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Saturday Sports: Baseball Season Approaches


And now it's time for sports.


SIMON: Spring training is open under the sun just as Major League Baseball contends with the question of how to keep the game popular in an era of short attention spans. Howard Bryant of ESPN and ESPN The Magazine joins us now. Good morning, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. Full disclosure - I am not one of those people who falls asleep watching a baseball game. However...


BRYANT: ...If you listen to Major League Baseball, they think that you're surrounded by them - very interesting - is what going to lead into.

SIMON: Yeah. And it - well, so you've been at the Cactus League in Arizona.

BRYANT: I was.

SIMON: Yeah. What do you take back from there? What'd you see?

BRYANT: Other than the thoughts of you when I'm walking around Cubs camp and all excited fans...

SIMON: (Laughter) Yeah.

BRYANT: I took a lot from it actually. I think that every year there's a theme, whether they want it to be a theme or not. And the last couple of spring trainings, the last couple of years, we've moved into the baseball needs massive overhaul in a universe of small screens and screen-swipers and three-hour games. Last year, you saw the union and the commissioner's office battle about ways to shorten the game. And then you saw, of course, the intentional walk rule was instituted last year. So now you don't have to throw four pitches. Now you just wave your hand in the dugout.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: This year, it's become a bit more contentious. And so now, they're starting to restrict mound visits. And the argument, of course, is that baseball is boring and that this new generation does not want to see the game as we remember the game and that people are snoozing during the fourth inning, the baseball purists are saying. And a lot of the players are saying the same thing. They said it last year, which is when you come into a baseball game, this is what you've come to get. You've come to get all of these different things. This is why you're here.

Now, I think the major league baseball argument is, well, we're not talking about the people who at the game. We're talking about people on TV. And the numbers are showing that the game is simply bogging down. In the last 20 years, the game has extended, I think, 14 minutes. I think a major league game was 2:54. And now it's 3:08 now. So three hours and 10 minutes for a game is a lot of time for a baseball game.

SIMON: Yeah. Well, it's not like they don't make money, though, by putting more ads in, right?

BRYANT: No, exactly. But I think the issue that I'm having with this - and I understand it is the job of the commissioner of baseball. It's the job of everybody who's watching baseball. It's still a business. And you want to keep that product alive. My issue is is that you have a golden age in some ways of baseball right now.


BRYANT: You have the New York Yankees - very, very exciting baseball team - a game away from winning the World Series. You had small-market Cleveland in 2016 play a phenomenal World Series against the Cubs who had never won the World Series - hadn't won the World Series in forever. And they come back. And they win. You've got the Dodgers and the Astros. And the Dodgers hadn't been to the World Series since '88. The Astros have never won the World Series. And they played a fantastic series last year. And the Kansas City Royals that supposedly eliminated by opening day for all those years - they went to the World Series in back-to-back years and won it in 2015.

So my question is baseball is, why does it seem that the game doesn't have enough confidence in itself? You've got all unbelievable things taking place in the sport. And so I think one of the big issues between the Players Association and the game is, why aren't we marketing the great players?

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: Why are we conceding the ground of superstar where there was a Reggie Jackson and a Ken Griffey Jr? Why are we conceding that space to the Aaron Rodgerses and the LeBron Jameses of the world? Market the game, and people will watch the game.

SIMON: Shohei Ohtani - did you see him?

BRYANT: Exactly. And Ohtani - fantastic - something we haven't seen since Babe Ruth, a guy who hits and pitches - it's great stuff.

SIMON: Yeah. You know, I'd like to speak with you more, Howard. But, you know, we're running out of time. And people are getting bored. I can see that in the control room, you know?

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: They're swiping left. They're swiping right.

BRYANT: It's a great game. I'm looking forward to seeing more baseball in a couple of weeks.

SIMON: Yeah, me too. Howard Bryant of ESPN, thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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