Monday, July 22, 2013

If I Were The Commissioner Of Baseball.

      Bud Selig has been the Commissioner of Major League Baseball since 1992 and says he will retire at the end of the 2014 season. During his tenure baseball has endured a strike that cancelled the entire 1994 season, including the World Series, implemented inter-league play and consolidated power with his office rather then their being a president of both the National and American Leagues as had been the case since the leagues were founded.  He presided over the return of baseball after 9-11 and was the decision maker that resulted in the 7-7 tie of the 202 All-Star Game.  He was also Commissioner during the discovery of wide-spread use of performance enhancing drugs, one of the worst scandals in baseball history.
      He has been involved in many other decisions that have changed baseball.  Selig's decision to extend the traditional post-season schedule into November in an attempt to increase Nielsen ratings was met with widespread disdain, both inside and outside the baseball community.  Selig has made some decisions involving the Houston Astros that were unpopular with their supporters.  He ordered the roof at Minute Maid Park to be opened for games three and four of the 2005 World Series, pre-empting the authority held by the Astros.  The roof was closed for all prior playoff games and similar weather conditions.  For Hurricane Ike in 2008, Selig mandated that the Astros play two home games against the Chicago Cubs in his hometown of Milwaukee despite proximity to the visiting Cubs.  The Astros subsequently were victims of a no-hitter by Carlos Zambrano and recorded a single hit in the following game.  In the midst of the playoff race, this decision and its impact deeply affected the playoff race and seedings with eight teams holding winning records at the moment.  The Milwaukee Brewers benefited from these events by qualifying in the playoffs as a Wild Card team.  The home ballparks for the Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves were both available to host the games.  In 2011, Selig also demanded that the Astros move to the American League West as a condition of the sale of the franchise to businessman Jim Crane; the team switched leagues in 2013 in return for $70 million discount in the purchase price.  Selig also drew criticism for his handling of the Los Angeles Dodgers situation.  United States bankruptcy judge Kevin Gross rendered a stern warning to Selig in regards to the Dodgers ownership dispute.  Treating other teams differently in regards to their media contracts drew accusations that Selig did not act in good faith with respect to the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Selig rejected the television deal that Frank McCourt negotiated that intended to bring the franchise out of bankruptcy, claiming McCourt violated the Baseball Agreements although no action taken against New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon despite being in a similar position.  Some critics have used Selig's handling of the Dodgers to point out a double standard in treatment of MLB owners.  More specifically in regards to the Mets, critics point out Selig's personal relationship with Wilpon has allowed him to stall any possible removal of Wilpon as that club's principal owner. 
      Selig was also responsible for the realignment of teams into three divisions per league, and the introduction of playoff wild card teams (1994), the addition of two franchises: the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, now the Tampa Bay Rays (1998), transfer of the Milwaukee Brewers (the team he owned until he became commissioner) from the American League to the National League (1998), Unbalanced schedule (2001), Home field advantage in the World Series granted to the winner of the All Star Game in the same season (2003), Transfer of Montreal Expos franchise to Washington, D.C., becoming the Washington Nationals (2004), Dedicating April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day (2004), Stricter Major League Baseball performance-enhancing drug testing policy (2005), World Baseball Classic (2006), Introduction of instant replay in the event of a disputed home run call (2008) and the introducing a second wild card playoff team in each league (2012).  Quite an impressive list of accomplishments, some good, some bad but has he done enough to keep baseball in the forefront of the minds of people around the world?  I think there are six things a Commissioner could do to improve the product of baseball.
      First, I believe the season is too long, I'm not saying the 162 games are too many, just that the season lasts too long.  In 1984, the last year the Tigers won the World Series, the season started on April 2nd and ended October 14, 192 days.  Last year the season started March 28th and ended October 28th, 210 days.  Eighteen days may not seem like much but in October it could mean the difference between playing in 50 degree weather and 40 degree weather.  Another reason I picked 1984 is because it was the last time a World Series game started earlier than prime time in the eastern United States.  In addition, no World Series has ended as early as October 14 since 1984; in fact no World Series game has been played earlier than October 15 since 1984.  Format changes—the best-of-five League Championship Series becoming best-of-seven affairs, followed by the addition of wild-card teams and the best-of-five League Division Series—have made that impossible.  That needs to change, when I was a kid baseball teams played multiple doubleheaders a season, not because of rain outs, but to keep the number of days in the season down.  Nowadays that does not happen.  Teams do not want to schedule twin-bills because it cuts into their revenues, they just don't make as much money if two games are played in one day as they would if they were on separate days.  If we can convince the teams to have more doubleheaders we can reduce the number of days in the season, which will allow the post-season to start earlier and therefore end earlier. 
