MIAMI -- Many potential fans (particularly younger ones) complain that baseball is too slow. That's commonly phrased as "games last too long" -- yet football games last longer. Baseball's real problem is what I'd call a decline in Confrontations per Hour (CPH).
I came up with my CPH theory while watching three Florida Marlins-Anaheim Angels games here last weekend. At the June 6 game, the Angels scored their first run on a line drive single (which the Marlins centerfielder dove for and almost grabbed), a stolen base, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly (on which the runner barely scored).
Count the confrontations: pitcher vs. batter, hitter vs. centerfielder, pitcher vs. runner (trying to hold him at first), runner vs. catcher, runner vs. outfielder.
Then the Marlins tied the game on a homerun. Only one quickly ended confrontation: batter-pitcher. The scoreboard showed one run for each side, but the difference in sustained interest was immense.
The crowd on June 6 cheered for a few seconds when another home run put the Marlins ahead. But a sustained buzz came only when the Angels opened their comeback attempt in the ninth inning with a single. The Marlins closer then successfully challenged the three top Angels hitters as the crowd roared.
The June 7 game also had a home run as the key blow, but the June 8 game was a clinic in how baseball should be played. In the bottom of the first inning, speedy Luis Castillo won his confrontation with the pitcher by working a walk, and then won his confrontation with the center fielder by scoring all the way from first on a subsequent double.
The Angels struck back with a single, a double and an exciting triple, and held a one-run lead going into the eighth. They then scored two runs on daring base-running -- three stolen bases, including an exceptionally rare steal of home -- and won the game going away.
Major league baseball, with its McGwire-Sosa-Barry Bonds trinity, has become homer-happy. New, smaller ballparks, muscled-up (and sometimes drugged-up) hitters, pitchers throwing cautiously because the least mistake can be hit out of the park, and managers induced to sit back and wait for three-run homers rather than start runners have all contributed to fewer confrontations per hour in baseball. Meanwhile, super-confrontational football has ascended in popularity.