Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Purist's Take on Improving the National Pastime

Rob Manfred will take over as the new Commissioner of Baseball from the ex-Wisconsin car dealer Bud Selig who, having presided over the Steroid Era, the advent of interleague play, and the malfeasance of Met ownership, is retiring after this season.  It is unclear what new ideas Manfred might have but change, when it comes to baseball, is generally not a good idea and any tinkering with tradition should be done, if at all, with great care.  That said, I have a few humble suggestions, pretty much all of which harkon back to those halcyon days of yore (i.e., after Jackie Robinson, before Ron Blomberg).

1.  Do away with the Designated Hitter Rule.  The DH is wrong for so many reasons: it upsets the traditional symmetry of 9 players on a side all of whom field and hit; it eliminates late-inning strategy; it allows players past their prime and one-dimensional players to keep playing.  It is also the product of racism.  This was the subject of one of my very first blog posts: The Designated Hitter:  The Legacy of Racism.

2.  Speed up the game.  Games have been getting longer over the last few decades.  There is no reason for a 9-inning game to last more than 3 hours and here are some ways to avoid it:  (1) prohibit batters from stepping out of the batters box after every pitch; (2) limit the amount of times the catcher and other players can approach the mound to talk to the pitcher; (3) cut the time between innings; (4) do away with instant replay (see below)

3.  Eliminate instant replay.  I am ok with the original instant replay rule, which was designed to review home runs.  New fangled ballparks with unusual angles and idiosyncratic seating make it much more difficult to discern with the naked eye when a ball was actually hit out of the park.  But the success of the original rule has led to the inevitable slippery slope -- expanded replay into many more areas of the game.   These rules which seek to eliminate human error are applied by human beings, resulting in ... plenty of human error.  More problematic is that exciting, close plays are immediately challenged, stopping play, upsetting the flow of the game at pivotal moments.  Instant reply is causing delay, uncertainty and more bad calls.  We need to accept that baseball is a game of imperfection.

4.  Outlaw the shift.  With more advanced statistical measures, teams can now discern where hitters are most likely to hit the ball.  They are increasingly using this data to employ an extreme infield shift to shut down the effectiveness of left-handed pull hitters.  A shift was occasionally used in the past, most notably against Ted Williams, but it is becoming routine in today's game.  The shift has played a role in the reduction of offense this year.  It isn't fair to lefties.  It also looks weird to have players so out of position.  And do we really want to see Big Papi and other lumbering sluggers lay bunts down the third base line to defeat the shift as opposed to swinging for the fences?

5.  Play the Fall Classic in the Fall.  Because of the increasing amount of playoff games, the World Series is now played in late October, early November.  Baseball is a game that should be played in warm weather, not snow.  To get back to an early October World Series, I would reduce the regular season from 162 games to its pre-1961 level of 154, and include scheduled double-headers, which are now only used to make up for rain outs. The reduction in games can be accomplished by eliminating interleague play.

6.  No interleague play.  If the Yankees and Mets want to play each other, let them go back to playing the Mayor's Trophy Game.  Inter-league play dilutes some of the mystique of the All Star Game and World Series, which used to be the only times when players in each league played each other.  It forces National League teams to use a designated hitter when the AL team is at home, and forces American League pitchers who never otherwise hit to do so when the NL team hosts.  And since not all teams can play each other, it gives an arbitrary and unfair advantage to teams who get to play lesser teams in the other league.

7.  Turn down the noise.  I went to Fenway Park this summer and was struck by how quiet it was.  There was no blasting of music or sound effects during the game, leaving us with the sounds of the game itself and the crowd.  It was delightful, and quite the contrast to the mind-numbing cacophony at most ball parks.

8.  Reinstate Pete Rose.  It has been 25 years since Rose has been banished from baseball for gambling.  He is 73 years old.  One of the greatest, most exciting players in history has paid his debt and should be let back into the fold.

9.  Just "play ball."  Let's do away with the National Anthem before the game and God Bless America during the 7th Inning Stretch.  I wrote about this here awhile back.  It has never been clear to me why we must reaffirm our love of this country -- including the 1/3 of  Major League Baseball players who are foreign born -- not once, but twice during a baseball game.  It seems to me that we show our faith in what is great about the United States by enjoying the American game itself, and I truly believe there are few things more patriotic than standing up during the 7th Inning Stretch and singing about "peanuts and crackerjacks" at the old ballgame.

10  Appoint an independent commission to investigate whether Mets ownership should be forced to sell the team.  Ever since the Wilpons were 'victimized' in the Bernie Madoff scandal they have survived thanks to their friendship with Commissioner Selig, by obtaining emergency loans and relying on a very reduced payroll.  Granted when the Mets do have money they spend it stupidly.  (See Mets or Bust.)  But a team with New York's market is acting like a small market team, alienating fans and squandering what little good will they have left.  And, now, with new allegations stemming from a sex discrimination lawsuit, an investigation is even more urgent.


Post a Comment