Pitch clocks? Starting runners on base in extra innings? Limiting visits to the mound? These are just some of the ideas suggested (and already implemented, in some cases) to make the game of baseball more fan-friendly. Apparently, the attention span of the younger generation of baseball fans just can’t handle a three hour game with a bunch of breaks in the action.
Whether millennials are to blame or not (they get the blame for everything, these days), the game of baseball is at a bit of a crossroads. It’s a game steeped in tradition, but struggling to attract a younger audience. Any changes made to the existing baseball rulebook are often very small and transitioned to very slowly. But if Major League Baseball wanted to seriously overhaul their image, here are 15 suggestions to improve the product.
Keep in mind that we’re not trying to say that MLB should adopt all 15 of these rule changes at once. That would create chaos and change the game in a bad way — some of these suggestions even contradict each other. But maybe selecting just one or two of these potential changes, with the right balance, could really help baseball reclaim its moniker of “America’s Pastime,” which has truthfully belonged to the NFL for years now.
15. Fix Replay — or Scrap It Completely
Like we said above, MLB doesn’t make rule changes very quickly. They were the last of the major North American sports leagues to approve the use of instant replay, and originally it was only an umpire who could use replay to decide home run boundary calls. Since then, the system has been expanded to include manager challenges, which has been used mostly for close plays on the bases or to determine whether a batter was struck by a ball while at the plate.
However, the current system is still a mess. For starters, the replays take way too long. Some games have seen 10-minute delays while the officiating crew tries to get a call right. And even then, the calls are still questionable. For example, the use of replay has eliminated the “neighborhood play” at second base during a double play. With super slo-motion cameras and 4K resolution, umpires are now investigating whether the spikes of a baseball cleat grazed a base, even though the runner was obviously out by a few feet (or more!). It’s been argued that forcing infielders to stay on the bag as aggressive runners slide in hard is causing an increase in injuries. And don’t even get us started on the runner interference replays!
The point is that instant replay, as it currently stands in baseball, flat out sucks. It takes too long, and umpires are being forced to over-analyze minute details of the game. Whatever the vision of “getting the calls right” was when baseball approved replay, it looks a lot different in real life. Either re-write the replay guidelines so everyone knows exactly what plays can be challenged and which ones can’t (and do it quickly), or scrap the whole damn thing.
14. Robot Umps
Speaking of using the cameras to decide calls in baseball, here’s another idea that has been gaining momentum in the past few years. Technology has advanced to the point where a system of high-end cameras can now determine exactly where a baseball crossed the plate (or if it missed). Professional tennis has been using a similar system called Hawk-Eye for years, and it’s getting downright silly that baseball players have to deal with a different strikezone every day because the home plate umpire changes.
The strikezone is defined in the rulebook, and should not be open to interpretation. In fact, most television broadcasts have some sort of Pitch Tracker graphic displayed on-screen after every pitch. It’s so damaging to the integrity of baseball when an umpire blows an important balls-and-strikes call that millions of viewers can instantly see was wrong. Plus we are still seeing dozens of player thrown out of games every year for arguing balls and strikes. Just use technology to get the calls right — there’s no reason not to.
13. Realign The Divisions
While the current division alignments do make a bit of sense, geographically speaking, there’s always room for a shakeup. We’re not suggesting that you split up traditional rivals like the Yankees-Red Sox or Cubs-Cardinals, but baseball could consider doing something different to spice up the action.
There are multiple proposals, and some of them include two new expansion teams (in Montreal and Portland). If that happened, baseball should move to four divisions of eight teams that ignore the previous American and National League split. In this proposed model, for example, the North Division would include Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota, Montreal, Toronto, and both New York teams. Similarly, both Chicago teams would be in the Midwest Division and all five teams in California would be in the West Division.
This format also means reducing the number of regular season games to 154, but opening up the playoffs slightly. Allow an extra play-in Wild Card game (meaning more teams qualify for the postseason), and turn the Wild Card games themselves into a Best-of-Three series.
This schedule would reduce the amount of cross-country travel, saving both time and money. It also reduces the physical toll on players, who currently have to endure long travel days with few days off. Baseball purists may shout loudly about the demise of the AL and NL distinction, but the sport will eventually need to evolve with the times.
