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Meet the Fixer

Pete Alonso of the Mets Helped Fix What Ails Baseball In 2019 – But There’s Much More to Do.

Yesterday Steve Buckley of The Athletic published a brilliant piece about how to fix what ails baseball and has caused so many young people to look elsewhere when it comes to entertainment. (See below.) I only hope someone close to the Commissioner reads it and actually takes it seriously. Are Steve’s eight recommendations all that needs to be done? Of course not. For one thing, baseball needs to be as embedded into today’s culture as are football and basketball. And it’s just not there. That said, I agree with almost everything Steve says – if nothing else it’s a terrific start.

Where I Beg to Differ

If you page down to Steve’s column below, you’ll find all the great ideas that I agree with 100%. Some of them, like the pitcher’s clock and voiding the Astros 2017 World Championship, I’ve called for myself previously, either in a letter that was published by The New York Times some 20 years ago (!), or more recently on this blog. So I thought it would make sense to focus on where Steve and I disagree. Our main differences involve the approach to umpiring. Yes, umpiring is often horrible these days, but it always was subjective. HDTV, combined with the placement of the primary camera behind the pitcher instead of the hitter, as in days of yore, have exposed this more than ever before. The reality is that every umpire has his own strike zone and players study them as part of pregame preparation. (In the famous words of Bill Klem, the pitch “ain’t nothing until I say it is.”) The real issue with umpiring is lack of consistency, and there’s a simple solution for that – umpires who are inconsistent should be fired and replaced. But not by robots. We have enough robots running around the planet now without having them take over baseball as well. The game itself has become a meritocracy. Umpiring should be as well.

We also need to keep the replay review – if only because some bad calls are so obvious that they cannot be left standing. (I’m thinking here of things like Armando Galarraga’s perfect game that was ruined by a horrendous call on the last out.) Just make the replay review subject to the same clock you use on pitchers. If the call cannot be overturned in 30 seconds, it stands and play resumes.

Here is Buckley’s piece in full:

Buckley: Baseball has problems. I’m here to fix them

By Steve Buckley Feb 14, 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball’s embattled commissioner, will be holding a pair of official Spring Training Media Days over the next several days, one in Florida and the other in Arizona.

But I’ll tell you what: You can wait and listen to Manfred’s carefully crafted commissioner-speak … or you can listen to me. As someone who has covered baseball for more than 40 years and been watching it since 1964 — first game attended: Red Sox-Angels, Fenway Park — I have some thoughts about what MLB should be doing, and what it most assuredly should not be doing.

This is not an if-I-was-commissioner-of-baseball column. It’s more of an if-I-was-supreme-ruler-of-baseball column, since some of my ideas would never fly with the owners. Rob Manfred, see, is required to take calls from Houston Astros owner Jim Crane. Not so with the supreme ruler of baseball.
To the telestrator, then, as I outline eight edicts I would put into play if I were supreme ruler of baseball:

1, The Houston Astros’ 2017 World Series championship would henceforth be considered null, void, vacated, never happened, etc.

I know what you’re thinking: Members of the Chicago White Sox fixed the 1919 World Series, leading to the owners bringing in Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis to become the game’s first commissioner and clean up Dodge. And while he banned eight White Sox players for life, he didn’t draw a line through the 1919 World Series and say it didn’t happen, right?

So what? Why must MLB be held prisoner to a Judge Landis decision from a century ago? The Astros not only cheated, but they followed it up with an arrogant, stagey news conference this week that included a comment from the aforementioned Jim Crane that inspired the biggest collective spit take in the history of mankind. “Our opinion is that this didn’t impact the game,” Crane said of his team’s illegal sign-stealing operation. He quickly tried to walk that back — “I didn’t say it didn’t impact the game,” he said, his nose taking the shape of Pinocchio’s from those Geico commercials — but it was too late. So no 2017 championship banner for the Astros. And the same goes for the 2018 Red Sox if their crimes match up with what the Astros did.

And, no, neither title would go to the Dodgers. Removing tainted victories from one team doesn’t mean bestowing imaginary victories on another team. Let’s be grown-ups about this.

2. Once the leases are up and the lawyers have been paid and the bags have been packed, the Tampa Bay Rays are moved to Montreal and recast as the … Montreal Royals

(I know what you’re thinking: MLB already has the Kansas City Royals. I’ll get to that in a moment.)

No disrespect to the few, the proud, the fans of the Rays, but the sobering reality is that big-league baseball has simply never become a thing in the Tampa-St. Pete area. They haven’t come close to matching their attendance for their inaugural 1998 season (2,506,023) and attendance was only 1,780,791 in 2008, the year they played in the World Series. Last year’s Rays, who won 96 games and made it to the Division Series (losing in five games to the Astros), drew 1,178,735 to Tropicana Field, an average of 14,552 per game.

Way back in 1994, the Montreal Expos had the best record in baseball (74-40) when the players’ strike halted the season. It never resumed. And the Expos never recovered.

3. Build a new ballpark in Montreal, bring in the Rays … and rename them the Royals. The way I see it — and again, I am the supreme ruler of baseball — the old minor-league Royals were a crown jewel of the Montreal sports scene for more than a half-century and they also have historical significance: Jackie Robinson played for the Montreal Royals of the International League before debuting with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.Change the name of the Kansas City Royals to the Kansas City Monarchs.

