Replay, rosters and the nine rules that baseball needs to change
Baseball is the greatest of games because it is the most democratic and is played at its basic core the same way it was one hundred and fifty years ago. You can't get a
That said, the game continues to evolve in many ways. The baseball itself is dead and then livened. You could throw a ball with tobacco juice slathered on it until you couldn't. An entire game between St. Louis and Brooklyn in 1908 was played with one baseball; today a typical game requires about 70 baseballs, all with nary a scuff or mark. You couldn't have an instant replay 20 years ago because some games were not even televised, or crudely so; today every game is produced in riveting high definition.
Think of baseball as a living thing, an organic garden. It still needs care and weeding and pruning to flourish. Baseball is overdue for some pruning -- nothing too major, but changes to the rules of how the game is played to keep it going strong while still honoring its heritage.
When it comes to areas of improvement, I've come up with a starting nine: nine rules changes baseball should implement immediately. I have named each of the proposed rules in honor of the person most associated with the need for change.
Why is it that Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle, can install the Hawkeye replay system on all of his courts at his non-major tennis tournament in California and baseball doesn't want to install a similar system in all of its 30 parks? We keep hearing about how financially healthy the game is, but nobody wants to lay out the cash for the hardware for a proven and simple system. And so Johan Santana gets a no-hitter with an invisible asterisk because of a blown call on a fair ball called foul off the bat of Carlos Beltran. And baseball lags behind tennis in adapting to technology and viewers' expectations.
While we're at it, replay also should be expanded immediately to trapped balls, and even further expansion of replay should be considered in earnest. (The messy stuff is about avoiding a rinky dink system of bean bags, challenges and gamesmanship -- just ask Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz.) At the heart of any replay system should be a fifth umpire to serve off field as the video review umpire -- ready to correct any call that needs correcting as quickly as possible. Just think of it as umpires getting together to get a call right, just as they do now, only with a fifth umpire joining them via wireless microphone and the help of an HD monitor. Umpires would become part of five-man crews in which the guy who works home plate one night gets the video review assignment the next night. In that manner we still get umpires making all on-field calls and we can keep the game moving as quickly as possible.
It's time for general managers to stop talking about it and do something about it. It's a quick and logical fix. Teams should play all games with the same number of players. I advocate using a 25-man roster all year long. The difference is that in September you can call up as many players as you want but you must designate a game roster each day of 25 players. A manager, for instance, might leave off his other four starting pitchers, for instance, to include four September call-ups. Some GMs have advocated a standard but expanded roster for September games -- say, a daily roster of 28. Twenty-five is plenty, and brings uniformity to the season.
The Mets won Game 4 of the 1969 World Series when Martin was struck by a throw from Orioles pitcher Pete Richert while not in the running lane. (The Orioles did not argue; their manager, Earl Weaver, was ejected earlier in the game for arguing balls and strikes.) Shea Stadium, the site of Game 4, did not have the chalk lines of the running lane, even though Rule 6.05(k) was in the rule book. After the Martin episode, major league baseball ordered all parks to show the 45-foot running lane.
The paranoid will insist on the right to change signs, the need to go over scouting reports on the hitter for the 53rd time and the expectation of a catcher to look like a "take-charge guy." Okay, but there must be a limit and there must be value to preparation (i.e., having sets of signs that can be changed simply with hand signals relayed from behind the plate). Give the catcher two visits per pitcher per inning. Upon the third visit and any subsequent visits, a ball is awarded to the batter. Keep the game moving, people.
The snapped bat -- the one in which a bat breaks apart, not just breaks -- has become less common since baseball instituted standards regarding the size and weight of bats. Nobody snapped more bats than Damon, who preferred those top-heavy maple bats that broke apart so easily. The flying pieces of the bat become dangerous and can create an offensive advantage. An otherwise routine groundball, for instance, can become a gift hit when a distracted fielder has to worry about being impaled by the bat shard headed his way.
The idea that you can create an advantage by having your bat snapped in half just isn't right. Treat the bat part the same way you would a runner: if in the umpire's judgment the bat interfered with the fielder's right to make a play on the baseball -- no contact with the fielder is even necessary -- the batter should be called out, the ball is dead and runners are not permitted to advance.
See also Richie Garcia (1996 Jeffrey Maier call in rightfield), Tim Welke (1996 World Series with a key, inadvertent block of Braves rightfielder Jermaine Dye) and Cuzzi (2009 blown call in leftfield on Mauer). The outfield umpires are not needed. We already have replay to get calls right on boundary calls in the outfield. A Hawkeye-type system and reviews on trapped balls would further make the outfield umpires unnecessary.
But in 1985, as postseason ratings began tanking, baseball gave its TV partners, ABC and NBC, the opportunity for more postseason games by expanding the LCS to a best-of-seven series. From 1980, the last time the World Series drew more than a 50 share, through 1984, baseball lost World Series viewers every year; it added up to a loss of 34 percent of the audience in just a five-year window. (Blame goes heavily to labor unrest, including the 1981 strike.) With a best-of-five LCS, the networks could get more playoff games at the same rate that was established in a six-year deal signed in 1983.
Since 1985, the postseason has expanded again (1995) and again (2012) -- three expansions in 27 years. The result is that this year baseball staged 37 postseason games in 23 days. Playoff fatigue and interleague play (just wait for next season, when interleague play happens all season long) have chipped away at the aura of the World Series, rendering it more like just another tournament round than the showcase big event it should be. Despite pundits' doomsaying, the poor World Series ratings don't reflect the health of baseball -- the sport is robust by nearly every measure -- but do reflect something is amiss with the World Series itself.
Baseball wound up with too much of a good thing -- too many playoff games, or, more specifically, too many non-decisive playoff games. In honor of Blair and the LCS's original roots, let's return to a best-of-five LCS. It would add urgency to the series, reduce viewer playoff fatigue and put the World Series back on a higher pedestal.