12. A Quasi-DH in the NL
There is growing support for both the AL and the NL to have the same rules, with the designated hitter the most controversial aspect. And with all due respect to Madison Bumgarner, most pitchers can’t hit worth a lick. And honestly, that’s fine. No one goes to the ballpark hoping Clayton Kershaw or Max Scherzer will hit a dinger. They want strikeouts and no-hitters. But if MLB won’t force the NL to adopt a no-hitter, here’s a potential middle ground.
Give every NL team a “Get Out of Jail” free card that they can use once per game. What we mean is that once per game a manager can send up a pinch hitter for their pitcher when he’s due up in the lineup, without being forced to actually pull their pitcher from the game. No one is salivating at the thought of a pitcher coming to the plate when the bases are loaded with two outs. On the other side of that equation, no one wants to see a dominant starting pitcher pulled in the fifth inning because his manager thinks he has a chance to put some runs on the board.
This new rule would let the manager send an actual batter to the dish, while keeping his ace (or star reliever) in the game.
11. Fix Those Rookie Contracts
Aaron Sanchez had the lowest ERA of any American League starting pitcher in 2016. He made $492,420. Kris Bryant was the freaking NL MVP that same year. He made $652,000. Meanwhile, Albert Pujols get paid millions in the tail end of a bloated contract to be a below average bench player. Something is seriously wrong with baseball economics right now.
Players are breaking into the league at a younger age than ever before. It no longer makes sense to pay them peanuts until they are 30, while promising them “their day will come” the whole time. As we’ve seen in the 2016 and 2017 offseasons, those 10-year contracts worth nine-figures have simply dried up, meaning we currently live in a world where the best players don’t get paid when they are young, and they don’t get paid when they are old either.
The Players’ Association owes it to future generations of ballplayers to hammer out a new agreement with owners the next time the CBA is up for renewal. We love watching Mike Trout or Bryce Harper break into the league as cocky 19-year-olds, but their contracts were laughable. Either reduce the time that teams have contractual control over draft picks (forcing them to either play them or move on), or do something drastically different so that the game’s brightest young stars aren’t stupidly underpaid. We’re sick of seeing a hobbled 37-year-old veteran make $18 million to sit on the bench and take up a roster spot while a hot young prospect is tearing up the minor leagues.
10. Add a 26th Roster Spot
Speaking of, it’s time to expand baseball rosters. This isn’t some cheap play to create more jobs or anything. No, it’s simply a matter of the game evolving. Starting pitching staffs that used to include four-man rotations now include five (and sometimes six). Starting pitchers who used to go seven or eight innings now regularly go four or five. With an increased reliance on bullpen specialists, MLB managers are often carrying an extra bullpen arm instead of a spare position player.
It’s time to add a 26th roster spot to Major League squads, giving managers more flexibility to keep a potential impact sub on their bench. It could be a reliable bat, or a blazing fast pinch runner. Something that could change the game in the last innings. As an added bonus, managers could also use the extra player to give everyday players more days off, which would help keep star players off the disabled list.
9. Ban The Shift
As advanced analytics became the norm in baseball, everybody’s spray charts became common knowledge. Managers started deploying ridiculous defensive shifts against notorious pull hitters, sometimes even putting all four infielders on one side of the diamond. The stats will show that it’s helping managers win games, but it sure does make for a boring game when the second basement is out in shallow right field like some kind of softball rover.
The MLB front office should ban these shifts outright. No more than two infielders on one side of the diamond. Offense will go up. Entertainment value will increase. Commissioner Rob Manfred has already spoken publicly about doing something to fight back against these boring tactics. Hopefully he will just outright ban managers from exploiting this loophole by closing it up completely.
8. Less Commercials
Okay, so this isn’t really a rule that baseball can change regarding play on the field. But if they are so concerned about how long it takes to complete a game, they should look at their television partners before they start tinkering with the on-field product. In the 1980s, the average game time was around two hours and 40 minutes (2:40). It’s crept up to over 3:00 hours in recent seasons, and now everyone is crying about “millennial attention spans” and other nonsense.
If baseball was serious about reducing game times, there’s an easier solution that pitch clocks — cut back on the television commercials. I don’t need to know a pitching change is being brought to me by a national telecom. I don’t care that a local pizza joint sponsored the seventh inning stretch. And I definitely don’t need to see the same damn car commercial every half-inning for three hours straight. Reduce the commercials and you can reduce the time between innings. Pace of play problems solved. Of course, everyone is greedy for that ad money, so you’ll never see this happen.
