The 1980 baseball season couldn't have been more entertaining: close races in three divisions, and George Brett chasing .400 in the fourth. On the surface, we fans should have no complaints.
In fact, we have quite a few. And now that the players have got fat contracts and the owners have continued to enrich themselves, it's time for the rest of us to state our case. Some modest proposals:
Eliminate the first seven to 10 days of the season, play outdoor April games in the afternoon and revert to a 154-game schedule. This was pretty much the system until 1961. By expanding the schedule, starting the season earlier and playing more April games at night, baseball increased the number of rainouts, snowouts and coldouts. Worse, it added to the number of near rainouts, snowouts and coldouts that fans must sit through. Reverting to the old system isn't just considerate to the spectators but good business for the owners, who lose gate receipts on poorly attended early-season games.
Start the playoffs and World Series on weekends. As recently as 1975 this was the case. The playoffs began on a Saturday, six days after the regular season ended, and the Series started the following weekend. When critics complained that baseball was running into late October, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn rescheduled the playoffs to begin on a Tuesday, two days after the season's end, and the Series the following Tuesday. The innovation has failed. Players need more than a day to prepare for the playoffs and Series, and fans need more time to savor the season's action and debate what will happen in postseason play.
There's another important consideration. By starting the playoffs on Tuesday and playing four of the six weekday games at night, baseball has denied many young viewers the chance to watch their heroes play until the weekend. By then, a three-of-five series may be all but over.
The same applies to the World Series. In a seven-game Series, many children see only Games 4 and 5, played on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, in their entirety because the five night games usually end between 11 p.m. and midnight. If a seven-game Series started on a Saturday and ended eight days later, on a Sunday, kids could see four complete games. The changeover would involve no sacrifice to club executives, players or broadcasters: baseball would adhere to its TV contract by playing every weekday game in prime time. And cold weather, in all likelihood, would be a factor during only the three night games.
Improve ball park security. In some cities watching the games is no longer an enjoyable experience. Oh, the baseball's fine, assuming you can keep your mind on it amid all the intoxication, foul language and fist-fights in the stands. It would be unrealistic to expect baseball to stop selling beer, its No. 1 sponsor. However, other clubs might consider what the Dodgers and Tigers have done—halt or restrict beer sales in rowdy sections of the stands. As for keeping the peace, more police alone aren't the answer. For a lot of reasons good and bad, they don't inspire universal respect. I like what the Red Sox have done. Scattered throughout Fenway Park during most home games are football players from nearby schools, including Boston University and Boston College, whose blazers identify them as security guards. No one's about to scream "pig" at these guys.
A rained-out game should be suspended and continued at a later date, instead of being canceled. According to the current rule, a game that's halted before the losing team has batted in the fifth inning is canceled and must be replayed. A game that goes five or more innings is complete unless the score is tied or the visiting team has just taken the lead. Only in these circumstances is a game suspended.
There are few scenes as farcical as a rain-threatened baseball game. Invariably the team that's leading rushes play while the trailing club stalls. If groundkeepers are called onto the field, they either hurry or dally, depending on the home team's interests.
Such a game usually ends in one of two equally unsatisfactory ways: either it's ruled "complete" after five or six miserable innings, in which case incomplete records go into the books—is there much pleasure in throwing a five-inning no-hitter? Or the game—and all its statistics—are washed out. To avoid cancellations, umpires will allow play to continue until flood conditions set in. If games were suspended instead of canceled, the stats would stand, the fans could feel entertained, and the games would be stopped at the appropriate moment.
There are other measures baseball should take—or stop taking—to make the sport more enjoyable. All team mascots except the San Diego Chicken should be put on waivers. The Chicken is a knowledgeable baseball fowl whose antics enhance our understanding" and pleasure; the others merely distract us. Commercials on public-address systems and scoreboards are eyesores and earsores. We look to communication devices for information, not hype. And how about an alternative to junk food? I'd settle for just one bean-sprout stand behind home plate. Officials owe us as much pure baseball as possible, without distraction, danger, deprivation or indigestion.