August 2014

Three Things Baseball Can and Should Do Commissioner Manfred

Call this an open letter if you like to the new leader that baseball chose for itself this past Thursday. Rob Manfred is the new Commissioner of Baseball starting in January replacing Bud Selig. This is good for baseball, in that you have a leader who has built good trust with the MLB Players Association and no matter what you think of player salaries, you must admit that a good relationship with the arm that represents the players is necessary. After all, Google a list of the men and corporations that own the 30 teams in the majors and you will quickly see that they are all connected to multibillion dollar outfits.

All that being said, here are things that the new commissioner should consider.

First, pace of game issues. A lot is being made of the longer and longer baseball games that are being played even though we are back into an era of lower scoring games that rivals that of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s excluding the 1987 season. Part of this is institutional cultural based and can’t be changed, because every player is encouraged to get on base at all costs. The players are given the view that on base percentage is the all mighty statistic and that it is best to draw a walk, foul off a bunch of tough pitches and have long grind it out turns at bat. ON top of this though, you have the constant stepping out of the box by hitters who want to adjust their batting gloves after every pitch, totally unnecessary. Pitchers too are guilty as they step off, throw to first countless times, and stall if they are in trouble. This leads of course to bad baseball because the games are long and the poor guys in the field lose concentration because of this slow pace. This can be solved by making some changes in the game that don’t take away from the actual playing rules of baseball. Make the umpires greatly limit the number of times a hitter gets granted time to step out of the box. Once a hitter has stepped out, he can’t do so again for at least the next four pitches of the at bat. The pitcher should also be limited in the number of times he steps off the pitching plate also known as the rubber, once every fourth pitch of an at bat is the allowed rate just like the rule keeping hitters in the box.

Conferences between players and the pitcher should only be allowed once every other hitter so long as the pitcher remains the same in the given inning and so long as the on deck hitter is not replaced by another batter. You can easily decide how you want to approach the current hitter and the guy on deck in the same meeting.

No more conversations with the batter and a base coach, they can do it all via hand signals. They can also do it the instant the previous pitch is over and the ball has been returned to the pitcher. Glance at the coach, get the sign, and three seconds later get in position and prepare to deal with the next pitch.

Baseball can do other things too that would improve pace. No one wants to talk about the two minutes between every half inning for commercial TV time and this goes to more than 3 minutes in the post season. Limit commercial breaks to 90 seconds at all points of the season from spring training to the final game of the World Series. It is not often I’d ask baseball to take a page from the soccer book, but what helps soccer speed along is the constant play and the fact that commercial sponsorship is not at all a problem in that sport. Baseball could do some in inning advertising and focus each half inning on a particular sponsor. This actually works better for the sponsor, because you get the attention of the viewer during the game, rather than hoping viewers see your spot during the 2 to 3 and a half minutes of break time between innings. In a 9 inning game, cutting commercial time between innings in this way cuts 9 minutes off the length of a regular season game and it cuts up to 36 minutes off the length of post season games. In addition, reduce the number of warm-up pitches on the mound for a relief pitcher entering the game during an ongoing inning to 5 and cut the commercial break to 30 seconds during a pitching change of an ongoing inning. Lastly, pitching changes to start an inning must be made the minute said team takes the field. At the Miami and Houston game on July 27, the bottom of the seventh started by the Marlins coming out and changing pitchers before a single pitch had been thrown and the Astros had not changed batters by pinch hitting, thus the Marlins were just stalling for their appointed relief pitcher.

Baseball can also change another recent tradition and while some won’t agree with this, end the seventh inning God Bless America routine which started only after September 11. This could and should be part of the game, but do it at the beginning of the game, incorporate it into the time prior to first pitch right alongside the National Anthem or how ever else you want to honor this great land. A four minute middle of the seventh inning certainly is and was never in the best interest of the game.

