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Mudville: July 23, 2024 1:05 am PDT

Save The Game

Can Major League Baseball be saved from itself, from the greed of owners and players, the lack of action and strategy – in what used to be a game filled with action and strategy – and from the lack of interaction between ballplayer and fan?

A passionate grassroots group has been formed called Save the Game.

The immediate goal of www.savethegameus.com is to get one million signatures on an online petition to let baseball know it is headed into oblivion.

All signs are pointing in that direction. America’s greatest game is already becoming a niche sport that is relying on gambling to keep it afloat under Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Will Save the Game get that many signatures? Kevin Gallagher, who is spearheading the group, told BallNine they will get five million signatures.

That’s how confident he is in what he believes will become a national movement.

I think baseball is too hardheaded to change. It only seems to care about Dollars Of Now, not the future investment of building a younger fan base. A change in the game has to start somewhere though, and this may be it – and that is why The Story is telling you all about Save the Game this Sunday.

“There are only 2.46 home runs hit per game on average, the game is a three-hour game, so you are getting a home run once every hour. In between home runs is what’s killing baseball, there is no action.’’

We are hoping for the best, but baseball has shown us to expect the worst because of their actions; the latest being moving Robo Umps up to AAA even though Robo Umps struggled mightily in the league I watched them in last summer with scouts, coaches and others telling me the Robo Umps missed anywhere between 25-30 pitches a game. Gallagher is extremely energetic in his quest and that counts for something. Again, the website is www.savethegameus.com and you can go there to sign the petition to encourage baseball to change its ways.

Here, essentially is the mission statement of Save the Game.

“The game has changed and lost its entertainment value with its reliance on the power swing that results in less action between home runs. Our youth are not engaged with MLB. The game has become too slow for this generation and we need them if we are going to Save the Game and grow the game. Together we can Save the Game and grow the game for our Youth and Baseball.’’

Gallagher is joined in his efforts by former major leaguer Jeff Frye and Pat Geoghegan, a highly scouted college pitcher before he hurt his arm, who went on to become an executive in the technology field. Gallagher wrote a wonderful book on hitting for kids called: “Teach Your Kid to Hit … so they don’t quit.’’

The numbers back up Gallagher on how baseball is losing generations of younger fans.

“We just want to get the word out around the country to let Major League Baseball know we are dissatisfied, unhappy, you are not paying attention to us and we are your customers,’’ Gallagher told BallNine. “They are changing the game on us. They are ruining the game on us.’’

In other words, don’t reinvent the wheel, baseball. And, of course, the game has to be family friendly when it comes to the price of going to the game. Gallagher suggests a weekday game where kids can get in free with a paying parent to fill all those empty seats you now see in a lot of ballparks on such days.

Tony Gwynn: 3,141 Career Hits. (Photo: Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

“We don’t have to come up with a great idea, we just have to restore baseball to the way it was historically played,’’ Gallagher said.

That will not be easy. The Nerds are entrenched. They have ownership’s ear and most every team plays the game now based on the ridiculous Three True Outcomes: Home run, walk, strikeout.

Strikeouts have changed everything about the game. The ball is not put in play the way it once was, and the action is pretty much gone from the game.

The NFL is king of the hill and yes, football is about touchdowns, but it’s also about the long drives that leads to touchdowns, Gallagher pointed out, the third and six, and fourth and one that keep the fans engaged. That is what keeps the fan invested in the action.

For baseball, essentially that touchdown drive is a run-scoring rally. Those are few and far between now. Even if only one team makes the adjustment and has “contact success’’ others would follow in the copycat world of MLB.

“We want to get a million signatures or more so we can get the attention of Major League Baseball,’’ Gallagher said of the importance of going to the website and signing the petition. “We feel the game could be irrelevant in 15 years.”

Gallagher is looking for help from Manfred and also MLB executive Theo Epstein.

“(Epstein) came out with a podcast last week with the five things that need to change in Major League Baseball,’’ Gallagher said. “The five things he is talking about is what we are talking about: more action, pace of the game, speeding up, more defensive plays, put the ball in play.

“Restore the game to the way it was historically played,’’ Gallagher noted. “We want to have that conversation with them. We are trying to go back to something that worked. The experiment of the power swing has failed. The game has been in decline the last 10 years.’’

Derek Jeter: 3,465 career hits. (Photo: Steven Bisig/USA TODAY Sports)

That may be the case, but everywhere you look the Launch Swing is being utilized. Nobody is really teaching the contact swing and this latest generation of hitting coaches live for launch angle because that is the word from the Nerds.

“I have spoken with a number of general managers, current and ex-GMs, a number of scouts, current players, ex-players, and to a person, they all agree with what I’m saying,’’ Gallagher said. “They all agree that they need to put the ball in play. They all agree that the swing itself is the ruination of the game but the reason they are doing it is because analytics have told the owners that you can win more games this way and win more championships this way and score more runs this way, but at the expense of lessening the action in the game.’’

That’s what they are saying but no team has won back-to-back World Series since the Yankees won three in a row in 1998, ’99 and 2000.

Epstein’s Cubs finally broke through and won their first World Series in 2016 since 1908, but slid back to oblivion last season.

