Ten Things I Hate About Major League Baseball
After last season’s epic blog about the ten aspects of Spring Training I hated, I wanted to write the sequel that widens its focus to the sport as a whole. If there are two things I hate most, it’s Bluetooth headsets and Lifetime Original Movies. If I had to add a third, it would be unnecessary movie remakes. Chew on those things as I jump to the next sentence, and more importantly, to the real topic of this blog.
Baseball is a beautiful game and a national treasure. But baseball isn’t perfect and often times, keeps outdated rules because of an overinflated sense of tradition. To this end, I have brought you ten rules I’d either make, change or remove in Major League Baseball that would address the things I hate. We’ll share some laughs, probably fight a little, but we’ll come out of it better friends than when we started. Here we go.
1.) No More Interleague Play
That just happened. Spare me your rhetoric about interleague games getting high ratings or that fans want to see those teams play each other. Whatever. Take into account the perspective that baseball lost one of the core aspects that made it so special from other major sports, the separation of the two leagues. For all the supposed financial benefits, it’s taken away some of the sparkle of the World Series, the All-Star game and Spring Training. It has also added the dilemma of unbalanced schedules, where now teams even in the same league might have drastically different opponent win-percentages, because of the unbalanced interleague scheduling.
And since we just got rid of interleague play…
2.) Restructure the Playoffs
These are a pair of regulations I’d like to see implemented to help the game. The NBA is learning the hard way that while making TNT and ESPN happy – by giving them nothing but prime-time playoff games on peak days – may earn short-term money, the fans are increasingly less interested in a spread out version of playoffs that can take up to two weeks per series. MLB has been slowly spreading out their games the same way, and as such, there has been a disconnect created that affects not only the fans, but the players as well.
MLB players are conditioned to play games constantly and when the schedule suddenly adds two, sometimes even three days between playoff games, the players’ own preparations and routines become altered and jarred. Having a series last a maximum of ten days keeps excitement levels high with the fans and allows the players to keep up their normal routine.
If that idea makes you sad, I also want to see the Division Series extended to seven games. Pragmatically, it makes no sense for this one series to be shorter, because it only favors teams that are inferior to their opponent. While baseball might want to create some intrigue, most fans of the game (without a team in the mix) want to see the best teams (see: most deserving) play each other and having shortened series can rob fans of this. If an underdog wants to move on, do it four times… like a man.
3.) Remove the “Importance” of the All-Star Game
The point of an exhibition is that there are no official competitive outcomes to acquire. But since MLB commissioner Bud Selig was so embarrassed that an All-Star game ended in a tie, he pushed through a rule that the World Series would have its schedule determined by… an exhibition. This is a farce and no more logical than having a random Spring Training game determine home field advantage in the World Series. In a world where players make $150-million a year, nothing short of HUGE bonuses is going to make players truly care about an exhibition. Besides it’s hard to feel like you’re truly playing in a game composed of the game’s best players, when you’re sitting down the bench from a reliever from Pittsburgh or Kansas City who has an ERA over 5.00.
Oh, hold on…
4.) End the Requirement that All Teams Must Have Representation at the All-Star Game
Now we’re cooking.
Baseball somehow has this belief that more people will watch if their home team has at least one guy going to the mid-season exhibition. That’s true… if the guy is good. But I guarantee you, if you asked real fans of those teams that clearly had a, “we just need one of you” guy playing, they’d be more embarrassed than anything else. Getting rid of this rule does two things.
It makes the game truly an “All-Star” game, and it also increases the importance of being an “All-Star.” It makes that honor actually mean something very important now, instead of just a nice honor. And trust me, those woeful teams and their fan bases won’t feel bad. In fact, the guy with the 5.00 ERA might be relieved. Case in point, Mike Williams, with his above 6.00 ERA, made it to the All-Star game in 2003 because he was honestly the best player the Pirates had. And that ain’t right.
5.) Create a “Dual-Warning” System for Hit Batsmen
This is a little outside of the box, but watch as I bathe this image in my imagination bucket.
Let’s say the Yankees are playing the Texas Rangers and A.J. Burnett is facing off against Rich Harden. We all know Burnett is exactly the type of guy to throw at somebody because the guy teased him about his over-compensating truck in the parking lot. So Burnett throws behind Ian Kinsler and then plunks Elvis Andrus in the back with a fastball. The umpire then points to Burnett and points at the Ranger clubhouse as well. Under current rules, the Rangers can have no recourse unless they want to lose their starter or a reliever later in the game. So Burnett gets to have his hissy fit and no one can do anything about it. With my new rule, only Burnett is warned and not until the Rangers have retaliated, do they get warned as well. This keeps pitchers from maliciously throwing at players and then hiding behind the umpires warning.
What would make this rule even better is…
6.) No More Designated Hitters
The holy grail of baseball rule gripes. It was a nice idea for a while, except the National League never followed suit, which makes things awkward. Imagine if the three-point line was only in use in NBA Western Conference arenas, or if the two-point conversation in the NFL was only used in AFC stadiums. It’s like that, only MUCH more impacting. The rule is especially ridiculous when the leagues intertwine during the year, as well as creating an artificial job market in the American League (hello MLBPA, I’m now peeing on your lawn) only.
