TOKYO (Reuters) - Major League Baseball is concerned at strikeouts surpassing the number of hits and needs more balls in play to arrest the dip in popularity, the league’s chief baseball officer Joe Torre said on Wednesday.
Last season was the first in the league’s history to feature more strikeouts than hits, leading to calls for changes to increase interest.
Average attendance for regular season games in 2018 fell four percent from the previous year to 28,830 per game, according to MLB, while the total number of fans who showed up at the ballpark fell below 70 million for the first time since 2003.
Speaking ahead of the MLB season opener in Tokyo on Wednesday, Torre said the league needs to create more balls in play.
“I am concerned with our game because whenever you go through a season and there are more strikeouts than hits, then it is a concern to me,” said Torre, who led the New York Yankees to four World Series titles as a coach.
“To me the excitement of baseball, to watch the game and manage the game, is to have enough balls in play and we don’t have enough balls in play.”
According to NBC Sports, hitters were sent back to the dugout 41,207 times and recorded 41,019 safeties in 2018.
“We need to put the ball in play more,” said the 78-year-old Torre, who works as liaison between the MLB and its 30 clubs.
“Everyone is throwing 98-99 mph, everyone is trying to strike people out... it is all a concern to me.”
The Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics will start the new MLB season in the Tokyo Dome later on Wednesday and have been playing exhibition games as part of the league’s plan to spread the game in Asia.
“What has been great about the exhibition games here is that there has been a lot going on; players on bases, running the bases and that is exciting to me,” continued Torre.
“That is when the game is going to pick up pace, when we dare the hitters to hit the ball as opposed to trying to get them to miss the ball.”
Reporting by Jack Tarrant; editing by Sudipto Ganguly