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Rays’ Rich Hill: ‘Perfect’ game doesn’t need ‘Mickey Mouse’ fixes

The 20-year pro says making the fan experience better is more important than speeding up play.
Rich Hill has been around pro baseball for two decades and says the primary concern MLB should have when implementing changes to the game is whether the fan experience improves.
Rich Hill has been around pro baseball for two decades and says the primary concern MLB should have when implementing changes to the game is whether the fan experience improves. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Apr. 20
Updated Apr. 20

ST. PETERSBURG — Rich Hill has been playing pro baseball nearly as long as the Rays have, so his perspective from 20 years of pitching — even if predictably somewhat old school — should count for something.

And Hill doesn’t think the game needs fixing.

He made that clear last week, blasting a Major League Baseball-backed experiment to move the mound back a foot in the independent Atlantic League, primarily due to injury risk concerns.

And Hill said other changes that have been implemented and are being contemplated, many designed to speed up play in an attempt to attract casual and younger fans, are similarly unnecessary.

“Look, the game is perfect the way it is,” said Hill, 41. “Could we make it better? Of course, there’s probably some things that can be improved.

“But when you really look at it as a whole, who are we trying to appease in this situation? Is it a two to five percent market, as opposed to saying, ‘Okay, we’re not going to be concerned about the other 75 percent that are actually invested as far as the fan base.’ You really have to look at it as are we going in the wrong direction and not looking at trying to make a better fan experience for the ones (coming to the games).”

Hill, who has played for 12 organizations (10 in the majors) and did a short 2015 stint in the Atlantic League, said the focus should be on appeasing the people in the seats.

“You’re buying a tangible ticket for the event, for the emotion,” he said. “And what are we doing? Is it pushing the mound back a foot to actually sacrifice the health and safety of the player? So is that boosting the fan experience? Is it the shot clock (pitch clock) that’s boosting the fan experience?

“Because when you look at it and some of the numbers that I’ve seen, we’re going to improve a game time of 5 or 10 minutes. Is that going to make the difference? Honestly, I don’t think so.”

Hill would rather see educational outreach, where teams help fans understand and embrace some of the new data that has become popular within the game.

“If you talk to the fan who is invested in the game of baseball, and/or wants to get into the game of baseball, (he or she) can find out more in detail about maybe the analytics of why are we showing the depth and run (a form of movement) on pitches,” he said. “What does all this mean?

“Having something else outside of nitpicking about the time of the game. There is so much more that we can get into that is intriguing and exciting for the fans, instead of (risking) the health and safety of the players. I just think that’s something that MLB is missing the mark on. That’s how I feel about it.”

Hill, never shy to share his thoughts, isn’t keen on other changes and trends, such as the switch to a supposedly less lively ball, experimentation with an automatic strike zone, the proliferation of shifting and putting a runner on second to start extra innings. Nor some more administrative issues, such as shortening the draft and reducing the number of minor-league teams, thus limiting opportunities for players.

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“There’s a whole slew of issues that I think need to be addressed to promote the game as opposed to little, kind of Mickey Mouse ways to make baseball appealing,” he said.

“With the draft getting cut, with teams getting cut, that’s where a lot of your coaches come from (after they are done playing). That’s where a lot of your smaller cities and towns, where kids … can go on watch an A ball game where they’re going to see the next Mookie Betts come through. …

“That’s kind of the health of the game, the health of where baseball is going. We talk about it being diminished. We talk about it being on the downturn. Well, if we want to promote the game, and we want to do that, cutting the game in half — to me it doesn’t make sense.”

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