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February 2012

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COMMENTS

Healing The MLB, Part 3

Written by , Posted in General

I find myself in the midst of an impromptu series about fixing various problems with Major League Baseball.  Two weeks ago I wrote about expanding the Designated Hitter “position” into the NL to take away the AL’s competitive edge.  Last week we looked at how FOX is killing Saturday baseball, and how some simple changes might draw new fans to the game instead of driving away current ones.

But rather than drag this accidental series out through Spring Training, let’s look at a few more issues the MLB needs to address, and some possible solutions to those problems.

Instant Replay  The MLB’s steadfast refusal to make thorough use of instant replay is past the point where you could reasonably call it “quaint” or “traditional.”  It’s simply illogical that it’s not more important to the league to make the right call on every play–especially when the technology to do so is so readily available.

Everyone remembers Jim Joyce’s bad call at first base that cost Armando Galarraga his perfect game back in 2010.  At the time, I thought the tidal wave of support for Galarraga would lead the MLB to expand its use of instant replay.  It didn’t, perhaps in part because the Tigers still went on to win the game, and all that was impacted was the back of Galarraga’s baseball card.  But what if they hadn’t won the game?  Would the league be more motivated to address the issue?  Sadly, we won’t know until that situation comes up–until the course of a game or even a season is swung on a clearly missed call, I doubt we see any movement on the issue from the MLB.

Which is a real shame, because it would be so easy to put a simple instant replay system in place, even before the upcoming season.  With every game televised these days, there’s plenty of cameras already in place to piggyback off of for league use–meaning the additional cost to put a review system in place would be minimal.  And with the variety of ways instant replay is used in other major league sports, it wouldn’t be hard to develop a pattern that doesn’t further slow down the games (another major complaint from the anti-instant replay crowd).

The review systems at work today in the NHL or college football seem like they’d be the most useful for baseball.  Both sports use game officials who review all the scoring and any other contested plays at the request of the in-game officials.  Those reviews happen rapidly, saving the time it would take for an umpiring crew to waddle down to the clubhouse and fire up the DVR.  It would be simple and seamless to add an extra video umpire up in the press box, and getting the call right would be as quick and simple as a phone call.

And you wouldn’t leave it entirely in the hands of the umpires to police themselves.  What was so remarkable about the Joyce/Galarrage fiasco was how quick Joyce was to admit his mistake (and how understanding Galarraga was about it).  Umpires never think they’re wrong–they’re not built like that, and for good reason.  They need to be decisive and confident.  But they do make mistakes, so you’d need to have a system of checks in place to catch those mistakes.  Give each manager one review per game to limit the breaks in the action.  And like the NFL, set up clear parameters for what is and isn’t reviewable–outs, hits, and scoring plays are reviewable; balls and strikes are still off limits.  Some simple designations along those lines would keep managers from using their review too whimsically, but still help guard against a game hinging on a missed call.

Really, the only question in my mind is what kind of object would managers throw out of the dugout to signal they wanted a play to be reviewed?  Flags don’t really exist anywhere else in baseball, so it would be a little strange to adopt the NFL model here.  The manager’s hat could work, but it might result in a barrage of hats coming out of the stands on close calls.  My favorite option so far is to co-opt another piece of baseball equipment for this secondary purpose and give each manager brightly colored batting doughnut to toss up into foul territory to signal he wants a review.  With any luck, “heaving the doughnut” could become the vernacular equivalent of “throwing the flag.”

Playoff Expansion  With all due respect (that is, none) to Baseball commissioner-for-life Montgomery Burns Bud Selig, the only kind of playoff expansion baseball fans want to see is the expansion of the League Division Series to seven games.  The idea the first round of the playoffs is better because “anything can happen in a five-game series” is ridiculous.  No doubt my own dissatisfaction with the current best-of-five format stems at least in part from the Cubs’ back-to-back seasons of being swept out of the playoffs–but it doesn’t make it less valid.  The playoffs should not hinge on the breaks of game one, as the LDS so often does.

