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MLB: How to Improve the league

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I’m in love with the game of baseball. There’s a fun saying that goes, “There are only two seasons; baseball and winter.” For me, that rings true. Baseball is the only sport that I pay any attention to. I watch as many teams as I can, not just my hometown team. Over the last few years, from Bud Selig to Rob Manfred, there has been a lot of talks (and action) about how to make the game of baseball better. Some of the improvements we have seen in the game include instant replay, a timer for manager meetings, and the single-game Wild Card game. As Rob Manfred continues to talk about ways to speed the game up, it started to get me thinking about some ways I would consider changing the game of baseball at the Major League level.

  1. Manager Timers- This wasn’t an awful idea, I guess. It seems petty, though, because the timer starts the minute a manager walks out of the dugout. In the past, the time the manager gets to spend meeting with his pitcher had always been monitored by an umpire, and then the umpire would stroll to the mound and ask the manager to wrap it up. Fans know that these meetings can be tactful; perhaps you’re going out there to discuss how you’d like to approach the hitter. Maybe you’re out there to re-align the defense and discuss what you want to do in certain scenarios. Or maybe, and I think this is why the rule is put in place, you’re out there as the manager to buy your reliever some time to get some extra throws in from the bullpen. In any event, I don’t feel that putting a timer on the pitching coach or manager speed the game up too much. Instead it can hurt a team.
  2. Instant Replay- It was a great implementation. I think the “Challenge” idea was great because it prevents managers from challenging every play. Perhaps, though, there is a way to modify this rule. Let’s keep in mind that e don’t want to damper the validity of the umpires that are on the field doing their job. I think it’s important that we get it right on the field, but perhaps there’s a way to speed this up. I think that the guys in New York should spend one minute; literally sixty seconds, on a play. If you can’t overturn the play in one minute, the play should stand. It shouldn’t take nearly three minutes to overturn the play. The umpire had a split second to make the call; sixty seconds should be all they get to overturn the play.
  3. The Wild Card- In my opinion, the Wild Card being opened to two teams isn’t about truly about making the game more competitive. I know that’s the front that the MLB execs want people to think. Instead, I think expanding the Wild Card game boils down to one thing: money. Here’s why: Both of these teams for each league make the Wild Card and what happens on the night they clinch? They both get showered in shirts and hats. You know who buys those shirts and hats? Fans. You get your choice, do you want the one that says “Wild Card”? Perhaps you’re happy settling for one that has the year and “Playoffs” next to it. In any event, MLB cashes in. That goes for the TV money and the money from the thousands of fans who pack the stadium. If my team gets into the Wild Card and loses that one game, to me, it isn’t the playoffs. It isn’t until you move past that round where it feels like a team is in the playoffs. I liked the old system where the best record after the division winners makes the Wild Card. If you have a tie, then you have a one-game playoff (much like the Twins and Tigers in 2009). Eliminate this one-game deal. Either go back to the way it used to be or make the Wild Card a three-game series.
  4. Number of Games- Ok, so you think to yourself, “If we make the Wild Card a best of three, that still makes the playoffs drag on even longer and later into the year.” Fair enough. Here’s a question I have for you, and this comes from a baseball lover: Do we need 162 games? I know, I can hear the audible gasps escaping through your mouth and into the computer. “Eliminate games? That’s crazy!” But maybe it isn’t. Here’s why. If you don’t live on the West Coast, or in the south, and you’re outdoors during the playoff stretch, then there’s a chance you’re sitting in some awful weather. It can be cold, rainy; we’ve even seen snow during the playoffs. Do we need that? If I am going to watch the most important baseball games of the year place, why wouldn’t I want those games played in optimal weather? Move the playoffs back about two weeks. The weather would most likely be better, and it can make for better baseball. The players would rather play in nice weather; the fans would rather sit in nice weather. Get this done.

Now, as a caveat to this, I know there becomes the issue of contracts and guaranteed money. If a player is making $30 million, you want them to work for that full 162-games schedule, not just 150. I get that. But I think there should be a way to re-work those contracts to adjust for this change.

  1. Salary Caps- I know. This is the least realistic possibility of them all. There’s no way the player’s union would agree to put a cap on the millions of dollars the players male. Perhaps, though, this could change the way baseball is played. Let’s look at the trade deadline that just passed. Some of the reasons trades get made so that teams that are struggling can get rid of top players so that they don’t have their salary bogging down a crumbling team. The cap should certainly be larger than that of, say, the NHL, but it might be an interesting way to change how free agency, trades, and money-spending takes place.
  2. The Designated Hitter- I’m sorry to those of you who are huge fans of the National League. Stop it! Madison Bumgarner is a rarity. Carlos Zambrano was a rarity. Pitchers can’t hit. They can barely bunt. You know what a pitcher is really good at doing at the plate? Either flailing his arms at a fastball and missing, or taking three called strikes. Why in the world would a fan want to watch their team mount a rally, just to watch a pitcher up there piss it away? The American League has it right. You put a bopper in there who can help your team out, and it makes the entire lineup more solid. I’ve heard a lot of people state that National League baseball is more challenging because not having the designated hitter forces a manager to make more important decisions. I say I’d rather let them rest easy knowing that one through nine is all competent hitters. Add the DH to both leagues. If both leagues play in Major League Baseball, they should both play by the same rules.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at [email protected]