12 THINGS WE SHOULD CHANGE IN MLB SOON
By Jim Bowden SiriusXM Baseball Analyst
Major league baseball has made great strides under the leadership of Commissioner Rob Manfred to improve the game and as long as he’s in that position we can expect that to continue throughout his tenure. He has a strong working relationship with Tony Clark and the MLB Players Association and hoping together they’ll continue to be aggressive in making the game game better. Here are 12 suggestions some simple some drastic that I think both sides should consider implementing:
1 PENALTIES NEED TO INCREASE FOR PED POSITIVE TESTS
The Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment program between the MLB Players Association and the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball to the best of everyone’s knowledge is working and the most stringent of all professional leagues in the world. However, that hasn’t stopped all =star caliber players from using as proven last year by the Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon and this year by the Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Starling Marte. All this tells me is the penalties aren’t stiff enough for players to not take the gamble and try to improve their game by cheating artificially. Therefore, the time has come for two small changes to the policy. First, we need to change the first offense which is presently an 80 game suspension to one full year based on the first day served on the suspended list and no post-season appearances in a year a suspension is served. Therefore, if the suspension bleeds into a second year he misses two post seasons. Second, a player on a multi-year contract gets his contract changed to a non-guaranteed contract, giving the club to release the player before the next year of the contract with only 30 days termination pay if the club desires to make that move. Third, a second violation will result in a life time ban from the sport. The game needs to stop its stars from cheating and making the penalties tougher like this will get the sport much closer to PED free.
2. THROWING AT PLAYERS HEAD SUSPENSIONS SHOULD GO FROM 4 TO 30 GAMES
This past week the Commissioner’s office suspended Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes for 4 games for throwing near the head of the Orioles Manny Machado in retaliation of Machado’s hard slide into Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. The slide was clean and the retaliation was uncalled for. I’m not sure whether Barnes was instructed to throw at Machado by his Manager or not but I am sure Pedroia knew nothing about it nor did he condone the decision. Barnes said he didn’t meant to throw at his head, but he did mean to throw at Machado which is something the game doesn’t need anymore. Players are making tens of millions of dollars and to see a player lose his career, eye sight or brain to retaliate for some base running slide is just plain stupid, sad, ridiciculous and archaic thinking. Shame on Red Sox leadership if they ordered it, shame on Barnes for throwing it regardless if anyone asked him to. However, we all understand that’s part of “old school” thinking, so instead of debating this with the Rich Gossage’s Bob Gibson and fans of those generations, let’s just fix it for this generation. Give the Commissioner discretionary power here and let him do his thing. If they think a player purposedly threw at baseball at or near someone’s head a 30-game suspension without pay will help discourage this behavior in the future.
3. IMPLEMENT ROBOT HOME PLATE UMPIRES AS SOON AS TECHNOLOGY ALLOWS
For years we’ve heard the importance of human element in umpiring and the need to keep it in the game, which I agree with. MLB has done a nice job of keeping the umpires relevant while helping improve their job with the use of technology and instant replay. It’s been such a huge success that I no longer wake up in the morning having to plan on how I’m going to rip Angel Hernandez or Joe West on my multitude of radio shows. In fact, I haven’t even mentioned their names all season which tells you how well instant replay is working. However, I can’t say the same for C.B. Bucknor, which tells me we’ve made real progress but still need to go all the way as soon as we can. Strike zones are so inconsistent from umpire to umpire, game to game, pitch to pitch, that we might as well prepare now for robots calling the balls and strikes to precision. Now don’t get me wrong, I want to keep the umpires to orchestrate the robots, computers, laser beams and all the technology we about to use, I just want to get all the calls right not just most of them so the right teams win the games.
