Ever since Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred was elected to his position prior to the 2015 regular season, he’s been very open to any and all ideas that can improve the sport. If you’re a fan of baseball, you have to admire a very open-minded person in his role exploring all the ways to make the business product as a whole better.
Manfred’s openness to change is indeed refreshing, but only so much change can occur while still preserving the overall integrity and nature of the sport. I have five things that can potentially change the game and only have a positive impact across the board.
ADDING A PITCH CLOCK
Here is something the sport injected into the minor leagues, sometimes known as the ‘guinea pigs’ for testing out new rules and whatnot.
In 2014, the Arizona Fall League became the testing grounds for a few different rule changes. One of those was implementing a 20-second pitch clock. Prior to the 2015 season, MLB announced they would enforce the pitch clock at both the Triple-A and Double-A level in the minors.
For those unfamiliar with how the clock works, a pitcher has 20 seconds from the time he receives the ball from his catcher after every pitch to deliver the next pitch. The clock is stopped when he begins his delivery (in the windup) or comes to a set (in the stretch). Any infraction by the pitcher (not beginning their motion within 20 seconds) results in an added ‘ball’ to the current count of that particular at-bat.
Results were compiled for that first season (2015) of the implemented pitch clock and compared to the season prior, to determine how much effect it truly had on games, if at all. The results showed that the average game length at some leagues/levels was cut down by as many as 15 minutes than the season before. This also had a positive effect during the 2014 AFL, where games were on average roughly 10 minutes shorter.
Being a tradition baseball fan, I’m not buying into all the potential rules changes. However, this is one I can maybe see finding its way to the majors. There’s a number of positives to take away from it: a) it mutually affects both the pitcher and batter and does not favor one over the other, b) there is prior statistical evidence showing it has success, c) there’s a reasonable enough penalty should any player commit an infraction, and perhaps most important, d) it’s a tool that helps groom the minor leaguers and get adapted to the rule before they get that all-important call to the show.
The pace of play in baseball is a fine line to walk, there’s no denying it. It makes hay on being a “timeless” sport. But of the ideas they need to consider, a pitch clock is one.
MORE SCHEDULED DOUBLEHEADERS
Up until the early 1960s, both the American and National League rolled with a 154-game schedule. Ever since then, the regular season is comprised of 162 games in a 183-day stretch. Those 21 days off are precisely why both the league and the players have had preliminary talks on reducing the schedule. Baseball upped it to a 187-day schedule in 2018 to give players a handful more days off, hence for the earliest Opening Day in history.
A report in the Newsday in 2016 talked about how players struggle with the everyday grind during the season, compounded with the borderline brutal traveling teams are prone to during a season. The report also stated that the long schedule with little to no breathing room has also tempted more players around baseball to resort to using performance-enhancing drugs, just so they can keep performing at a high level.
So here’s the answer: more scheduled doubleheaders. This will resonate with fans who grew up in the era where this was common, mostly on Sundays. Twin bills these days are almost always due to postponed games earlier in the season. MLB and its teams have often opted to replay those rained-out games as part of day-night DH’s (look at this year with the Tigers) as opposed to using up a scheduled off day.
Why doubleheaders? Well, we know with confidence that team owners will almost surely be against shortening the schedule and losing revenue in home games. We can still play 162 games, sprinkle in more series-ending doubleheaders (provided teams have no game the next day), and fans get a two-for-one deal with buying a ticket (or at least they should). Oh, and we don’t have to start the season in late March and end it two weeks before Thanksgiving.
[Side note: The Athletics and Rays played a scheduled doubleheader in 2017 in Tampa, the first since 2011 and only the second instance in 20 years.]
It’s a longer-than-normal at the yard for everyone involved, I get that. But in this day and age with major economic ramifications, going this route seems more logical than reducing games on the schedule entirely.
RID OF DIVISIONS, MODIFY SCHEDULE
While divisions are sports’ way to group teams together, predominantly based on geography, and the title of ‘division champion’ is fancy and all, it only means clinching a spot in the postseason. And it’s fair, if a team reigns supreme in their division, they deserve a seat at the big kids’ table.
However, the problem I have with divisions is unbalanced scheduling. It’s most evident in baseball. For example, our Detroit Tigers play the other four teams in the American League Central 19 times each, which 43.2 percent of their entire 162-game schedule. Personally, if you ask me, I get a little bored of seeing the Indians and White Sox over and over again. Also, like in college athletics with some conferences, there can be a real lack of balance in power and knowing the true “best” teams in the league.
What I DO like about baseball since the minor realignment move made prior to 2013 (HOU moving from NL to AL) is that there is always an interleague series going on with two 15-team leagues. Because of this, baseball has a golden opportunity to create more competitive balance in their schedule by simply ridding of divisions once and for all.
So I bet some of you are asking, “Well if we do away with divisions, how will the schedule look?” I’m glad you asked. Here is how I personally would do it in a 162-game slate, using the Tigers as an example.
- Play the other 14 teams in your league 8 times a season (one home series, one away), adding up to 112 games in the American League for the Tigers.
- Play the 15 teams in the other league 3-4 times, which would be one series against each National League team for Detroit (five of those 15 series would be four-game sets).
Everybody plays everybody, just like in the NBA and NHL where they have the scheduling ability to do so.
IMPROVE ALL-STAR WEEK EXPERIENCE
This is something that yours truly has done a list on before so you want, click here to just cheat and read it.
But to get the overall point across, there need to be more highlightable events at the MLB All-Star week of festivities, in addition to the Home Run Derby. Contrary to the trend that the sport is going, if it is not there already, but baseball is more than just hitting dingers left and right. There are so many other skill sets that players have used to help get them to the show, hence the term “five-tool player.”
Let’s see the best hitters be able to spray the ball all over the field. Let’s see the fastest runners show off their wheels around the bases. Let’s see which players have the best arm and accuracy when throwing.
The other three major pro sports leagues all have similar events that arguably have more awe and intrigue than their respective All-Star games (baseball is the only one where players don’t half-ass their way through the game, even though there’s zero incentive… just saying).
MORE SHOWCASE GAMES
Baseball hit a huge home run last season during July 4 weekend, becoming the first major professional sport to play a regular-season game on an active military base. The Braves and Marlins played just your average mid-season game in front of more than 12,000 active service men and women and their families on the base of Fort Bragg, the largest active military base in the world.
Baseball has been synonymous with the military for as long as the sport has been around. For it to be the first of its kind to pull something like this off is both fitting and truly remarkable. Quite frankly, I’m not too sure how it took this long to make it happen. If you were lucky enough to watch the game, it was an absolute treat. So much so, baseball should consider making it a regular thing.
And it’s not just military sites as well. Baseball managed to implement a 2017 regular season game into Williamsport during the Little League World Series and plan to do so again in 2018. They also had the Twins and Indians play down in Puerto Rico for two games early in the 2018 campaign, another great idea to highlight the sport’s rich diversity.
Selfishly, I would love for them to somehow play a regular season game at the Field of Dreams site in Iowa… get on it, baseball. Make it happen.