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.