Second, lost ratings. Baseball will never be the NFL, football plays 10% the number of games baseball plays. But baseball can do a lot to address its ratings issues. For one, fans get tired of seeing the same teams on television all the time when it comes to national broadcasts. Only the true baseball devotee purchases the out of market packages that provides access to additional games on television, or said fans purchase similar TV and radio packages through the MLB internet offerings known as Game Day Audio and MLBTV. Many fans would appreciate seeing all teams at various points and this is how you ultimately market very good players in smaller markets. One way baseball markets all of the stars on various teams and markets all the teams for that matter, is to insist that all teams get on a certain percentage of nationally broadcast games. Additionally, teams who are in more meaningful postseason positions should get the greater consideration for games shown after the All Star break. The first Sunday of August we were forced to watch yet another Yankees and Red Sox game, Boston is just about a guarantee to miss the playoffs and the Yankees were not all that much better. A more meaningful game would have been to show us Mariners at Orioles, Brewers at Cardinals, or Royals at Athletics. The preset schedule with the artificial pumping up of big market teams is not a way to truly capture baseball fans on a national level, especially the casual fan who would appreciate the chance to flip on a national game and see different teams and yes, teams who are actually contending for something? This was the very reason the NFL went to a flex schedule for the Sunday night games starting in week 10, because the NFL did not want to find itself in a situation where in week 13 of the season, the scheduled game featured a pair of rivals who enter with records of 6-6 and 4-8 respectably.

Baseball has done a lot to embrace modern technology, its apps for mobile technology are the best of all the major sports leagues. But baseball needs to incorporate this modern look while not leaving behind its non-technical and poorer audience who can’t afford all the gadgets. Baseball should insist that all teams have a local TV contract that carries at least 75% of the games on local over the air TV. All teams should be on powerful radio stations with strong signals that reach a broad audience, not just the lower power AM all sports station or the FM all sports station that covers areas within 60-80 miles of the home turf. A young fan in Texas today can find that he or she can’t get a Rangers or Astros game on the radio unless a local affiliate exists that carries the game, because Houston is on an AM all sports station that can’t be picked up 50 miles outside Houston at night. Texas is on an FM all sports station that can’t be picked up well at all 20 miles south of the greater DFW metro, its signal is tilted north toward the more wealthy areas of the metro extending up into far southern Oklahoma 80 miles away. When I was a kid, I became hooked on baseball and both teams were on powerful stations, the Rangers on WBAP which could be picked up anywhere in the state and over much of the southern and central US at night. The Astros were on KTRH and though not a clear channel frequency, its signal covered all of central, eastern and southern Texas at night and you could easily here the station at night over southern Louisiana, Mississippi and southern Alabama. Now baseball fans in Texas who are like me at age 13 back in 1986 get cheated. Today, the story is similar for existing and potential new fans of the Athletics, Twins, Tigers, Red Sox, Rays, Diamondbacks, Brewers, Pirates, Nationals, Braves and Marlins. The Royals and Braves are teams that do have extensive radio networks, but for teams such as the Marlins, Rays, nationals, and Diamondbacks, large radio presence is not existent.

Third, expansion. Baseball is a sport that has more talent sources now than ever. There are markets that clearly can support baseball and it would make sense for the game to expand to 32 teams. It gets rid of the big problem people have with interleague games all the time, though I personally don’t see an issue with that. Put teams in Montreal and Portland. Both would go to the AL and Houston would move back to the NL. IN addition, baseball should be open to adding other markets in the future as cities like Vancouver, San Antonio and Charlotte could clearly support a team and a team in Brooklyn is overdue.

Baseball in theory could expand to 36 teams, hosting six teams in each of the six divisions. The interleague schedule would grow from 20 to 22 games, three games against each of six teams in a given division plus the four rivalry games. IN a division rotation year where the rivals were included as part of the rotation, the rival would be played for 6 games, while 4 would be played against a second team and 3 against the remaining four. All teams outside the division in the same league would be played 6 games each, this adds 72 games to the schedule. The remaining 68 games would be played within the division, 13 games against a pair of teams and 14 each against the remaining three within the division.

Call me a huge fan, call me an idealist, but most of all I am one who loves the game as much as you do Mr. commissioner and there are fans who would gladly serve on a special blue ribbon committee to bring even more greatness to our beloved game.