      Second, along with increasing the number of doubleheaders I also believe the start time for most post-season games should be earlier.  Since 1984 there has not been a post season game that has started before 8:00 PM Eastern time, with the average length of a World Series game in the last five seasons coming in at 3:30 that puts the end of the game around 11:30 PM much too late for children to stay up.  Consequently there are whole generations of young people that have never seen a whole World Series game.  That hurts the popularity of baseball in the long run, if kids don't grow up as a fan of baseball the league will lose then as fans as adults.  I know that the sports landscape is crowded these days but if baseball wants to keep growing and maybe return to it's number one spot then they need to court the kids in America. 
      Third, I don't understand Selig's decision to move the Houston Astros to the American League.  Why move a team that has been in the National League since it's inception in 1962.  There are no rivalries for Houston in the AL and with their poor play in recent years I see that fan base unwilling to pay Major League prices to see a game.  One could say that there will be a rivalry with the Texas Rangers but that will take time to develop, especially with the Astros playing so badly.  I think a better move would have been to move the Brewers back to the American League.  The Brewers played in the AL from 1969 until Selig moved them to the NL in 1997.  Sure, There was a team in Milwaukee that played in the NL from 1953 until 1965 but that is a totally different team known as the Braves that now plays in Atlanta and how many people that we around then were around in 1997?  The reason the Brewers were moved in 1997 was the re-alignment to three divisions in each league and the addition of the Rays and Diamondbacks. The league wanted to put one new team in each league and that would have meant there were more teams in the American League then in the NL.  The talk in baseball circles said that the team that moved would make a lot of money, and it seems pretty coincidental that it was Selig's old team that moved.  With the move of the Astros to the AL there are now more teams in the AL then in the NL, so that reason to move the Brewers  is now moot, but I guess they were able to postpone it for 16 years.
      Fourth, if I were Commissioner of Baseball would be the reduction or elimination of inter-league play.  Inter-league play was introduced in 1997 to try to generate renewed fan interest after the player's strike in 1994.  It was a success at first but the novelty has worn off, especially for the players who would rather go back to the traditional schedule.  I think it waters down the World Series doubly so if the teams had met in the regular season.  Half the fun of the World Series was the unfamiliarity of the two teams with each other and the way the other league plays.  It was a great memory of mine to see an American League pitcher have to grab a bat in a high pressure situation in the World Series and try to get a hit.  With inter-league play it still might be unlikely for a pitcher to get a hit but all the AL pitchers have done each season.  Another cool thing about the World Series before the advent of inter-league play is the managerial choices that have to be made especially late in the game.  Pinch hitting for the pitchers and double switches were not something managers had to worry about during the regular season but now with so many inter-league games they are much more familiar with it.  I think it is a sad commentary on the state of baseball today that teams only play one series against some of the opponents in the other two divisions but make sure to have games against some team from the other league.   
      Fifth, another issue I would address if the owners saw fit to hire me as Commissioner would be a harder stance on performance enhancing drugs.  PED's are the biggest black mark on baseball since the gambling problems of the early 20th century.  They take away the enjoyment fans have if their favorite player has a record year and puts every record set, under a cloud of suspicion.  Currently, baseball has a graduated punishment policy regarding PED's.  The first offense for a positive PED test is 50 games, the second 100 games and the third a lifetime ban for the player.  I would take a two pronged approach, with much better education of the players as to what they can and can't take and an increased punishment plan.  The Major Leagues can not expect the players, especially players from countries other then the United States, to understand that something they find at the grocery store could contain a banned substance.  A good idea would be to have every player sign a list of all the banned substances stating they understand and will comply with the rules.  After the education we need to give the players only two strikes, the first positive test is a 100 game ban and the second is a lifetime ban.  There also can't be any differentiation between a rookie from the Dominican Republic and someone like Ryan Braun or Barry Bonds, a failed test is a failed test.  If baseball bans a few star players then I think the message might sink in and we can clean up this great game.
      The final item I would change would be the elimination of the World Baseball Classic.  I believe it is a total waste of time for most Major League players and it seems to matter only to the other countries that participate.  It plays into my desire to shorten the season, if the WBC is eliminated spring training could be shortened but at the same time start later and the season could start at a more reasonable date.  It was started in a response to the International The super-star American players don't care about the WBC and would rather not be forced to decide to play or not.  American fans don't care and don't want any of there favorite players to play and risk an injury, in fact the US has never finished better than fourth.  Sure, it might be good for growing the game overseas but that doesn't need to be MLB's focus right now, it should focus on fixing the game here at home.
      These are the items that I think are the most important to change right away to make baseball the game I remember as a kid.  I know it will never be exactly the same but it can be much better then it is now.  It might not ever regain it place as the most popular sport in American but it should be a strong second and it can be if these items are addressed.