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5 things I’d change about baseball

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Here’s what I’d do if I were Commissioner, with the power to make changes to the game.

A pitch clock during a Triple-A game in 2019
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

You’re here because you love the Chicago Cubs and baseball.

Nevertheless, there are probably things you don’t like about baseball and would change if you could.

If I awakened this morning and somehow, I had become Commissioner of baseball and could make five unilateral changes that would take effect immediately, here’s what they would be. (Not to mention that if that happened, Rob Manfred would no longer be Commissioner, so that would be a good start.)

The designated hitter would be universal

Yes, I’m stirring up this hornet’s nest again. 2020 will be the 48th season the DH will be an American League rule. It’s no longer a gimmick, it’s part of the game. Here are some reasons having the DH in the A.L. and the N.L. is a good idea:

  • We don’t really have two “leagues” anymore. We have one baseball league called Major League Baseball. Since the beginning of interleague play in 1997, the elimination of the league president roles in 1999 and the combining of the umpiring staffs the following year, the league identities are really more like NFL-style conferences. Playing with two different sets of rules makes no sense.
  • Pitchers are lousy hitters. This is nothing new: Pitchers have been lousy hitters for a century, and it’s getting worse. In 1925, the first year for which baseball-reference.com has splits by position, pitchers hit .207/.245/.272 (MLB as a whole hit .292/.354/.411 that year). It’s no coincidence that a DH rule was proposed in 1928. In 2019, pitchers hit .128/.159/.163 while the league as a whole hit .252/.323/.435.
  • Pitchers are hitting less often in general now because starters aren’t going as deep into games. Only five pitchers had 70 or more plate appearances in 2019. In 2009, there were 19 such pitchers and in 1999, 31.

I’ll grant to traditionalists (and trust me, I’m generally one of those, just not on this topic) that a certain amount of strategy will be lost with the adoption of the universal DH. In my view, that’s offset by not watching pitchers strike out 44 percent of the time (as they did in 2019). Or get hurt running the bases. It’s time.

TV blackouts would be eliminated

Sorry, regional sports networks. Under my commissionership, this map would be consigned to the dustbin of history:

mlb territorial map

No more blackouts. If you want to watch a game and are willing to pay for MLB Extra Innings or MLB.tv, you’d be able to do it.

Perhaps there would be a small surcharge if you want to watch in-market. The reality of the television business in 2020 is that people are cutting the cord, not begging their provider to carry a regional sports network.

The pitch clock would be instituted — and enforced

Manfred’s silly tweaks to baseball in an attempt to improve the pace of play — the automatic intentional walk, limiting mound visits and now, the three-batter rule for relievers — shave seconds off games.

The pitch clock could drop 10-15 minutes off game time and definitely improve the pace of play. The single biggest issue with the pace of play is batters stepping out of the box and pitchers (I’m looking at you, Pedro Baez) futzing around on the mound.

Put in the clock and empower umpires to enforce it by calling a ball or strike (depending on who the offender is). When this was done in Double-A and Triple-A in 2015, games became about 15 minutes shorter.

The clock would only be in effect with the bases empty. In 2019, 57.3 percent of plate appearances happened with no one on base. The long-term average for such things is about 58 percent. At least for those PA, we’d have faster-paced at-bats.

The automated strike zone would be introduced

Just a couple of weeks ago, MLB and its umpires agreed to begin exploring of instituting a computer-called strike zone.

This is a good step in the right direction. In the interim, while this is still being looked into, I would allow each manager two ball-and-strike challenges per game (in addition to the existing replay challenges). In many games these wouldn’t be used at all, and since there would be just two of them, most managers would leave them for the most egregiously wrong calls (check out the one in the link above for an example). These would be much easier to judge than many current replay reviews and wouldn’t slow the game down.

The Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics would be allowed to move

The ridiculous split-franchise idea for the Rays, half a year in Tampa and half in Montreal, would be scrapped. The Rays would move to Montreal (and be re-named Expos), and that could be done right now. Olympic Stadium isn’t a great baseball venue, but it would be suitable enough on a temporary basis until they could figure out how to finance a new ballpark in Montreal.

The A’s, who have had to jump through numerous hoops to even discuss a new ballpark in Oakland, would be granted permission to move to San Jose, where they should have moved a decade ago. The territorial rights granted to the Giants for that area would be revoked. The San Francisco Bay area is the only multi-team market in MLB where territorial rights were split; in the others (Chicago, New York, Los Angeles) the entire territory is shared. That was a mistake made by owners in the 1990s and needs to be rectified.

What would you do if you were Commissioner with unlimited power?