Candidates for Future All Star Games in Major League Baseball, 2016-2030

Believe it or not, most of the new ballparks built since the 1990’s have now hosted All Star games. Baseball should not reward a city a game just because it built a new park at tax payer expense with no real assistance from MLB itself.

Here now, a look at the candidates for the next several years of All Star Baseball, keeping in mind that Cincinnati will host in 2015.

Assuming the AL/NL rotation remains, for 2016, believe it or not the Tampa Bay Rays would and should be in line to host. Their AL East rivals have all hosted within the last 22 years, Toronto (1991), Baltimore (1993), Boston (1999), and the Yankees (2008). All teams in the AL Central have hosted games in just a 17 year period, Cleveland (1997), Chicago White Sox (2003), Detroit (2005), Kansas city (2012), and Minnesota this year. IN the AL West, Houston hosted as an NL franchise in 2004, while the Angels hosted in 2010 and the Mariners in 2001. The Rangers hosted in 1995 and the Athletics in 1987, the longest drought for any AL franchise that previously hosted the game.

Meanwhile, the NL has more candidates to host future games. The Marlins originally had the 2000 game before it got moved to Atlanta, Miami would be a natural and obvious choice in 2017, 2019, or 2021. The Washington Nationals have not yet hosted the annual game and last did so as the Montreal Expos way back in 1982, the longest drought for any existing MLB team that previously hosted the game. The Phillies have not hosted the game in their new ballpark either, but the franchise did have the game in 1996. the Pirates though did have the game twice in a 13 year period between 1994-2006 at their two stadiums, so a return to Philly is certainly reasonable. The Mets obviously just hosted in 2013 and as mentioned before, Atlanta hosted in 2000. IN addition to Washington and Miami, the Cubs are the only NL Central team to have gone more than 20 years without the game, the Cardinals 2009, Pirates 2006 and Brewers 2002 all hosted the game more recently, the Cubs last hosted in 1990. Finally out in the NL West, the Dodgers shockingly are overdue to host the game which has not been played in Dodger Stadium since I started watching baseball in 1986, it was 1980 when the game was in Los Angeles. the Padres last hosted in 1992 and thus the same case can be made for San Diego that I argued for Philadelphia. The Rockies last hosted in 1998, the Giants in 2007 and the Diamondbacks in 2011.

So with that in mind, now I present the cities that should next host the midsummer classic.

2016, Tropicana Field. Say what you will about it as a venue, but it was built in the late ’80s and was state of the art at the time.

2017, Dodger Stadium. The return to Los Angeles after 37 years seems only proper.

2018, Oriole Park at Camden Yards. NO other 1990’s retro park should host the game a second time until it is played here.

2019, Marlins Park. New stadium deserves the game within the next five years.

2020, Arlington, TX. The Ballpark of several names in its history is another one of the AL favorites and a game here is always enjoyable.

2021, Petco Park. San Diego has gone longer than Philadelphia without the game, so it is only right to go here first.

2022, Cleveland. It will have been 25 years since the last game in this great ballpark.

2023, Philadelphia. At this point, it would have been 27 years since the 1996 game and this would put the game in every new NL park outside DC.

2024, new Yankee Stadium. 16 years after the game in the old stadium and 11since the game in Queens, a return to the new place is only natural.

2025, Washington. Nationals franchise would have game sooner if not for return to Baltimore and long line of NL parks that needed to host the game.

2026, Athletics. OK so they may be gone from Oakland by then, maybe they have a new park in Oakland or somewhere in northern California. It would return the game to the franchise after a 39 year wait.

2027, Wrigley Field. It deserves one more game if it is still here, 37 years after 1990 tilt.

2028, Boston. Is Fenway still in operation? If so, it deserves the game one last time after a 29 year wait.

2029, Colorado. Coors Field is another one of the great parks, it would have been 31 years since the 1998 game.

2030, Toronto. It would have been 39 years by this time since the Jays hosted the 1991 game.

