term prosperity.

On the field, baseball enjoyed an exceptional season in 1993, one of the best in years. It's what our game needed.

But with postseason games again ending after midnight, and no commissioner to steer baseball's rudderless ship, did we really capitalize on these wondrous events? Probably not, and that's too bad, considering the NFL has had one of its most uninspiring seasons in years, and the NBA no longer has Michael Jordan as its shining star.

Baseball lost a golden opportunity to make up ground it has lost to those sports in recent years.

It's time the game's brain trust begins listening more attentively to its paying customers. A few of our survey results would be a good place to start.

Let's start by forming a partnership with the players, the sooner the better. Revenue sharing is the way to go, so let's get it done.

Let's rebuild grass-roots interest in the game by putting minor league baseball, college baseball and the baseball draft on TV. And what about a World Series at the Triple-A, Double-A and Class A levels?

Let's return to a regularly scheduled Game of the Week on network TV, preferably early Saturday afternoon.

Expansion? Let's do it--now--with teams in Tampa Bay and Phoenix.

And what about that commissioner's job? How about former President George Bush, our readers' No. 1 choice.

Owners, are you listening?

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