By Mark Bauer
Baseball attendance has been slowly declining since its peak of just under 80 million fans in 2007, and then fell off a cliff after COVID when stadiums opened back up in 2021. One of the chief complaints about America’s favorite pastime was the fact that games took so dadgum long to finish. In order to renew interest in the game, Major League Baseball changed some of its rules to appeal to a wider audience. It worked. The average baseball time fell from 3 hours to 2 hours and 39 minutes, the lowest average time since 1985. Fans rewarded their hometown teams with a league-wide attendance of 70.7 million, the first time total attendance has cracked 70 million since 2017.
If baseball, a sport steeped in tradition, can recognize the need to adapt to the demands of the modern era, democracies should be similarly open to change and innovation to address the challenges and opportunities presented by the 21st century.
The 2011 movie Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, popularized the use of sabermetrics in baseball so that defensive adjustments could be made based on where a batter was more likely to hit the ball. The Shift is one such strategy against pull hitters, and usually entailed positioning the shortstop on the 2nd base side of the infield, with the 2nd baseman playing in shallow right field.
In order to beat the shift, hitters started trying to hit the snot out of the ball by putting it over the fence. The defensive adjustment was a huge success, resulting in a lot of outs, but it also made the game a huge snoozefest. You might have got a homerun every now and again, but more often it resulted in outs. By eliminating the shift, more batters reached base, which generated more in-game action with more stolen base attempts and runs scored in 2023.
For the democracy reform movement: In a similar way, gerrymandering utilizes data to make congressional districts that are more favorable to the home team, drawing district lines in such a way that they contain people more likely to vote for a specific political party. Eliminating gerrymandering would make political races more competitive, and may even increase voter turnout if people feel like their vote actually matters.
One of the biggest factors in reducing game time was the implementation of a pitch clock. Pitchers and batters alike had a tendency to lollygag between pitches, which over the course of 9 innings really added up. By introducing a pitch clock, less time transpired between pitches. Every pitcher is also required to face a minimum of three batters, which cut down on the number of pitching changes, reducing game time even more.
For democracy reform, maybe this means designating election day as a national holiday, so that more people have the ability to take off work to cast a ballot. Or maybe it means term limits, so that there are fewer incumbents, which statistically are more likely to win re-elections, even if voters are mostly dissatisfied with them.
The other changes discussed to this point make a lot of sense, but what do larger bases have to do with making baseball more exciting for the fans? 1) It makes it safer for defenders and hitters alike, giving a bigger area for defenders to stand and record an out. 2) The larger bases also induce more in-game action by increasing the likelihood of a stolen base.
For democracy reform, maybe this looks like increasing early voting time, or permitting more mail-in ballots. Or maybe it’s enacting ranked choice voting, which expands the candidate pool beyond your typical Democrat and Republican options.
Baseball’s rule changes were carefully considered to strike the right balance between tradition and modernization. These subtle changes reduced the stranglehold teams had on winning, shaking up the league and making it more competitive and enjoyable. Democracy reform should similarly strive for balance, respecting the core principles of democracy while adapting to the needs of the contemporary world.
Baseball purists snubbed their noses at the rules, but what good is baseball if there’s no one around to watch it? At the end of the day, it’s about the people who are expected to come out and support it. Democracy, like baseball, should never lose sight of who really matters.
Mark Bauer is a producer, entrepreneur, day trader and former Independent candidate for Congress in Texas. Previously he spent 10 years as a legal journalist covering the legal market in Texas and regulatory issues in Washington DC.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Rank the Vote, its members, supporters, funders, or affiliates.