A proposal for Affiliated Minor League Expansion, 20 New Teams Would be Created

Almost every baseball season if you follow the shuffle that is minor league franchises, teams are bought and sold by various ownership groups and moved from city to city. Sometimes a team leaves town for a new home in a nicer stadium, sometimes the ownership simply wants to put the team in a new city despite a nice existing ballpark, see the transfer from Casper, Wyoming to Grand Junction Colorado.

A solution could be at hand though if a group of civic leaders, baseball fans and business owners decided to step up to the plate and it involves the choice of joining existing leagues or creating a new league.

Each team in Major League Baseball has one minor league affiliate at each of the top four rungs or classifications in the current structure of the minors. At the top Triple A level, 16 teams in MLB have working agreements with 16 franchises in the Pacific Coast League, which spans from the west coast to Tennessee. The remaining 14 teams are affiliated with 14 franchises in the International League, which has franchises across the northeastern US and as far west as Ohio and south to Georgia.

At the double A level, 8 teams are affiliated with the same number of franchises in the Texas League, which operates in four Texas cities, with teams in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. Another 10 teams are in the Southern League, which operates teams from Tennessee and North Carolina south to Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. The remaining 12 affiliations are with a dozen teams in the Eastern League, which covers the northeastern US.

The next rung down is the Advanced A Ball or High A leagues, again each MLB club has one minor league team that it is affiliated with. The Florida State League is home to 12 of these affiliations with all teams in the Sunshine State. Another 10 teams are in the California League and again all teams are in a single state that is the league’s namesake. The remaining 8 teams are in the Carolina League, which has teams in both North and South Carolina, as well as in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.

The lowest level of A leagues which are full season leagues consist of the Midwest and South Atlantic Leagues. The Midwest League has 16 teams with 16 different MLB affiliates, the remaining 14 are with the SAL. The teams in the Midwest League are in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. The South Atlantic League also features a Kentucky franchise, with teams extending from there to include the states of Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey.

Where things change is at the short season level. Two leagues are at the A level and two are a step below that at advanced Rookie level. The two short season A leagues are the New York-Penn League which features 14 teams around the northeastern US, while another 8 are in the Pacific Northwest with teams in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and one in Vancouver, BC. Each of the 22 teams in these two leagues have 22 different MLB affiliates. The 8 MLB teams that do not have an affiliate at this level are the Angels, Braves, Brewers, Dodgers, Reds, Royals, Twins and White Sox.

Below this are the advanced Rookie Leagues which are also short season leagues. Here 18 minor league teams make up two leagues, 8 in the Pioneer League which is in cities around Montana, Idaho, Utah and Colorado, while the 10-team Appalachian League features teams around that region of the eastern US. The 8 teams that do not have a team at the short season A level do have teams in these leagues, the Royals in fact have two, one in each league. Thus there are 13 teams that do not feature a team at this level, the Athletics, Cubs, Giants, Indians, Marlins, Nationals, Orioles, Padres, Phillies, Rangers, Red Sox, Tigers and Yankees. Because Kansas City has two teams at the lowest of the two short season levels, the 13 teams that don’t feature an advanced rookie team and the 7 outside Kansas City with no short season A level team are all home to one less minor league affiliation. Thus, expansion would be the logical step to provide teams for these 20 slots that are available in theory.

At the Short Season A level, 8 slots are available to be filled, likely through the creation of a third league. The Royals would move one of their Rookie level affiliations to this league where they and 7 others lacked a team. The opened slot from the Royals in Rookie ball would go to one of the 13 teams that has no affiliate at that level. Two new teams would be added to the Pioneer League, Casper and Cheyenne, Wyoming would be obvious fits and Casper had a team at one of the best rated ballparks in the minors until it was moved to Grand Junction, Colorrado. The remaining 10 would come from the creation of a second new league that would be home to 10 franchises.

