Monday, April 1, 2013

What If...I Were Commissioner of Baseball?

It's baseball's opening day today, and amidst my joy at the return of the boys of summer, I am annoyed at the men who run the game.  Last night's official season opener between the Rangers and Astros was case in point.  The Astros have been moved from the National to the American League, completely against the wishes of the team's fan base, so that interleague games can be scheduled every day of the season.  I've never heard a solitary baseball fan demand that interleague play be a daily occurrence, so I am unsure where this idea came from.  It is representative of Bud Selig's tenure as commissioner, which has been full of all kinds of silly gimmicks and hasty decisions.  I know that Bud will be retiring soon, and baseball will have a new commissioner.  He (baseball's hierarchy is unfailingly patriarchal) will likely be the owners' toady and enable, just like Selig and most of his predecessors.  If he is not, he will be strong-armed and fired by the owners, which was Fay Vincent's fate.  That doesn't mean a baseball fan can't dream or have flights fancy.  If your humble author were made commissioner of baseball, this is what he would do:

Organize the two leagues into two divisions and eliminate the wild card
One advantage that baseball has over most other sports in the pennant race.  The excitement of two or more teams trying to win every day down the stretch, or else face elimination, is hard to match.  The last day of the 2011 season, which saw several momentous games on one night, contains the kind of magic you just don't find elsewhere.  Pennant races are good for baseball because they happen just as football season is beginning, and thus keeps the public spotlight on the diamond at a time when the more popular gridiron begins to hold sway.  Unfortunately, the current format, with three divisions, has cut down on the number of close pennant races.  Having teams compete for only two spots in each league will create dramatic moments.

What's more, the current wild card system is immoral.  In sport with 162 games over a grueling season, I find it completely galling that a team incapable of winning its own division can go to the playoffs and ride a hot streak to a title.  One of baseball's advantages over other pro sports is that the regular season really matters, and that mediocre teams can't make the playoffs, as they regularly do in hockey and basketball.

Bring the Astros back the to National League and limit interleague play
The only reason the Astros are in the American League is to expand interleague play, which should actually be limited.  In the early days interleague games had all kinds of excitement attached to them, since they had never happened before.  Now they have gotten beyond mundane.  The Reds and Angels are playing an interleague series tonight, but does that really excite anybody?  One of the advantages that baseball has over other sports is the uniqueness and contrasts between its leagues, which are so much more meaningful than those between the NFC and AFC in the NFL.  I think limited interleague play is fine, especially when it involves intense, intracity or intrastate matchups like Cubs-White Sox.  However, once it waters down the uniqueness of the leagues without adding any real value to the baseball experience, it ought to be limited.

Recommend Buck O' Neil, Bill James, Marvin Miller, and Curt Flood for the Hall of Fame
I know the writers and the Veterans Committee determine these things, but as commish I would implore them to consider these men for the Hall.  O'Neill was one of the greatest managers in the Negro Leagues, as well as a legendary scout and coach in the majors.  After he retired, he became one the game's greatest ambassadors.  If not for segregation of the majors and the racism that remained after desegregation, O'Neill would have managed in the bigs and managed well.  The Hall should do right by him.  Bill James' use of statistical analysis has revolutionized the way the game is interpreted, and so ought to be inducted.  Marvin Miller and Curt Flood were the most important figures in the end of the reserve clause and the battle for players to get rights and just compensation.  The owners may have hated both of them, but they don't get to determine who's in the Hall.

Have an official ceremony at Elysian Fields in Hoboken
The legend of Abner Doubleday inventing baseball in 1839 in Cooperstown, New York, is complete and utter poppycock.  Modern baseball was invented by New Yorkers who played their games at Elysian Fields, in Hoboken.  Today it is a busy street corner, with a humble mark that shows the spot where baseball was first played.  As commissioner I would officially give Hoboken its due and repudiate the Cooperstown legend, and not just because I'm a New Jersey guy.  There is a reactionary and pernicious notion that baseball is a rural game and a throwback to a more rustic America, when in fact it was the product of the city and early urbanization.  The ruralification of baseball fits with a general anti-urban bias in this nation's mainstream culture that has pernicious effects on our cities and their dwellers.  It's also just bad to perpetuate lies.

Reform the All-Star game
I wrote about this in-depth last year, so I will just give the highlights: end the player from every team requirement, limit rosters to 27 players, and end the practice of giving the winning league home-field advantage in the World Series.

Revenue sharing
This would really be a long shot.  Of all the major team sports, baseball is the only one without a robust revenue sharing structure when it comes to television money.  This means that wealthy teams can outspend poor ones, which hurts the overall popularity of the sport if fans in several markets decide that there team will never have a chance, and so give up.  Revenue sharing would also help limit runaway salary inflation.

Use YouTube more effectively
Right now MLB tries to shut down any YouTube video with footage from baseball games in it, ostensibly to guide users to  There's just one problem: unless you're looking for highlights of recent games, it sucks.  Baseball has such a wonderful history, and plenty of video footage of it is out there, but fans have almost no access to it at a time when other sports have come to peace with YouTube.  If the sport wants to bring in young fans, keeping them from seeing anything baseball-related on YouTube is a pretty stupid way to go about it.

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