In fact, almost half the League Division Series ever played end up in sweeps, and very few of them ever make it to a decisive game five.  Put simply, the five-game series has no place in the playoffs, or in baseball.  It doesn’t reflect the rhythm of the regular season, and it doesn’t set teams up for the LCS or World Series.  It’s a garbage anomaly that needs to go.

Selig’s solution?  Let’s add another meaningless tier to the playoffs system, further drawing out the faux tension of the season and delaying the legitimate playoff action even further into the fall.

I think Jedi mentioned recently what a joke it is that pitchers and catchers are about to report without a clear decision on what the playoffs will look like.  It’s that kind of slipshod leadership that has marked Selig’s tenure.  His introduction of the Wild Card was a positive addition.  But his inability to leave the playoff format alone is pathetic, and by including another Wild Card team, he’s tarnishing what should be the highpoint of his baseball legacy.

All Star Game  The poorly-conceived playoff expansion isn’t Selig’s first or most-glaring over-correction.  The idea that he could imbue some kind of meaning to the All Star Game by bestowing home field advantage in the World Series on the winning league was laughable when it was first instituted.  Now it’s become a significant black eye for the league, especially when so many superstars are comfortable skipping the exhibition altogether.  If the league wants the best players all on the same field, playing their hardest against the other All Stars, the way to achieve that isn’t to make the prize something that only a handful of the players will even enjoy.  Do you think Starlin Castro cared at all who had the home field advantage in this season’s World Series when he was taking his cuts late in the All Star Game?

Instead of stealing home field advantage from the deserving team, give the All Stars something to play for that they all already care about: money.  Find a sponsor (or sponsors) who is willing to back up the Brinks truck for the winning team and you’ll have more players interested in being an All Star and actually playing to win than ever before.  If you want to give meaning to the Mid-Summer Classic, you need to make it mean something to the guys on the field.

Team Mascots  Actually, the less said about this, the better.

  • Jedi

    And drop the “everyone gets a representative” part of the All-Star game.  The Astros – THE ASTROS will have a rep there this year…Hunter Pence can’t be the default anymore.  Before someone tosses out Carlos Lee, realize that if both their contracts ended this year, we could possibly trade Lee for Soriano straight up; the Astros are dying to get rid of him.  Wandy Rodriguez or Brian Bugosevic might represent them in the ASG, and that would be the LEAST embarrassing result.  What if JA Happ “earns” it?  And what if in order to put Happ on the team, one of those Philly starters gets left off?  You could argue that for Happ, or let’s use a guy who was currently an FA this past year – Edwin Jackson – that being able to put “All-Star” on your resume greatly increases the price tag you can demand in contract negotiations.  That being the case, if you’re a middling or even slightly above average player, why not sign a one year deal with a crap team like the Astros and in doing so guarantee that you get to add “All-Star” to your resume?  Carlos Pena would’ve been a LOCK for the ASG if he’d done a one year deal with Houston.  The term All-Star in the MLB doesn’t carry the aura that it should because every year a crap team gets to send one of its garbage players.  Kevin Correia was an “All-Star” last year.  That’s a guy who is sliding down the Pirates rotation as they add the oft-injured Erik Bedard and the chronically disappointing AJ Burnett.  And frankly if the Cubs didn’t have Castro I’m not sure we’d have anyone worthy of the title either.

    • Jeremiah Johnson

      A massive oversight on my part.  Perhaps nothing contributes more to the watering-down of the All Star Game than this ridiculous rule.  Well said.

    • Jeremiah Johnson

      A massive oversight on my part.  Perhaps nothing contributes more to the watering-down of the All Star Game than this ridiculous rule.  Well said.

    • BLPCB

      You would think the owners would realize this and want to change the system so this isn’t happening

  • Tommy

    Mike and Mike explained what a logistical nightmare the extra tier in Playoffs would create, especially when tie-breakers and bad weather could very well be significant factors, forcing west coast teams to fly to the east coast on a Wednesday, fly back to the west coast for Thursday and back to the East for Saturday contests. Absolutely ridiculous but plausible under Selig’s Grand Plan.

