If I were Commissioner of Baseball

Quote of the Day: “Baseball was made for kids, and grown-ups only screw it up.” -- Bob Lemon

I love baseball. I love it for its nostalgic history, for its pastoral charms, for its mythic essence. Nothing beats a good baseball game – the strategy, the drama, the fun. It’s a team sport where individuals shine. I have been a die hard New York Yankees fanatic since I was a little boy. I still have the promotional bat from the very first ballgame my father took me to see.

Baseball is also a business, and I understand the need to change with the times to help the sport grow. Rooting for an American League team, I have no problem with the Designated Hitter rule (I actually hate seeing pitchers bat in the National League). I also was skeptical of the Wild Card playoff slot, but now I support it. I also had my doubts about instant replay, but so far its implementation has been fine.

If I had the power to make further changes to the sport, here are some things I would do.

1. Play half the games during the Playoffs and at least two games during the World Series during the day. Late, nighttime games are horrible for young kids who are learning to love the sport. I understand that prime-time ratings and television ad revenues are at stake, but there is no reason why weekend games should not be during the day.

2. Reinstate Pete Rose and, posthumously, Shoeless Joe Jackson. Their actions (betting on baseball and the Black Sox scandal, respectively) were dark marks on the game, but the Hall of Fame should be about records and history, and both Rose and Jackson were two of the greatest players in the game. There will be steroid users in the Hall of Fame, so Rose and Jackson should be memorialized there as well. Let history judge their actions, but let the Hall of Fame mark their existence and their accomplishments rather then have their presence completely banished.

3. Realign the Leagues and eliminate Interleague Play during the regular season. First, I hate when the Yankees play the West Coast during the regular season, so I propose splitting the Leagues between the East and the West. This way, for example, regional teams like the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs, and the New York Yankees and the New York Mets, could be in different divisions, but in the same League, and play each other multiple times during the season. This would allow rival teams to play each other more often, so the Yankees would play the Red Sox more often, plus other Eastern clubs, and not have to face the Athletics, the Dodgers, the Giants, the Mariners, the Angels, etc., unless they met in the World Series.

4. Make the divisions a merit-based system. I hear some European soccer leagues use a system like this, where there’s a premium division and weaker divisions. I suggest having the strongest teams in one division, and the weakest teams in the others. The best teams (first, second, third place) would still make it to the post season under my proposed system, so you would not be penalizing strong clubs, but you would give weaker teams a chance to compete for first place and playoff spots. Teams could move from one division to another depending on their winning or losing record every year.

5. Start the playoffs earlier, and expand them. The Division Series should be Best-of-Seven not Best-of-Five. Plus, if my realignment suggestions are in effect, there might be more meaningful championship series to play. This would mean the regular season would be shortened, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

6. No metallic bats! Stick with wooden bats. I know some colleges still use the metal ones, but that would be a disadvantage against pitchers who already have a tough time as it is.

7. No crazy rule changes, like multiple-run zones! Some people have suggested making certain harder-to-reach areas count for more runs if a home-run ball is hit there. That’s ridiculous and plays havoc with the basic principles of the sport. Hitting a ball out of the park should result in the number of runs equal to the number of players on the bases – no more, no less. Multiple points work in basketball and football, but not in baseball. The only way you should be able to score more than one run per home run is if you have other teammates on the bases.

8. Cheaters should be punished. This is a no brainer, but it's sad how inconsistently it's enforced. I don’t know how to solve the steroid scandal (see my previous blog entry about my thoughts on that), but once a player is caught breaking the rules, they should pay the penalty in a fair manner. This applies to ballplayers using illegal performance enhancing drugs, to players using corked bats or scuffed balls, to players who engage in brawls during a game, etc. Baseball has a rich set of rules, and they need to be enforced. Enforce the law or officially change it, no in between. The Pine Tar incident was a great example back in the early 1980s.

9. Offer prizes when fans turn in copies of their scorecards. This will encourage fans to watch every pitch and keep track of the intricacy of the game. This won’t hurt concession sales or fans roaming around the fancy new ballparks – all you need is one person per group attending a game to be the designated scorecard keeper, and they can pass off the duty temporarily to a friend or family member if they need a bathroom break or if they want to go off for half an inning to buy a pretzel, hot dog, or beer. It seems that some people go to a ballgame and never actually sit in their seats to watch the game. This might encourage them to pay attention and love the details of the game -- and it's a great way to teach kids the finer points of the sport.

Those are some of my wacky ideas. (And I haven’t even delved into my thoughts on the All Star Game or the World Baseball Classic!)