Baseball Could Go to the Dogs

It’s hard to tell what baseball will look like in a couple of years. The Commissioner’s office is experimenting with a number of tweaks to the game, both in the minors and in independent leagues. At the same time, Major League Baseball seems to want to scrap a bunch of minor league teams, all while the cost of attending a game in the big leagues increases year after year. Fans who can’t afford a luxury cable package are subject to arcane broadcasting blackouts, and most Dodger fans haven’t been able to watch games from home for more than half a decade. 

The stewards of the game, appointed by the congressional antitrust exemption, have shown at times a confusing lack of interest in making the sport more accessible to people who are not already seriously financially committed to the game. They have had a very lucrative few decades to invest in the long term health of the sport, and by and large, they have decided they would rather not bother. So at some point, they have to grow the sport for a new audience, and they’ve demonstrated a willingness to tweak the game on the field. What new revenue stream could be catered to, if not working-class fans and young families? Well, why not man’s best friend?

Okay, before you write me off as a “there’s nothing in the rulebook saying a dog can’t be catered to by baseball” crank, think about it: Millennials are the largest generation of pet owners. Dog owners are, on average, higher-income earners than cat owners. The growth opportunities here are endless! There are a number of changes we can make to MLB, both on and off the field, to make the sport more appealing to our canine companions. How much of a tradeoff is it if a few humans tune out in the process?

First and foremost, we must understand dogs and what they would want out of a professional sport played (for at least the immediate future) by not-dogs.

Dogs, as most dog owners know, do not experience the world the same way we do. They are different mammals with differently evolved eyes, so the primary way we engage with baseball — our vision — is not as natural a fit for them. That is not to say there are not some simple changes we could make to the visual presentation of the game until the developers at BAM perfect streaming, on-demand M-Smell-B dot tv.

For one, dogs have dichromatic vision. They do not see in black and white, as is commonly believed, but rather in a spectrum from blue to yellow: The rich red tones of many a baseball uniform are lost on them. Perhaps some teams’ front offices, always two steps ahead in finding the next market efficiency, have already predicted this trend, and the surge in baby blue throwbacks as sported by forward-thinking teams like the Twins and Rangers suggests the effort to appeal to man’s best friend has already begun.  

MLB also has built a world-class streaming service that rivals any other in existence and successfully marketed its product to other sports, including the NHL and WWE. There is still one more market that can be tapped into, however, and it’s the variety trying to sell everything from Alpo to Puppy Chow, with a natural competitor already in place — DOGtv, a 24/7 network catering to nervous housebound chihuahuas. This 24/7 premium channel tweaks its broadcast to appeal to our furry friends, and we can look to it for some guidance on how best to alter the visual capture of the Great American Pastime.

Unlike any other TV channel, every frame and every sound on DOGTV is designed 100% for dogs. Through years of research, special content was created to meet the specific attributes of a dog’s sense of vision and hearing. For example: programs are specially colored to enhance picture details and great emphasis was put on contrast, brightness, and frame rate; the use of special sound effects, music and specific ranges of frequencies, are tailored to a dog’s unique sense of hearing without startling or annoying their sensitive ears.”

Taking these effects into account, I have prepared a sample screencap for what the game may look like in our brave new baseball media landscape:

Before (best suited for fickle, disloyal humans)

After (Ideally adapted for the noble hound)

The on-demand nature of MLB.tv has become a great resource for fans of teams outside their geographic blackout area, but dogs know no franchise loyalty; one game is as good to them as any other. With 10 to 15 games per day and each clocking in at more than three hours per game, it’s no problem to adapt the schedule so there is always something for pooches to watch between the home-alone hours of 8 a.m. EST to 6 p.m. PST. 

The Physics of the “Seamy” Side of Baseball
How much difference does seam height really make?

Though some dogs such as pointers are bred for visual acuity, most have poorer vision than humans. Tracking the arc of a home run ball will be a tough ask for most canines. Let’s drag in those outfield fences like it’s Coors in 2002. Goodbye triples alley, hello…well, hello fences more like those of indoor softball:

Are you a bad enough dude to take a pitch 35 feet away from Jordan Hicks?