  • Seymour Butts

    I’m all for expanding instant replay as you have pointed out.
    I would propose to go even farther. The technology exists to call balls and strikes almost instantly. Use it. The hardest thing to do in sports is to hit a moving ball with a bat. It does not need to be compounded with the all to frequent event of an umpire deciding the edge of the plate is 4 inches outside of where it really is.
    The “human element” is really a euphemism for human error. We don’t need it.

    • Noah_I

      I’d also be a fan of pretty much entirely replacing human umpires wherever possible, including letting a machine call balls and strikes.  Questec has been around for years now.  And on the human element, do you know what I’d describe as the “human element” of baseball?  The actual players engaged in a really difficult sport.

    • Noah_I

      I’d also be a fan of pretty much entirely replacing human umpires wherever possible, including letting a machine call balls and strikes.  Questec has been around for years now.  And on the human element, do you know what I’d describe as the “human element” of baseball?  The actual players engaged in a really difficult sport.

  • Doc Raker

    i agree it is time for technology to enhance officiating.
    * The All Star game was originally played to help the pensions for retired ballplayers. I don’t know what percentage of revenue from current All Star games go to the pension system. What a sad state of the ballplayer if he needs to be paid a boat load of cash to play a game for his unions benefit while already making boat loads of cash on his regular contract.
    * I completely agree on ridding the all start game of a representative from every team. Cut the roster down, the size of the roster is like 243 for the All Star game. Let the best play the game, none of this 3 guys for every position crap. The dugout at last years all star game looked liked a dugout in the first game of spring training, might as well have the players jog in the outfield during the game just to finish off the spring training feel of it all.

  • Doc Raker

    i agree it is time for technology to enhance officiating.
    * The All Star game was originally played to help the pensions for retired ballplayers. I don’t know what percentage of revenue from current All Star games go to the pension system. What a sad state of the ballplayer if he needs to be paid a boat load of cash to play a game for his unions benefit while already making boat loads of cash on his regular contract.
    * I completely agree on ridding the all start game of a representative from every team. Cut the roster down, the size of the roster is like 243 for the All Star game. Let the best play the game, none of this 3 guys for every position crap. The dugout at last years all star game looked liked a dugout in the first game of spring training, might as well have the players jog in the outfield during the game just to finish off the spring training feel of it all.

  • Chuck

    If MLB is going to expand the playoffs then they should do something radical and completely redo the schedule like this:
    1) Shorten the season to 112 games (see #5 and 6 below)
    2) Expand to 16 teams in each league
    2) Every team gets in the playoffs and play best-of-seven series all the way
    3) No interleague
    4) DH or no-DH across the board
    5) Realignment to only an East and West division in each league
    6) only play division teams, 4 4-game series vs each division foe

    This system will ensure that every regular season game matters because the standings could be a lot tighter.  The playoffs will be more exciting because a lot of these teams will not play each other so it will be a lot more difficult to determine what team is really better.

    • Doc Raker

      It will never happen Chuck.

  • Chuck

    If MLB is going to expand the playoffs then they should do something radical and completely redo the schedule like this:
    1) Shorten the season to 112 games (see #5 and 6 below)
    2) Expand to 16 teams in each league
    2) Every team gets in the playoffs and play best-of-seven series all the way
    3) No interleague
    4) DH or no-DH across the board
    5) Realignment to only an East and West division in each league
    6) only play division teams, 4 4-game series vs each division foe

    This system will ensure that every regular season game matters because the standings could be a lot tighter.  The playoffs will be more exciting because a lot of these teams will not play each other so it will be a lot more difficult to determine what team is really better.

  • Buddy

    MLB is sabotaging the All Star Game. The whole “it counts” thing is a joke. And I agree with Jedi. A rule that says every team gets an All Star is embarrassing. This isn’t Little League. 

  • Buddy

    MLB is sabotaging the All Star Game. The whole “it counts” thing is a joke. And I agree with Jedi. A rule that says every team gets an All Star is embarrassing. This isn’t Little League. 

  • Buddy
    • Doc Raker

      Congrats Joe- now Seymour will want to have dinner with you. “Any foot long you want Joe and a large fountain drink, on me.”