Let’s also acknowledge the elephant in the room: AL teams should score more runs, but the NL game is just more exciting and interesting to watch. AL managers really just have to worry about their pitchers and struggling hitters. NL managers have the same concerns, in addition to strategically creating runs vs. keeping a great pitcher in the game. The NL game is simply much more of a chess match than the predictable AL.
Finally, it’s created another group of MLB players who now might have great stats, but must wait in purgatory because of voters who don’t want “DH” guys in the Hall of Fame. Even more finally, it now removes the protection that American League pitchers have to throw at someone at will, because they would have to face the opposing pitcher themselves.
It’s time to put this three decade long experiment to bed.
7.) A Salary Floor
This one is tricky and probably the one rule I’ve thought that I could be 100% wrong about. But consider this: in January of this year, the Florida Marlins agreed to spend more free agent money in anticipation of their new stadium opening because the players filed a grievance that said (paraphrasing) the team was basically hording money and putting the minimum requirement on the field. Baseball’s revenue-sharing system works by every team putting 31% of their incoming money into a pot, with that money being split up to all teams equally. So small market teams are given a larger amount of money proportionally to their budget, than big market teams with larger payrolls. Adding a salary floor like ones in the NFL, NBA and NHL helps teams keep homegrown stars, increase team/fan connection, develop parity and prevent yearly fire sales that only help the rich. The Yankees don’t care about losing 31% of their revenue when they know that they can have most anyone they want on their roster (star power = more $$$) for their sacrifice.
8.) Allow Trading of Draft Picks
The current rule makes small market/bad teams suffer. Given a very high draft pick, teams are often forced to reach or flat-out gamble with their high pick, because they can’t afford many of the top players on their list. In essence, they are punished for not being wealthy enough to match the insane salary demands of many high draft choices. Allowing the trading of draft picks gives teams the ability to get something back for essentially abandoning their draft slot. It allows a team to trade down or trade up, and brings more drama and intrigue to the Hot Stove League. Trading draft picks also could stimulate off-season and mid-season trades, as teams now have more chips to play with. Imagine Bryce Harper as a Yankee, but they had to give up Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Brett Gardner to make it happen. Sounds fun to me!
9.) Institute a 70% Ticket Distribution Floor
This rule would mandate that MLB teams would make sure – through sales and donations to non-profit youth centers – that 70% of their available seats are distributed by the end of the season. There has to be a significant reason why this hasn’t already happened, so I’ll keep researching to find those reasons. Until then, this rule makes a lot of sense. Of the 30 teams in MLB, only 13 teams sold 70% or more of their tickets this season, which means that 17 teams had at least 30% of their ballpark empty every game. The Oakland A’s have put a tarp over a large part of their upper deck because they can’t sell the tickets. In fact, the A’s only sold 40% of their tickets this year (even playing in a football stadium, they still had the smallest average fan attendance per game).
Teams are missing an incredible chance to increase connectivity with their city, win PR points from the populace and open their brand to a whole population of people who would otherwise be unable to truly connect to their hometown team. This rule increases brand notoriety, improves the potential merchandise marketplace and creates the feeling that the community is much more with the team than any image of an empty ballpark could do. Obviously, giving away tickets does not add to ticket revenue, but it does immediately increase concession and merchandising revenue, as well as create the appearance that the team cares about their community. Nothing says “care” like forced ticket giveaways.
10.) Give the Steroid Penalty Some Onions
We end our adventure together with a look at one of the most placating penalties in professional sports: the escalating suspension system for performance enhancing drugs.
At current, the system slaps a player on the wrist for using steroids, HGH, etc. by making them miss 50 games a season. Casual observation has shown that this penalty is merely a blip in the career for the few that have been caught and suspended. Those players come back and continue with their lives, while we’re left to discount yet another career. Since our ability to test for HGH is almost non-existent at the moment, there is an unknown and presumably significant population that still uses illegal substances to get ahead. So something needs to happens. This new system would bring the first level suspension to one year, with the second infraction being a lifetime ban.
If this sounds harsh, hear me out…
Just like the war on drugs and prostitution, baseball doesn’t really deter HGH users, because they know that even if they do get caught, it’s not a very high price to pay. Fifty game suspensions take up a long period, but a player still has plenty of time to contribute and thus still be a valuable member. Make that first suspension a year and now you’ve robbed your team of your skills for a whole season of games. Do it again and you’re done.
Baseball needs something to put HGH users on their heels and an aggressive PR push to force the Players Association to adopt a zero tolerance policy is precisely the solution. I will argue strongly that PEDs have done more to damage the integrity of the game than anything Pete Rose did, because we now have an entire era in question. Any player who has even an average chance of playing in the big leagues will not want to risk losing his career. As always, those with nothing to lose won’t care, but talent means a great deal and they likely wouldn’t last anyways. So sure, you can try to sneak your drug use past MLB. Just be prepared to lose a season or your career… and if you have any chance at all, that might be too big of a risk to take.
Disagree with me? Send your complaints to Ben Bates or sound off in the comments below.