4. CHANGE EARLY SEASON SCHEDULE TO WARM CLIMATES AND REDUCE INTRA DIVISON GAMES
Warm weather April schedules and balanced schedule less game in division 18 to 12
Every year in early April when the major league season opens we get freezing temperatures, snow outs and rain outs. And, many times I will look up to see which games gets called off and it’s a California, Florida or Texas team that gets postponed because of weather while playing in Minnesota, Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia or New York. There is just no reason this has to happen. I would like to see starting next year that the team in the south and and west that normally has dry, warm weather host the majority of the game in the first 10 games of the season to help combat the often times poor weather in the north and north east. In addition, I’d like to see a schedule philosopy change and instead of playing each team in your own division 18 times, I’d like to see it reduced to 12 so teams aren’t playing each other quite as much as they are presently. I think it’s important to try and make sure teams in their own division have similar schedules with each other, but there is just too much intra division play. Give the fans the opportunities to see more teams during the season.
5. ALIGN PLAYER STATITISTICS & ANALYTICS WITH MLB FRONT OFFICES
For years major league baseball front offices have ignored antiquated statistics like pitchers, wins and hitters batting average and yet most media and fans still talk about those statistics as if they’re important. Even the fantasy baseball world for the most part are using these archaic stats. It’s time for the major league baseball 30 general managers to get together a committee of 5, and put together the most important stats and analytics that fans need to know and through their media partners get this conveyed to the fans especially the young generation of fans so they can grow up with the same knowledge and understanding the front offices do. This past week Chris Sale pitched 8 innings of shutout baseball against the Toronto Blue Jays striking out 13 and walking just one. Craig Kimbrel relieved Sale, blew the saved two innings gave up a run and got the win not Sale. Really? I can spend hours going through all the nebulous and nonsensical stats we all talk about that we shouldn’t but instead of arguing or debating how about we just educate the public and use exactly what the 30 clubs front offices are using? In this day and age of transparency, we’re certainly not doing a service to the young fans of the support by promoting stats no one in the game pays attention to anymore.
6. EXPAND BY TWO TEAMS IN DECEMBER OF 2018 IN MONTREAL & LAS VEGAS
Baseball needs to expand to 32 teams so they can have sixteen teams in each league and no longer have to have an inter league game on a nightly basis. There should be four divisions of four in each league with a North, South, East and West division in each league. Montreal deserves a second chance at baseball and as long as they can get a new stadium built in the right area with guaranteed season ticket sales in place, corporation securing luxury boxes and advertising in place they should succeed the second time around. Baseball needs two teams again in Canada and that means and I strongly believe Montreal deserves another chance. Las Vegas should be the other team because baseball desperately need another team in the Pacific Time Zone and the fact they now have an NHL and NFL team committed will make it only easier for baseball to work in that market. There won’t be a better time to announce expansion than in December of 2018 when the annual Winter Meetings will take place in Seattle. It could be a busy podium with possible expansion and free agent signings that could include both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Of course, the stadium situations in both Oakland and Tampa/St. Petersburg need to be resolved first and it gives those teams 20 months to secure a stadium or they should be allowed to move to those cities first.
7. ONE RULE EITHER DH OR NO DH
The time has come for baseball to have one rule either the DH or no DH. I prefer no DH, but I think the only way we get to one rule is if keep the DH and I’d rather have one rule than play with the two different rules we play with now. This is what I wrote last year on the subject and my opinion hasn’t change: http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/14621547/reimagining-baseball-mlb-implement-dh-leagues
8. INSTANT REPLAY IMPROVEMENTS
Instant replay has been a huge success and they need to keep tweaking it to make even better. They should start with eliminating the “middle” man or the clubhouse video coordinator. It’s such a waste of time on close plays to watch the manager ask the bench coach to go to the dugout phone call the team video coordinator get his opinion if a play should be challenged, watch the bench coach nod either way to the manager and then have the manager let the umpire know either way. In addition, if the play is challenged it looks stupid that all four umpires run off the field to put on head sets, wait until they get the decision before getting the decision and running back on the field. Here’s how we fix it. First you assign a fifth “video” umpire to each crew for each individual game positioned in the control center in New York. His name is announced along with the other four umpires publicly. Instead of a video umpire covering multiple games they watch only one at a time. Any close play in a game, he quickly looks at all the angles ahead of time and is ready in case there is a manager challenge with an answer ready to go. The video umpire is given the power to make the best call he can based on all of the video angles he is afforded and relays his decision and reason to the umpires on the field. The decision is then announced both with sign language and verbally through the PA with any necessary explanation. The umpires stay at their position with wireless IFB’s in each ear connected to I-Phones in their pockets, where they get instant answers from the video umpire in New York. The Manager is not allowed to call his video coordinator for advice on whether to challenge or not challenge. He has to make his challenge immediately after the play in question and is given three challenges per game, no exceptions outside of getting a 4th for if necessary for extra- inning games. This will speed up the process and the decision making time.