It’s an uphill fight for Save the Game but I commend them for doing this and anyone who has read my column at BallNine knows I have been Don Quixote, trying to knock down the windmills the Nerds have built. And much like all the poor birds who have been killed by real life wind power windmills, these windmills of numbers and lack of action are slowly killing the game, especially with the younger crowd.

Gallagher points to the numbers noting the declining youth in baseball participation. In 2008 16.5 percent of 6-12 year olds participated in baseball. In 2021 it was 12.2 percent, a similar number to 2020. The World Series TV numbers are startling. In 2003 25.47 million people watched the World Series. This past October that number was 11.75. Pick any number and the number is way down, but not as low as you can go.

“There are only 2.46 home runs hit per game on average, the game is a three-hour game, so you are getting a home run once every hour. In between home runs is what’s killing baseball, there is no action,’’ Gallagher noted.

“The players themselves are swinging that way because that’s who they are scouting and that is who they are paying the big money to,’’ he said.

Rod Carew: 3,052 career hits. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

“Baseball is in the entertainment business, and every night you turn the TV on they are competing with the NFL, the NBA, MMA, the UFC, Netflix, the console games, there is not enough action, the youth are not watching it because of that. We are trying to bring this to the attention of the owners.

“MLB did a survey themselves on what is it the fans liked. They said they liked doubles, triples and great defensive plays. The home run is a 30-second event. Any business needs to drive new customers, they are not driving new customers. The longtime fan is complaining, the new fan is not even there. We are trying to get that energy of discontent and put it together and get a loud voice to Major League Baseball that their fans and their customers are discontent and are not buying the product – or buying less of it. It’s a revenue issue. In 15 years, the average baseball fan who is 57 is going to be 72 years old. The kids today, Generation Z, only 20 percent of them follow baseball, that’s who is going to support baseball or not.

“Rome is burning and Nero is fiddling,’’ Gallagher said.

“We want to align with Major League Baseball, we want them to acknowledge they need more action in the game, the way you are going to do that is put the ball in play more and the way you are going to do that is to have more contact hitting.

“You don’t need to get rid of the power swing, every team needs a few sluggers in there, but you can’t have nine sluggers,’’ Gallagher said. “If they begin to acknowledge that and then to scout for that and create those hitters, plus a lot of guys today can turn around tomorrow and be a contact hitter. They could. We want that to happen in the youth leagues and high school baseball that MLB is looking for contact hitting. We want to get this message out.’’

He also said that kids are swinging and missing more now in youth sports because the power swing is difficult and as a result, they are leaving the  game because they are not having success.

“They need to change the game otherwise they are going to have a revenue cliff in 15 years,’’ Gallagher said.

Maybe sooner from what I’m seeing.

“Baseball needs to meet with the kids, too,’’ Gallagher said. “They need to reach out to the kids who are not engaged.’’

Gallagher played his college baseball at Pace University and was a three-year East Coast Athletic Conference All-Star, setting six hitting records at Pace and is in their Hall of Fame. In his book he breaks down the mechanics of the swing that he endorses. He tries to keep it simple and all that set him on this path to try to get MLB’s attention to the problems in the game caused by lack of contact. If a young player has success in Little League and in high school he will probably be a baseball fan for life; but with fewer youngsters playing the game, there is a smaller pool of fans.

“Major League Baseball, its business is dying slowly, it’s going to fail,’’ Gallagher said. “And they don’t have the vision 15 years down the road. Any business needs to be looking down the road.’’

The road MLB is looking at is the Gambling Road, searching out betting money.

Gallagher pointed to the immense growth in NFL’s media rights and the drip, drip, drip slow growth of MLB media rights. He noted that Microsoft just acquired game publisher Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion.

Kevin Gallagher

Kevin Gallagher

“Why Activision? They control all the digital games,’’ he said. “Microsoft knows that’s where the future is, that’s where the kids are. Baseball is going to be a ghost town in 15 years.’’

Will baseball listen?

“Here is my answer,’’ Gallagher said. “We have to get this done. It’s an obligation. Everyone is complaining but no one is doing anything about it. Major League Baseball is the only sport that has a confrontational relationship with their fan base. Why does baseball have this confrontational relationship? We want to give baseball an opportunity to engage with the client base, talk to the youth, maybe change this relationship. If we don’t make changes it’s going to be a third-rate sport. People say we are not going to get a million signatures. I tell you what, if we get this message out, we’ll get five million signatures.’’

So go to www.savethegameus.com to check out the petition. He said this is like when Coca-Cola changed its recipe.

“For 100 years the recipe was working, just like baseball, 100 years the game was played by putting the ball in play, having contact, continuous action. Coca-Cola changed their recipe and everybody revolted – and in 79 days Coca-Cola changed it back. They underestimated the emotional attachment Americans had to their classic product, the same thing with baseball.

“MLB may not listen to us,’’ Gallagher admitted. “But they are going to hear us. Baseball might be MLB’s business, but it is our game. We’re responsible to bring up the fact that it is dying. I’m not here to fight with Major League Baseball, I’m here to align with them. I’m here to find ways to fix it and the way we are going to fix it is very simple. Restore it to the way it’s been played historically.’’

In other words: Baseball simply needs to play Baseball again.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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