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.