The new 10-team league that would be on par with the Pioneer and Appalachian Leagues could play in areas that were previously home to minor league baseball. The circuit could consist for instance of Lubbock, Abilene, San Angelo, Wichita Falls, Waco, Tyler, College Station, Beaumont, Victoria and San Marcos, all within the state of Texas and The league would be known naturally as the Lone Star League. San Marcos, College Station, Beaumont, Waco, Lubbock, Abilene and San Angelo all have modern existing stadiums that are operated for college baseball and these could easily accommodate a minor league team from June to September. With three 10-team circuits at the rookie level, the 10 teams in the western divisions could make use of the Rookie league, though the Rangers and Astros would likely go with Texas based clubs, leaving two teams in central divisions to use the Pioneer League. This would not be an issue as the Royals and Brewers already do this. The remaining teams in the central divisions of MLB could have affiliations with the new Lone Star League and this would leave the 10 teams in eastern divisions to affiliate with the Appalachian League.

Moving up one level to the Short Season A leagues, an 8-team league would be created to join the previously mentioned Northwest League with 8 teams and the new York-Penn League with 14 or the NYP could expand by a pair of teams and grow to a total of 16 teams and the Northwest League would expand by adding six teams and growing to a total of 14.

So if you live in a city that wants to have minor league baseball affiliated with the big leagues, you have a way to make it happen. Create it, and the fans might very well come.

28-34 Days Left in Minor League Regular Seasons

IN just over four weeks, the minor league season will begin to close in most portions of the country. What follows is a look at the final date of scheduled regular season games in each of the 16 United States minor leagues that are affiliated with Major League Baseball.

Friday August 29 is closing night for some teams in the Arizona Rookie League, which is played at Spring Training locations in and around Phoenix. Earlier that day, the Gulf Coast League which is very similar and operated at Spring Training Sites in Florida closes out with a slate of noon contests. Saturday August 30 is closing night for the short season Appalachian League regular season, one game is at 1:05 that Saturday afternoon. It is also closing night for the rest of the teams in the Arizona Rookie League. Monday September 1, Labor Day. Many teams will play their final games on this date and this day features more day games than any other on the minor league calendar. The triple A Pacific Coast and International Leagues, Double A Texas, Southern and Eastern Leagues, Advanced Class A Florida State, California and Carolina Leagues, full season class A Midwest and South Atlantic Leagues, as well as the short season New York-Penn and Northwest Leagues will all play their final regular season games on this date. The short season Pioneer league will conclude its season on Thursday September 4 with all teams playing early evening contests. All Pioneer League teams are in action on Labor Day as well.

Trading Days, Can We Talk Partner?

ON Thursday, the trade deadline lived up to the hype with a dozen deals done on July 31 alone. Some trades were pulled off between teams that had not swapt players during the 21st century as the Yankees and Red Sox completed their first deal together since 1997. So using the trade history provided by www.baseballreference.com, here is a look at the trading partners who have not made a deal since at least 1999.

Tuesday August 3, 1999: Astros and Twins

Two little known players, one in the minor leagues were traded, George Williams went to the Houston organization in exchange for Josh Dimmick.

Wednesday July 21, 1999; Red Sox and Rays

Two rivals now, what was then the Devil Rays made a deal where they sent Julio Santana to Boston, the Sox completed the deal nine days later on Friday July 30 sending minor leaguer Will Silverthorn to Tampa.

Friday October 31, 1997: Angels and Rangers

Matt Perisho went to Texas in exchange for Mike Bell.

Wednesday July 16, 1997: Giants and Tigers

Marcus Jensen went to Detroit in return ffor Brian Johnson.

Friday July 21, 1995: Reds and Giants

Dave Burba, Darren Lewis and Mark Portugal all went to Cincinnati in exchange for Dave McCarty, Ricky Pickett, John Roper, Scott Service (the pitcher) and some famous two sport athlete named Deion Sanders.

Sunday December 30, 1990: Dodgers and Rangers

Jim Poole went to Texas for a pair of minor leaguers, Steve Allen and David Lynch.

But what is by far the longest gap between the present and the last deal made between two teams takes us back more than 40 years.

Wednesday April 1, 1981: Angels and Astros

A young promising shortstop named Dickie Thon was sent to Houston in exchange for pitcher Ken Forsch.

One other interesting note, the Orioles and Nationals have not made a trade since the Nats moved to DC, the last deal taking place Wednesday October 3, 2001 when Tim Raines was sent from Montreal to Baltimore so he could be on the Orioles club with his son the final few days of the season.