      • *offer limited to $5 foot-long sandwiches
        **”large fountain drink” actually Sprite in water cup

      • Doc Raker

        Unlimited refills on the fountain drink

      • ***unlimited refills until lead sandwich artist realizes water cup contains Sprite

      • Seymour Butts

        Since it’s Joe, I’ll spring for a real fountain drink (medium sized).

      • Seymour Butts

        Since it’s Joe, I’ll spring for a real fountain drink (medium sized).

      • *offer limited to $5 foot-long sandwiches
        **”large fountain drink” actually Sprite in water cup

      • Doc Raker

        Unlimited refills on the fountain drink

  • Buddy
  • BLPCB

    Replay – A lot of people oppose it because it’s been tradition to play without replay. So because missing calls that impact games is considered “tradition”, don’t you think that that’s a pretty lousy tradition to have? And another thing people argue, balls and strikes, don’t they release those are judgment calls? There is no need to replace umpires with QuesTec. Curt Schilling took a bat to one of those cameras and smashed them because an umpire told him that there were several pitches he wanted to call strikes, but QuesTec made him call them balls.

    • Seymour Butts

      Schilling is a guy we should all go out of our way to piss off as much as possible.

  • AC0000000

    Replay – A lot of people oppose it because it’s been tradition to play without replay. So because missing calls that impact games is considered “tradition”, don’t you think that that’s a pretty lousy tradition to have? And another thing people argue, balls and strikes, don’t they release those are judgment calls? There is no need to replace umpires with QuesTec. Curt Schilling took a bat to one of those cameras and smashed them because an umpire told him that there were several pitches he wanted to call strikes, but QuesTec made him call them balls.

  • BLPCB

    All-Star Game – MLB’s ASG is the biggest joke of all the sports. Every team needs a rep, but the winning league gets HFA in the WS? Really? Why can’t they give it to the team with the better record like the NBA and NHL do? Or at least the old system, rotating bt each league.

    • Doc Raker

      Almost biggest joke, don’t forget the PB in HI for the NFL. I agree giving WSHFA to the WT of the ASG is BDS. Might as well TAC or play RSP TDWSHFA. IJDK anymore.

    • I’ll disagree with that. The MLB All-Star game has it’s glaring flaws, but it’s still the most watchable ASG of any major sports league. The Pro-Bowl has been unwatchable for years. 

      • BLPCB

        NBA’s ASG is the most watchable. Because the superstars actually come out and play. And they put on a show

  • AC0000000

    All-Star Game – MLB’s ASG is the biggest joke of all the sports. Every team needs a rep, but the winning league gets HFA in the WS? Really? Why can’t they give it to the team with the better record like the NBA and NHL do? Or at least the old system, rotating bt each league.

  • wiseguy2235

    Great article on the TV situation, living in Las Vegas, I cant find a Cubs game on Fox or WGN to save my life. I refuse to pay one dime to MLB for a TV package, because if I live in Chicago, I can watch the games for free, but because I dont live in a pre-designated market boundary, I have to pay? then is it a CSN game? WGN? Fox? And they wonder why pirating is so prevalent…Baseball is going the way of Bud Selig…its dying, because its so slow paced and yawn…well…boring…

    speaking of boring, thats what instant replay “will” do to baseball. the nfl now reviews “everything” and the refs have to tell us what rule was/wasnt broken in the process, after a 2 minute break (more commercials!), watching the timer on the top left of the screen, and hearing a retired ref give us his opinion,  to then tell us that 1/8 inch of the ball did or didnt pass an invisible plane…simply makes one want to bash his head against a wall….keep the human element in the game (Bartman!) and keep the inevitable technologically incrementalism out of it, or lets just hire robots that look like real umps  to stand behind the batter…5 game playoffs were/are/will always be lame…teams with the best 3 starters win the series…All Star game too overhyped for those who dont care about playing in it. Remember Frank Thomas leaving to fly home after the 7th inning? Totally agree with you there. Team mascots: thank God you said it. Best thing about Wrigley is we dont need to be entertained by walking/running hot dogs, bratwursts, cheap firework displays, big screen monitors that flash pretty lights, or a ridiculous fuzzy mascot trying to act funny in order for us to enjoy a baseball game. 

