Keep It Simple, Selig
Major League Baseball was "saved" this past summer. On the verge of a work stoppage that would have damaged the game immeasurably, the players and the owners, led by Commissioner Bud Selig, stepped to the plate and hit one out of the park. Well, they at least managed to dribble one past the first baseman. At the last minute, the two parties agreed to a new labor contract that will keep players on the field for at least a few years without the threat of a strike. In the future, we may look at this new deal as placing a Band-Aid on a gaping head wound; some would argue that the new deal accomplishes very little in the way of actual competitive change. Only time will tell. But for now, I will give both sides the benefit of the doubt.
So, does that mean there isn't anything to gripe about? Of course not. Baseball continues to shoot itself in the foot time and again, many times by simply being stubborn and shortsighted. There are several changes that should take place that have NOTHING to do with labor issues. These are not multi-faceted, complicated problems with thousands of legal hang-ups to deal with. All it takes to solve these problems is a little creativity, persistence, and most of all, common sense-something Major League Baseball leadership can't seem to grasp.
1. Resolve the Pete Rose Issue:
It is downright silly that this mess has dragged on for so long. Fan sentiment is clearly in Rose's corner, and the pressure seems to be getting to Selig, as he has left the door open for possible reinstatement. Bad move. Either open the door all the way, or shut it forever. It has become a distraction that takes away from the more important issues and even the games on the field. Here's what should happen:
a. Allow Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame. The man is one of the best and most recognizable players in history. His statistics and contributions to championship teams make him a lock for the Hall. No matter what someone does, whether it be gambling, or even murder, it doesn't mean you can erase history.
b. Allow Rose to attend and participate in any ceremonial events. Rose is a big part of baseball history, and therefore should be allowed to participate in any ceremonies or commemorations of said history. He should be allowed to throw out first pitches, attend fan appreciation days, etc. This would give Rose a "taste" of being involved again and would give the fans more access to someone they clearly admire.
c. Do NOT lift the lifetime ban on Rose. Rose is now painted as a victim, but we can never forget that he committed the one act which tears at the very fiber of the game itself-gambling. He won't admit it, but the evidence is stacked against him a mile high when it comes to the question of gambling on baseball. Many people don't seem to think it is a very big deal as long as he bet on his team to win. That's ridiculous. Bottom line, if you are playing or managing a game on which you have placed a wager, your actions could be motivated by that wager. The game is then tainted. Avoiding gambling and the seedy characters it attracts is stressed throughout sports at every level. Rose was stupid and selfish enough to break this golden rule, and he should continue to pay the price of a lifetime ban. He is not a victim.
2. Give Fans More Access to the Games:
You can pay about $160 and receive "Major League Baseball Extra Innings" via digital cable or a satellite provider. If you're a die-hard baseball fan, it's a must. What could be better than following your team every day of the year? Well, of course you won't get to see them on most Wednesday nights, or several Saturday afternoons, and you won't get too see them quite as often if you live in the region of your team. Sound stupid and complicated? It is. Some of the "stupidness" has to do with the television contracts with Fox and ESPN, so not all the blame can be placed on MLB. But the blackout restrictions are asinine. It is a 9 hour drive from my house to Houston, yet the Astros are considered one of my "home teams" (along with the Cardinals AND Rangers). That means I can only watch games involving those teams that originate from a local broadcast. Of course, I don't even GET those channels, so it's up to my local cable company to pick up the games. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. So, in the end, the teams I will see the LEAST via my "Extra Innings" package are my "home teams." Makes perfect sense.
Someone that has the package and lives in Seattle, will see more Cincinnati Reds games than someone who has the package and lives in Ohio. Who are the public relations wizards that came up with that one? Purchasing "Extra Innings" is still well worth the money, as long as the team you follow isn't too close to home; luckily for me, that's the case. But MLB should make all televised games available to everyone who pays for the package, regardless of location.
3. Eliminate the Divisions/Revise the Schedule:
Tradition went by the wayside when MLB decided to switch to the three-division alignment and add two playoff teams to each league. It was the best decision the owners have made in years. Introducing interleauge play has also been a big success. However, there are now some kinks that need to worked out. Two teams from the same division are not allowed to meet in the first round of the playoffs. That means you could have the best record in the league, yet not get a chance to play the team (of the four playoff teams) with the worst record. Makes little sense. Now that winning your division isn't as important as it used to be, why not just eliminate the division's altogether? Simply have a National League and an American League. The top four teams from each league make the playoffs. The number one seed plays the number four seed and the number two seed plays the number three seed. Then, you revise the schedule to add more balance. Keep some of the more traditional rivalries (Yankees-Red Sox, Cardinals-Cubs, etc.) intact by adding an extra series or two for those teams, but make balance the focus.
4. Make the World Series Easier to Watch:
Answer: Build a new deck in your backyard, chart the movements of the moon, watch all of Ken Burns' documentaries in succession.
Question: Name three things you can start doing during the first inning of a World Series game and be finished in time to watch the ninth inning?
There is no reason World Series games need to start so late or drag on so long. The idea of playing World Series games during weekday afternoons is a bad one, but why must they start at 8:30 Eastern Time? I realize that gives the game primetime slots all across the country, but people are turning of their tubes before the seventh inning. Maybe they are hoping the game will still be going when the wake up? Start each World Series game no later than 7:30 eastern time. That's somewhat of an early start on the West Coast, but it's more reasonable to ask West Coast fans to find a TV at 4:30, then to ask East Coast fans to stay up until 1:00 a.m. MLB should also experiment with more "in game" advertising. World Series commercial breaks are longer than regular season games for obvious reasons, but what if they cut back on break time and added some voice-overs and advertising graphics? Advertisers would appreciate reaching a more "captive" audience, and the games could be moved along more swiftly. It would also help if the umpires enforced the current rules regarding pitchers and the time they spend doing things other than pitching.
5. Giuliani for Commissioner!:
Don't laugh, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani is an avid baseball fan, a proven leader, and a national hero. Bud Selig has gotten a bad wrap for the most part. He isn't quite the bumbling fool many have made him out to be. But perception is reality, and the reality is that Selig does not project a strong air of leadership. He found a way to talk baseball off the ledge last summer and he should be credited for that, but overall, his track record is shaky at best and he has become a symbol for some of baseball's biggest problems. Giuliani would bring a new face to an organization (MLB owners) that desperately needs some creativity and freshness.
Baseball fans love statistics, here are some worth noting: During his two terms as mayor of NYC, crime fell by 57% (shootings by 75%), emergency response time was reduced by over a minute, inmate violence was reduced by 93%, over 50% fewer people were on welfare, unemployment dropped from 10.2 % to under 6%, school funding increased by $4 billion, teachers made an average of $13,000 more per year, there were 65% more adoptions, the list goes on and onů.. Also, Giuliani helped create and promote several cultural, social, and fiscal programs that are being emulated across the country. And of course, he stepped up to the plate with an incredible show of leadership and compassion following the events of September 11th, 2001.
Bottom line, if the man can save the biggest city in the nation, don't you think he could figure out a way to level the playing field in Major League Baseball?