9. EXTRA INNINGS
I know I’m in the minority, but I like the World Baseball Classic Extra innings rule that said if the teams are tied after 10 innings that the 11th inning would start with runners at first at second with nobody out. It was a huge success in the WBC and I think it would work in MLB as well. Next time a night baseball games goes past 11 innings look around the stadium and tell me how many fans are left? The game should be about the fans and they have a much better chance of staying through 11 innings if they knew the game had a high likelihood of finishing after that innings. It brings instant excitement to the end of these type games and allows families especially children to get home at night. I know purists and “old school” fans don’t like it, but it sure did work in the classic. I’m a fan.
10. REDUCE TIME EVEN MORE BETWEEN INNINGS AND ADD TIME OUTS
Shorten all (18) between innings breaks by an additional 20 seconds reduce game times by 6 minutes. Replace the lost commercial time by instituting 3 70-second timeouts per team allowing 6 minutes of additional TV/radio commercial time. Then make it mandatory that play continues at all times unless calling one of your 3 timeouts. If a catcher needs to go over signs with the pitcher, if a Manager needs to stall for time for a reliever to get loose, if a pitching coach wants to make a visit to the mound. They must use a timeout.
11. CHANGE ROSTER TO LIMITS FROM 25 TO 30
The time has come for baseball to increase roster size from 25 to 30 for all games throughout the regular season with no additional ability to expand rosters in September. However, teams can only activate 25 players per game and that roster must be submitted within 3 hours of game time to the umpires, opposing team and league office. This will decrease the need for teams to constantly be placing players on the 10 –day DL, 7-day concussion DL or Paternity leave, or have to option players back and forth based on short injuries or over use of bullpens.
12. DRASTIC GEOGRAPHIC REALIGNMENT AFTER EXPANSION
After baseball expands to 32 teams and takes my recommendation of expanding in both Montreal and Las Vegas, I would take advantage of that time to realign baseball divisions into eight four team divisions inside of two conferences. This would be done geographically which would allow for early season warm schedules, even playing fields in terms of scheduling, reduce the amount of travel needed for all teams and promote more rivalries based on geography which should improve both TV rating and attendance in most markets. Here would be my specific break-down which would include two city teams all playing in the same divisions. There would be eight division champions and no wild card teams. Teams with the best records get home field and opponent advantages in match-ups.
Here is my specific recommendation:
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL LEAGUE (ONE LEAGUE)
EASTERN DIVISION: Boston, Montreal, NY Mets, NY Yankees
NORTHERN DIVISON: Detroit, Cleveland, Minnesota, Toronto
MIDATLANTIC DIVISION: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington
MIDWEST DIVISION: Chicago (AL), Chicago (NL), St. Louis, Milwaukee
SOUTHERN DIVISION: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Miami, Tampa
SOUTHWEST DIVISION: Colorado, Kansas City, Houston, Texas
NORTHWEST DIVSIION: Seattle, Oakland, San Francisco, Las Vegas
WESTERN DIVISION: LA Dodgers, LA Angels, San Diego, Arizona