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From the perspective of a fan, the MLB (Major League Baseball) games in London this summer couldn’t have gone much better. The biggest rivalry in the sport was on full display in front of 60,000 fans; when the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox played two games in the London Stadium.
The games themselves were exciting, putting some of baseball’s biggest stars in the spotlight. Just by having the defending World Series champion and their biggest rival, the games were never going to disappoint in terms of on-field action.
But, surprisingly, the on-field run-scoring may have done more harm than good to the long-term future of Major League Baseball in Europe. In every other aspect, the games were a complete success.
There had been a worry that fans at the game wouldn’t know what to expect, thus making the atmosphere in the stadium quieter and less engaging as a whole. The opposite was true and, amazingly, all 60,000 fans were utterly engrossed in the game. I had the opportunity to work in the clubhouse for the New York Yankees that week. The players seemed to believe that they’d never played in front of a crowd like that before.
In London, there is interest and appetite for games from the fans. However, the slugfest witnessed by them might be a huge turn off for teams in the future who are looking to come to London.
Baseball as a whole has been in a period of huge offensive power. The constituent parts of the baseball itself seem to have changed, reducing air resistance and causing the ball to fly further – resulting in more home runs. Fun for fans to an extent, but the games in London went too far.
17-13 and 12-8 were the final scores of both games. Just in case you haven’t watched much baseball before, in a typical MLB game, eight runs (as a combined total of both teams) would be the norm.
What was exciting at first became a slog for both teams, as their pitchers were unable to get outs and end innings. Every pitcher I spoke to in the clubhouse was unhappy. They thought that the ball felt different (some saying it felt much harder than usual) and couldn’t work out how they were giving up so many hard hits.
This is a disaster for MLB. If this is how games in London continue to go, then teams are going to want to stop coming. Pitchers don’t want to travel thousands of miles and ruin their routines just to get blown up in a very prominent game. If pitchers don’t want to come, then teams will show less interest, and these critical rivalry games between big teams won’t happen in London.
If big teams stop coming to Europe, overall fan interest will go down, and MLB’s experiment in Europe will end before it has a chance to begin.
The good news is that it is a quick fix for Major League Baseball: push the outfield fences back and humidify the balls (or just use the old balls that had more air resistance). Both of these measures will dampen offense and can hopefully appeal to the baseball fans and teams – which is crucial to the long-term success of the MLB in Europe.