  • wiseguy2235

    Great article on the TV situation, living in Las Vegas, I cant find a Cubs game on Fox or WGN to save my life. I refuse to pay one dime to MLB for a TV package, because if I live in Chicago, I can watch the games for free, but because I dont live in a pre-designated market boundary, I have to pay? then is it a CSN game? WGN? Fox? And they wonder why pirating is so prevalent…Baseball is going the way of Bud Selig…its dying, because its so slow paced and yawn…well…boring…

    speaking of boring, thats what instant replay “will” do to baseball. the nfl now reviews “everything” and the refs have to tell us what rule was/wasnt broken in the process, after a 2 minute break (more commercials!), watching the timer on the top left of the screen, and hearing a retired ref give us his opinion,  to then tell us that 1/8 inch of the ball did or didnt pass an invisible plane…simply makes one want to bash his head against a wall….keep the human element in the game (Bartman!) and keep the inevitable technologically incrementalism out of it, or lets just hire robots that look like real umps  to stand behind the batter…5 game playoffs were/are/will always be lame…teams with the best 3 starters win the series…All Star game too overhyped for those who dont care about playing in it. Remember Frank Thomas leaving to fly home after the 7th inning? Totally agree with you there. Team mascots: thank God you said it. Best thing about Wrigley is we dont need to be entertained by walking/running hot dogs, bratwursts, cheap firework displays, big screen monitors that flash pretty lights, or a ridiculous fuzzy mascot trying to act funny in order for us to enjoy a baseball game. 

  • cap’n obvious

    BASEBALL SEASON IS ALMOST HERE!  Threw 100 BP pitches to a rising star in the Braves system today.  He hit crappy HS bp balls 400+ feet with a wood bat while not really trying…swinging ‘easy’.  I’ll be shocked if he breaks camp at AAA, but as a Cub fan, can anything REALLY shock me?  Great kid with a great attitude…from the Vegas area.  Spent time with my HS players teaching some fundementals on going the other way, backspinning curveballs to the opposite field, etc.  LOVE minor league workaholics that take time out to work with young players…it fires me up.  Hate to see him fly to FLA…we’ll miss him at practice next week.  Coaching baseball in Southern California is awesome…3 guys that will be in the show this year at practice with high schoolers this week…a win-win for everyone.

    • Doc Raker

      Was your catcher framing your pitches for you?

  • cap’n obvious

    BASEBALL SEASON IS ALMOST HERE!  Threw 100 BP pitches to a rising star in the Braves system today.  He hit crappy HS bp balls 400+ feet with a wood bat while not really trying…swinging ‘easy’.  I’ll be shocked if he breaks camp at AAA, but as a Cub fan, can anything REALLY shock me?  Great kid with a great attitude…from the Vegas area.  Spent time with my HS players teaching some fundementals on going the other way, backspinning curveballs to the opposite field, etc.  LOVE minor league workaholics that take time out to work with young players…it fires me up.  Hate to see him fly to FLA…we’ll miss him at practice next week.  Coaching baseball in Southern California is awesome…3 guys that will be in the show this year at practice with high schoolers this week…a win-win for everyone.

  • Doc Raker

    So he is good at hitting pitches out of the strike zone. 

    • Seymour Butts

      …and DEEP in the zone..

  • Doc Raker

    So he is good at hitting pitches out of the strike zone. 

    • Seymour Butts

      …and DEEP in the zone..

  • Rich Beckman

    Yes to instant replay.  And I also would prefer that calling balls and strides is automated. The strike zone is a joke.

    No, we do not need another round of playoffs and, yes, all playoff rounds should be best of seven.

    I like the All-Star Game, but I have no problem eliminated the necessity for every team to be represented.  I do not have a problem with the All-Star Game determining home field advantage for the Series.  The point to that was not just so the players would take it seriously, but more so that the managers would take it seriously (game ending in tie because no one had any pitchers left because the manager’s priorities were that every one get into the game…talk about little league).

  • BLPCB

    But guys who are on teams 20 games out it, do they really give a hoot? I don’t think so

  • Buddy

    I agree with Rich on series length. Seven games for each round is the right call.