I’m totally serious about this. Let’s began here: There are several cases in which big-league teams arrived in a new city, either by expansion or relocation, and adopted the name of an old minor-league team from that town. The Milwaukee Brewers. The Baltimore Orioles. The San Diego Padres. (And as I point out above, I’d like to see Montreal do it with the Royals.) And yet none of the old Negro League teams have been honored by having their names and team colors being resurrected by Major League Baseball.

We can fix that by bringing the Kansas City Monarchs back to life. The Monarchs were one of the best-known and most successful of Negro League teams, and it was in their uniform that the legendary Satchel Paige had some of his greatest success. Buck O’Neil, as fine an ambassador of baseball as the game ever had, played for and managed the Monarchs. Jackie Robinson played a season with the Monarchs before signing with Brooklyn.

MLB is always falling for goofy gimmicks in an attempt to bring in more fans. This is no gimmick. It’s recognizing an important and still overlooked era of baseball history, and, perhaps, opening the eyes of kids of all races who’ve never been taught there was a thing called the Negro Leagues. Or why they existed in the first place.

Passionate fans of the Kansas City Royals won’t like this one bit. I don’t blame them. I’d ask, though, for Kansas City sports fans to think of the common good and why the old KC Monarchs deserve a seat at MLB’s 21st-century table.

4. Eliminate the sounds-great-but-is-actually-really-horrible idea of bringing back so-called ‘old-fashioned doubleheaders.’

Anyone proposing the return of big-league doubleheaders either has never attended one or is a complete fool. At a time when MLB is desperately trying to speed up the games, it makes no sense to create a “day at the ballpark” that would last seven or eight hours. And, no, I wouldn’t be in favor of having doubleheaders featuring two seven-inning games. That works in the minor leagues and that’s where it belongs.

As someone who grew up watching baseball, I attended my share of scheduled doubleheaders. Guess what? My friends and I almost always headed home at around the fourth inning of the second game. It was just too much baseball for one day, and, anyway, we were out of money. And this was at a time when people actually had attention spans. You think today’s kids are going to sit through two games?

5. Yes, yes, yes, we’re going to speed the games up.

It’s been said that Manfred is obsessed with pace of play. That’s a Magnificent Obsession. Of the four major American sports leagues, only in MLB do fans start heading for the exits when the games go to overtime. Am I right or am I right? But the solution isn’t putting a runner on second base to start the bonus frames — another cheesy gimmick — but to speed up the games to the degree that fans will stick around for the 10th inning and beyond.

The fix isn’t complicated: Build a wall and make Texaco pay for it. On this wall, there would be a clock — a pitch clock — and pitchers would throw the damned ball in keeping with the clock or pay the consequences. It’s time for MLB and the Players Association to stop dancing around the issue. The clock needs to be real, and it needs to be enforced. And if it takes pitchers out of their rhythm, we’ll get new pitchers. I’m calling it the Mark Buehrle Rule, named after the former big-league pitcher who managed to win 214 games during his big-league career despite rarely taking much more than 15 seconds between pitches.

By the way, I just threw in the line about Texaco because it rhymes with Mexico. But call us, Texaco, if you’re interested in naming rights for those MLB wall clocks I’m putting up.

6. Upon further review, there will be no more further review.

This one is going to be especially tricky now that you’re being invited to make legalized gambling part of your daily baseball experience, but replay review has always been a clunky thing in baseball. In the other sports, yes, I get it. Especially in the NFL, where a wrong call could reduce the earth to a burned-out cinder.

Without even this obligatory statement of the obvious — which is that it has allowed teams to cheat, which has damaged the very integrity of the sport — replay review in baseball serves as an announcement for anyone watching the game to quickly change the station. I dare you to tell me you have not done so.

If a big-league game can be played by two teams of flawed, imperfect human beings, I don’t see the issue in having it umpired by four flawed, imperfect human beings. The worst thing that could happen is that fans of one team go home angry and hollering. But isn’t that what’s supposed to happen anyway?

However, and perhaps this is just to hose down the “OK Boomer” crowd, I’m willing to bring in the robotic strike zone — partly because it will keep the game flowing but mostly because of this: in the entire history of baseball no two umpires have had the same strike zone.

MLB is already on to something here, staging regular-season games everywhere from London to Williamsport, Pa., and there will even be a Yankees-White Sox tilt this summer on the Iowa cornfield where “Field of Dreams” was filmed. The Red Sox and Orioles will also play a game in Williamsport during the Little League World Series.

7. Take neutral-site games to another level.

My plan is for there to be more of that. And it’s a lock, actually. In 20 years it’ll be the norm for each big-league team to play bits and pieces of its schedule at exotic locales, and when it does happen it’ll be yet another case where the old becomes new. The White Sox played a smattering of home games at Milwaukee’s County Stadium in 1968 and ’69, and the Brooklyn Dodgers played some home games at Jersey City’s Roosevelt Stadium in ’56 and ’57 before packing up and moving to Los Angeles.
However …

8. There will be no screwing around, none, ever, with minor-league baseball.

And it’s not just because the minors are a thing of beauty, what with their hokey contests colliding with a young ballplayer’s fierce desire to make the big leagues.

I covered minor-league ball for three years and am here to tell you that every player, every last one of them, even bench players hitting .203, is clinging to the hope that some crazy set of circumstances will collide in such a way as to catapult them to the big leagues.

And yet they cheerfully participate in every zany promotion, visit every hospital, sign every autograph, pose for every photo. There is, I am telling you, an energy to minor-league baseball you won’t find anywhere else.

It will not be destroyed, or even diminished, on my watch.

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