The ball could change in two directions: Make it larger and yellow, essentially combining the sport with softball, or simply make the ball every canine’s favorite chew toy and have everyone hurl tennis balls.

Finally, dogs also do not track movement the way we do. They rely on humans’ posture and motion to interpret the meanings of our actions. Umpires are already facing the existential threat of a robot strike zone in the next few years. Maybe, as a nice concession, we could let them be even louder and animated with their strike calls.

Let’s toss out attempts to improve pace of play by cutting down on time between pitches. Dogs latch onto every batting glove adjustment and every step out of the box. Think of Juan Soto’s plate appearances as not an exception but as the new ideal baseline. To better keep dogs engaged, we should further rethink the incentives that have created a power-hitting, long-ball-oriented game in favor of more slap hitting, more stealing, and more dancing on the bases. More movement means more engagement for our new core audience.

There are, of course, also ways to cater to dogs outside direct changes to the game. There is a long, noble-ish tradition of bat dogs that could be turned into a rigorous dog breeding science rather than the rare minor league bemusement we see it as. With enough time, we could see dogs replace not just the bat boys, but also the ball minders along the baselines. Why stop there? We really don’t know where the limit is: Schnauzer clubhouse managers? Bulldog park security? The opportunities for dog employment are boundless, and so long as they are exempt from human employee minimum-wage laws, there will be incentives for ownership to innovate. 

Dogs also can fill in as on-field entertainment. They are a natural fit for the games teams already put on between innings. Atlanta’s “Beat the Freeze” competition has proven to be a fan favorite, and a stable of greyhounds may prove more interesting competition than another season of slightly drunk, slightly belligerent Georgia State students. Likewise, the beloved racing sausages of Miller Park can be improved upon by having weiner dogs chase actual ballpark weiners. Many teams now have “Bark at the Park” events, but in the new normal we’ve created, it will be games without dogs that are the rare exception-like peanut allergy night! 

All of these changes must, of course, lead to an end goal for baseball’s consortium of eccentric billionaire owners. There must be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to incentivize drastically changing the nature of the game. That’s right, baby — we’re talking new merchandising opportunities! It is scientifically proven that dogs look cute in people clothes, and dogs range in uniform size from very small to quite large indeed. The merch train need not stop only at the pet uniform station, however. Can you imagine how wild a dog would go for an Atlanta Braves-branded Kong chew toy? Probably exactly as wild as they go for a regular Kong, but you could sell that puppy to a puppy for easily 50% markup. Branded toys, leashes, a crated pen called the bullpen — we’re not even going to broach how lucrative a Hunter Pence’s Puppy Chow licensing arrangement could be.  

Okay, I admit, I was a little skeptical of my own idea at first, but turning baseball over to the dogs really has more legs to stand on than a Great Dane. We have the tools and the talent to make this work. And maybe most importantly, the people in charge of shepherding the game to the next generation might show more interest in handing it over to the German Shepherds.


Lauren Walker is quite tall.

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Jim
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Jim

Dogs chasing “actual ballpark weiners.” Great.

Dennis Bedard
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Dennis Bedard

Other than baseball’s cultural association with hot dogs, it has never been dog friendly. This latter day and feeble attempt to placate the canine connoisseurs will never cross the finish line. The central problem is that there are no MLB teams named after dogs, not even a genus of the dog. Other sports have bulldogs, wolverines, timberwolves, huskies, and terriers just to name a few but baseball strikes out in this gold mine of marketing potential. Heck, even the impersonal and snooty cat gets more respect. So next time you stand for the 7th inning stretch and note the paucity… Read more »

CamdenWarehouse
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CamdenWarehouse

This is the content that brings me back everyday. Thank you!

Nicholas
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Nicholas

I welcome our new canine overlords

cayorne
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cayorne

The first article on I’ve ever read on FanGraphs, was not disappointed.

Benjamin
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Benjamin

An article about baseball and dogs, and a Bad Dudes Vs. DragonNinja reference for good measure… It kinda feels like when ad targeting is just so good, it becomes creepy.