The Sledgehammer

Baseball Goes Bananas

June 28, 2022

Updated May 03, 2023

Baseball is back! The 2023 MLB season is upon us, bringing along plenty of home runs, hot dogs, and… new rules?

This year, the MLB adopted new rule changes aimed at speeding up the game, creating more action, and making baseball more fan-friendly overall. If these goals sound familiar, it may be because they’re the same key elements of “Banana Ball,” the unique style of baseball developed by the Savannah Bananas that we wrote about last year!

With rules such as a strict two-hour time limit, no bunting, and foul balls caught by fans counting as outs, Banana Ball games reject the norms of modern-day baseball in favor of frivolity and fan service. The Bananas took a sport generally known for its slow pace and declining action and transformed it into an exciting show guaranteed to wrap up by 9pm. Now, while you won’t see major leaguers launching into a full sprint when a walk is called any time soon (another Banana Ball staple), what you will find is that the new pitch clock, defensive shift ban, pickoff limits, and larger base sizes that MLB implemented this season are already shaving off about 26 mins per game!

So, in honor of the MLB ushering in this new era of America’s pastime, let’s revisit our cheeky team of challengers that were way ahead of the curve[ball] when they smashed the status quo to make baseball fun again.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, maybe consider watching a game of baseball.

Today’s game is, um… slow. If the length isn’t especially tiresome (over 3 hours for your average 9-inning affair), maybe it’s the tedious gaps between game activity (like 20+ seconds between each pitch), or the declining number of hits per game (2020 marked the lowest total since 1968). No matter how you slice it, the way modern baseball games are being played is trending longer, slower, and with seemingly less action.

And unsurprisingly, this sluggish pace is translating into sluggish attendance. Even pre-pandemic, in-person spectators were at their lowest levels since 2003. One baseball executive said, “it’s the greatest crisis the game faces… In the next 5 years we’ll either be the national pastime or a niche sport.” And that’s professional baseball, which has mammoth advertising budgets and superstar players like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Shohei Ohtani. Minor league and amateur teams, who don’t have the same coffers or big names, are every bit as concerned, too; their average attendance hit a 14-year low in 2018.

But just when it seemed like winter was coming for the boys of summer, enter the Savannah Bananas — a collegiate summer baseball team that was recently profiled in The New York Times   for their attempt to breathe life into the declining health of baseball fandom. Their goal, aside from winning games, has been to make baseball fun again (that’s no exaggeration, check out their homepage). And they’ve done it in an eminently Challenger way: primarily with dance.

Yes, you read that right.

Image Credit: Savannah Bananas on Facebook

For the Bananas, a conference on the mound routinely becomes a choreographed dance break:

Not playing on mobile? Click here

@thesavbananas Mound visit turned dance break 🕺 >>> #savannahbananas #dance #girliloveitwhenwe #fypシ #viral #baseballboys #baseball #mlb ♬ high – moved to @iceeechu

A player is encouraged to “hit the quan” when walking to the plate for an at-bat:

Not playing on mobile? Click here

@thesavbananas Rumor has it that if you hit the quan, you’ll hit the ball too 😤 #savannahbananas #baseball #mlb #hitthequan #fypシ #viral #SearchForWonderMom ♬ original sound – Evalina♡

After scoring a run, team celebrations can quickly evolve into C&C Music Factory dance parties:

Even the umpires are joining in on the fun with flamboyant, dance-filled strikeout calls that harken back to Leslie Nielsen in The Naked Gun  :

Not playing on mobile? Click here

@thesavbananas Ump really said “buh-bye buddy” 👋 #savannahbananas #baseball #mlb #umpire #fypシ #viral #FORDfortheBuilders ♬ original sound – Warren🖤

In confronting the trend of declining viewership, the Bananas’ owner (who wears a yellow tuxedo during games) wasn’t satisfied with simply looking around and imitating the rest of the league. He notes, “I didn’t want to learn from the baseball industry… I wanted to learn from the greatest entertainers out there,” like P.T. Barnum and Walt Disney.

