Baseball is a beautiful game. Casual fans enjoy the setting and the leisurely pace. More ardent fans appreciate the nuances buried in the minutiae of each action. However, there are some things about the game that bother fans of all types. Baseball has begun to address some of these concerns with instant replay and rulings related to player health or pace of play, but the game still has flaws. As a lifelong fan of the game, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts regarding what can be done to improve the game at the Major League level. I’d like to see the sport reclaim its role as “America’s Pastime.” If I was Commissioner of Baseball, I would:
- Enforce the pace-of-play rules that already exist. Pace of play has been identified as an area of concern by the Comissioner, as games have grown longer and longer in recent years. Rather than adding pitch clocks or instituting rules about relief pitchers, all that needs to be done is to enforce the rules that are already in place. Rule 5.07(c) (used to be Rule 8.04) states that the pitcher must deliver the pitch within 12 seconds of receiving the ball when the bases are unoccupied, and gives the umpire authority to call a “ball” any time unnecessary delay is observed. Rule 5.04(b) (used to be 6.02) requires a batter to promptly take his position in the batter’s box and prohibits him from stepping out between pitches. Batters shouldn’t be allowed to call “time out” once the pitcher starts his motion, as that’s already against the rules (Uncle Teddy agrees). If they only enforced the rules already in place, the pace of the game would pick up considerably. Or, get everyone to work like Mark Buehrle.
- Fix replay. There’s no sane reason why the simplest reviews should take a few minutes to execute. It’s really rather simple. Add one more umpire to each crew, and put him in a press box with some monitors and a video guy. Give him a direct line to the crew chief, who wears an earpiece. As soon as a close play happens, he tells the chief that they want to take a look at it. Crew chief calls a “time out”, and by the time the manager’s foot hits the top step of the dugout, the guys in the booth have gotten a good look at the footage. The manager can still request a review, but most would be initiated by the umpire crew just like in college football.
- Robot umps. Well, kinda. Presuming that the current technology is accurate and reliable (that’s a big leap of faith), hook the system up with a red or green light mounted in the home umpire’s face mask. Within a fraction of a second, the system determines ball or strike and the corresponding light illuminates in the umpire’s mask. We still have a man watching/listening for hit batsmen, catcher’s interference, balks, fair/foul, and any play at the plate, and we still get to see fat old men pull imaginary chainsaw cords and screech out “WEEE-HAWWW!!” for emphasis.
- World Series Home Field Advantage & the All-Star Game. The World Series home team should not be determined by the All-Star Game. The All-Star Game should be an exhibition where superstars get to have fun and put on a show for the fans. Gather a pool of money and split it between the teams with the winning side taking the lion’s share and donate a matching portion to a charity. Let John Kruk flip his helmet around to stay away from the Big Unit’s slider, and if it ends in a tie, so be it. Finish it with a bonus home run derby, bring in temporary fences, add runners, it’s an exhibition. They’ll still play for pride and put on a show. One of my favorite Tony Gwynn moments was when he scored the winning run in the 1994 ASG. Exhibition or not, that game was a classic. As for home field advantage, interleague play is a thing that won’t go away, and we can use it for good rather than evil. Take the overall interleague record for the entire season. The league with the highest interleague win-loss record gets home field advantage. The sad part here is that the AL has dominated interleague play, holding the better record in 16 of the 20 seasons since it was instituted in 1997. If only there was a way we could make interleague play more fair...
- Interleague Play. Schedule interleague play in blocks. The DH changes how a team might want to construct their roster. The schedule should be arranged with roster rules in mind, so a team can option pitchers, sluggers, and utility players as needed in anticipation with some consecutive series to be played under a certain set of rules. A twist on this could be to add another player to the active roster, and this player must be declared “inactive” prior to each series.
The game isn’t broken. At its core, it’s still the same perfect game that we learned as kids. The product that Major League Baseball presents to us is great just as it is, but there’s always room for improvement. The most important thing for the Commissioner to keep in mind is that the game needs to be fun, for the fans and for the players. As long as we’re all having a good time, we’ll never stop loving this game.