As I sit at home, grumpy with a lingering cold, it’s as good as time as any to fix Major League Baseball. My beloved Atlanta Braves are about to return from the All-Star Break, to regain their domination of the National League East. I might as well use this free time to Make Baseball Great Again. MBGA! That’ll catch on, right?
- Shrink The Season: They’ve played 162 regular seasons each year since 1961. I would like to suggest a reduction to 150 games. I know what you’re saying: “Oh my God, the statistics! The record books! The asterisks!” Yes, it would upset the applecart a bit, but baseball would survive, and maybe even thrive. Here is my plan: Let’s start with spring training, which currently begins around February 24 with a thirty-three game schedule. It seems like each year around the end of March, my baseball writer feeds are filled with players griping about another endless spring. I agree. Let’s dial that schedule back to around 28 games, and start it on March 10, ending around April 10. The newly trimmed regular season schedule would start around April 13, avoiding the ridiculous snowfall and icy wind chill games of early April. It would also end the regular season a few days earlier as well, reducing the chance of November World Series games. Win, win.
- Time Limit on Replay Reviews: While MLB has focused on waving batters to first base on intentional walks, limiting the number of visits to the mound, and other inconsequential changes, they’ve ignored the elephant on the field. Few things have sucked the life out of baseball like the replay reviews. Turn on any game, and there’s a good chance you’ll spend five minutes watching a couple of umpires, hands on hips, headphones on ears, waiting on the ultimate ruling from “New York” on whether a baserunner took his hand off the 2nd base bag for a millisecond. Now and then, the replay does indeed correct a grievous error. But more often than not, the play stands, and the boys in New York can get back to their pizza. I say, limit those reviews to three minutes. If they can’t reach a decision by then, the call on the field stands. (Frankly, I miss the managers arguing with on-field umpires, often a highlight of the game).
- Give us a Balanced Schedule: Once upon a time, there were ten teams in each league, and there was mathematical beauty in playing each league opponent eighteen times a year. 18 x 9 equals 162. It was lovely. Now we’ve added interleague play, and a heavy focus on playing division opponents far more than the other 25 MLB teams. As a result, the Braves for example, play the Marlines, Phillies, Mets and Nats nineteen times each season. They only get to see the other NL teams about six times, with a handful of American League games (from one of their three divisions) sprinkled in as well. I don’t mind the interleague play. In fact I’d like to see Mike Trout more often than six times in three years. But why must Braves fans have to watch the miserable Marlins nineteen times a year? That’s cruel and unusual. Meanwhile, we only get to see once-great rivals like the Reds, Cubs, Cardinals and Dodgers six times. I would split the difference, and play each league opponent 10 or 11 times a year.
- Bring the DH to the National League: Yes, I’ve buried this one deep in the story, because I know there will be heavy blowback, all the way from people I don’t even to know, to my close family members. I look at it this way. It’s not going away. The American League has been doing it for almost five decades, and the US is still standing (last time I checked Twitter). The only thing more boring than watching umpires listen to their headphones is watching a pitcher attempt to bat. Yes, I know a few pitchers are legitimate hitters (or bunters, or both). But ninety percent of the time, toilets flush across the nation while a pitcher flails away helplessly at a lifeless fastball. You want more offense? You want to see an actual hitter like Kurt Suzuki get more opportunities to drive in runs, instead of spending every other game on the bench? I do. Let’s get it over with. American League fans didn’t like it at first either. But they adjusted, and we can too.
- Finally: Let’s fix the umpires. Put them on a year-round fitness program. I’m not sure what their meal money is, but many of them apparently spend every penny, and they don’t represent the game well. Hold them accountable. We can go online and see which umpires miss the most calls, and who stretches or shrinks the strike zone outrageously. MLB can see that data too. They know which umpires stay in their “positions,” and which ones bait players into an argument, following them to the dugout. Their union is strong, but fans are tired of incompetence. Most MLB umpires are good, but it’s obvious the bad ones are not being addressed.
I’d also like to limit the number of pitchers on each team to 12, limit the number of relief pitchers per inning (no more than 3), and install better protective padding on outfield walls.
One more thing. I wouldn’t outlaw or change “the shift,” no matter how much it disturbs Bryce Harper and his agent. Good MLB hitters find ways to beat the shift. There are eight guys on the field. Hit it where they ain’t!