Image Credit: Savannah Bananas on Facebook

Because of their unique and highly entertaining antics, the Bananas have been super successful in growing their following, both online and IRL. The team’s TikTok account has 2.7 million followers, and just look at the comments to see the kind of devotees they’re inspiring. They have a documentary-style TV show, “Bananaland,” debuting on ESPN+ this summer. And they’re selling out basically every home game in their 4,000-seat stadium — more than some major league teams. Hoping to get a ticket this season? Too bad — their home games for the rest of 2022 are sold out.

Are you thinking there must be some catch here? An organization that puts this much time into pure fan entertainment can’t also be good, right? Not so fast: the Bananas won the 2021 League Championship, already the team’s second championship in its mere 6-year existence.

2023 UPDATE: Since the release of Sledgehammer #39 last June, the team has continued to grow their brand at breakneck speed. Their TikTok following has already doubled in size, clocking in at 5.7 million followers (more than the top five MLB teams have combined). They’ve also celebrated the release of that previously mentioned TV show, “Bananaland” on ESPN+, which has viewers planning a trip to Savannah after the first episode alone.

In addition to their TV and social media success, the team closed out the 2022 season with a league championship for the second year in a row, and third overall. 2022 also marked their final championship win, however, as the Bananas announced they were parting with the Coastal Plain League to focus on a year-round tour.

The Banana Ball World Tour kicked off this February in West Palm Beach, FL and will continue all the way through September, ending in Cooperstown, NY. Home game tickets completely sold out in January, and owner Jesse Cole even turned down a $1,000,000 group ticket order in an effort to keep tickets in the hands of fans rather than resellers/scalpers. Presale tickets for games on the road have also closed, but if you’re still craving the chance to go bananas, you can sign up for their waitlist to be notified when (or if) any tickets become available.

What makes the Savannah Bananas such exemplary Challengers?

1) They challenge convention:   The Bananas have declared, “We are not your typical baseball team. We are different. We take chances. We test the rules. We challenge the way things are supposed to be.” Putting “fans first” in a competitive sports league is radical — an idea that has gotten mostly lip service in Major League Baseball (MLB). And the idea of marketing players aggressively is bold, too! MLB usually avoids marketing its players individually and shuts down fan-generated content. But the Bananas have made the decision to engage with the audience and foreground their players — a move that is unlike any other team in baseball, professional or otherwise.

2) They’re rewriting the rules of the game — literally:   Every spring, the team goes on a “Banana Ball” tour, playing exhibition games with a dramatically different set of rules designed to enhance the speed and fun of the game. These rules include gems such as “No bunting. Bunting sucks. If a batter bunts, they will be thrown out of the game” or “If a fan catches a foul ball, it’s an out.” These zany rule changes might have baseball purists scoffing, but your average fans cheering.

3) They do what others cannot or will not:   How many times have you seen a baseball game played by men in bright yellow kilts? How about a senior citizen dance team or dad-bod cheerleading squad? Traditionally, the idea of having fun has been pooh-poohed in baseball. Showing emotion isn’t really encouraged. And changing the foundational rules of the game to please fans and see what sticks? Definitely something that others will not do. But the Bananas are willing to take risks and explore new ideas, steering the sport in exciting new directions that would never have been attempted otherwise. And they’re reaping the benefits.

The Savannah Bananas are a shining example of the power that Challengers can wield in “a-peeling” to their audience, especially when they decide to take some risks, do a little dance, have a little fun, and get down tonight.

At any given time, there are hundreds of actual sledgehammers floating around the Heartbeat office and resting on shelves in Heartbeaters’ homes. To celebrate their first year on the team, each HB’er receives their very own sledge — a nod to our daily pursuit of tearing down tiresome healthcare marketing. To determine what is built in its place, we often turn to outside industries, cultural forces, and personal experiences. We eagerly share them with one another, and now we’re sharing them with you. Clear the way — here comes The Sledgehammer.