It happened again. A scribe decided he’s bigger than baseball and has penned a list of ideas designed to “save” the game.
In this case, the scribe is SI.com’s Tom Verducci. He lists nine changes baseball could make to better the game and the truth of the matter is that four of them are solid suggestions that would either make the current game better without radically altering it, make a popular event much, much better or, in one case, help ensure a continued pipeline of young players into the sport.
The first really good idea involves getting pitchers on a clock. Of course, baseball could help itself out if it would just enforce the rule it already has that states pitchers have 12 seconds to deliver a pitch when the bases are empty. How badly is this rule abused? The average time between pitches with the bases empty last season was 19 seconds. Put the batters and pitchers on a clock and call a ball or a strike—or both—depending on who isn’t ready when the action needs to happen. I’m all in favor of this.
In the same vein, limiting the number of timeouts would also help speed the pace of play. I remember when Jorge Posada was catching A.J. Burnett with the Yankees and they obviously weren’t on the same page. Why was it so obvious? Because Jorge was wearing out the grass between the mound and home plate trotting his butt out there to talk with Burnett every other pitch. It was ludicrous. If baseball were meant to have huddles before every play the way football does, they’d have been in the rulebook by now.
Another suggestion was to make the home run derby a bracketed competition. Yes. Yes. Yes. And, did I mention yes? The current format takes way too long. Eight guys hitting a full round, followed by four guys hitting a second full round before two guys hit a full round; entire historic eras have come and gone in less time than some of the recent editions of the home run derby.
A more esoteric idea that wouldn’t affect the product on the field directly, but is still a terrific idea, is that MLB should fund college baseball. The sport stockpiles enormous piles of cash and some of that money could be used to restore college baseball to its former glory. Once upon a time, Division I baseball programs had 27 scholarships available. They now have 11.7. If MLB could fund college baseball, we might find more kids using baseball to get an education with the likelihood that some of those athletes would eventually find their way to a big-league park near you.
But then Verducci goes off the tracks. The idea of “The Summer Game” is nice in a vacuum, terrible in reality. His idea calls for a regular-season game to be played at a non-major league site on the Thursday after the All-Star Game. For starters, I hate ideas that have no practicality. The players union fought for years to get two days off after the All-Star Game. It is not going to give those up so two teams can go play a game at Mount Rushmore, the mall in Washington or the Field of Dreams in Iowa. Dumb idea.
The practicality rule is also why Verducci’s plan to shorten the League Championship Series back to a best-of-5 will never fly. Owners won’t take money they already have out of their pocket. Period. This one’s a non-starter.
A neutral site World Series was another idea floated by agent Scott Boras, via Verducci. The idea is to make the first game or two of the World Series a Super Bowl-type of event at a neutral, warm-weather site. Yeah, making the Giants play the first two games of a World Series at Dodger Stadium is just a terrific idea. Except that it isn’t.
He also wants to limit pitching changes. I’m not a fan of situational relievers, but I’m even less a fan of a manager being forced to leave a guy in a game when he’s getting lit up because he already made a pitching change this inning.
Starting batters with a 1-1 count is likewise ridiculous. I get the intent is to speed up the game, but arbitrarily starting a hitter with a ball and a strike is ludicrous. If you’re going to do that, just give a batter three balls and two strikes. I’m not in favor of this, either, but at least it doesn’t give the impression that two pitches were thrown when nothing happened.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the three-ball, two-strike at-bat? It really screws up the song. “And it’s one, two … oh, crap, you’re out at the old ball game.”
Then Verducci went so far off the track that you can’t even see the train.
The idea of the so-called “bonus batter” is just insane. The thinking is that each manager, once per game, can pick one at-bat in a game where he can send any batter to the plate without having to take the player being hit for out of the game. So if you have light-hitting Jose Shortstop due up with the go-ahead run at third in the ninth inning, you could send Billy Slugger to the plate instead.
The thinking is that it adds tension and strategy to the game. No, what it adds is an unnecessary gimmick to the game.
So four decent ideas out of nine isn’t the worst batting average in the world, but some of the bad ideas are just extraordinarily bad.