7. About Those Prime Time Start Times…
Speaking of problems with baseball on television, we have another gripe about the off-field decisions of the league and their television partners. Why on earth do high profile postseason games starting at 8:00 PM Eastern (or later, by the time all the pre-game junk is over)? Playoff games already take much longer than the 3+ hour average of regular season games, and the end result is that many fans can’t be bothered to stay up and watch the end of games.
Even worse than adults losing interest and falling asleep is the fact that children, who probably have school the next day, can’t watch their favorite team hit a walk-off home run. The 2017 World Series regularly had games ending around midnight, which is just dumb. Start postseason games at 7:00 PM Eastern — and even earlier on the weekends — so that everyone in the country has a chance to enjoy them. Especially the kids, who are supposed to be the next generation of fans. They can’t fall in love with the game if they’re in bed when the best moments happen.
6. Ignore Traditional Unwritten Rules
While we’re talking about rule changes, let’s discuss baseball’s infamous “unwritten rules.” You’ve probably heard people talk about them. They include boring things like:
-Don’t steal when you’re winning big.
-Play the game the right way.
-Don’t show other players up.
-For the love of God, don’t dare celebrate when you do something good.
Eff that noise. Steal all the bases you want. Flip your bat when you take a pitcher deep. Pump your fist when you get a key strikeout in a big spot. Talk some trash. Give a politically incorrect post-game interview. Build some rivalries. Make baseball fun again, as Bryce Harper said in 2016.
Jose Bautista’s iconic bat flip in the 2015 playoffs is one of the most endearing moments in recent baseball memory (and getting punched in the face by Rougned Odor the following season was less impressive, but equally memorable). Throw the “unwritten” rules in the trash where they belong.
5. Undo the Recent Stupid Rule Changes
As previously mentioned, pace of play is the hot button topic surrounding baseball these days. In an effort to speed up the game, MLB has implemented a number of small rule changes that are both insignificant and dumb as hell. The first one was the elimination of the traditional intentional walk. Instead of throwing four straight balls, any manager can just hold up four fingers and send a batter to first base. That’s lame, and prevents hilarious screw-ups like this:
The 2018 season will introduce a limit to the number of mound visits that can be made, allowing a maximum of six per game (including infielders meeting with the pitcher between batters). We’re sure this will cause a whole bunch of problems, and generally think it’s a dumb rule. They could easily save 15 minutes a game by fixing their instant replay rules and having 1% fewer commercials. Let the players play. Oh, and we’re aware of the irony of telling MLB to undo rule changes in an article about changing the rules, so don’t bother pointing it out to us.
4. Limit Pitching Changes
Maybe it’s just us, but we’re sick of watching a pitcher come in from the bullpen, throw four pitches, and then get replaced again. Whether he’s a LOOGY, failed to get a clutch out, or a closer who just blew a save, there should be a reasonable expectation that he sticks around longer. All the pitching changes just slow the game down, and don’t even get us started on what this looks like once September call-ups happen (actually, ban those too, now that we think about it).
We don’t want to force pitchers to stay in games if they are injured or fatigued, but we also don’t want guys to come in and throw five pitches or less. We propose the following: every pitcher must face a minimum of two batters or throw 15 pitches, whichever comes first. Or maybe tell teams that they get a maximum of five pitching changes per game, and they must manage accordingly (with an exception made for extra innings and changes made between innings). Just keep the game moving.
3. DH in the NL (Or No DH in the AL)
We understand the historical significance of the American League and the National League being separate things. But it’s time to end the silliness of having half your games played with different rules. Whether you like the extra slugging of the American League designated hitter rule or the more tactical switches required in the National League game, MLB should just pick one rule set and apply it universally.
Think about it. Wouldn’t it be weird if the NBA Western Conference introduced a four-point line but the Eastern Conference didn’t? Or if the AFC allowed a three-point conversion after a touchdown from 20-yards out, but the NFC didn’t follow suit? We’re willing to ignore that MLB also allows games to be played in stadiums with different dimensions and ground rules, but at least be consistent on this major part of the game. For record, we are pro DH in the NL because watching pitchers try to hit is generally a cringe-worthy exercise, with only a few notable exceptions.
2. Scrap Interleague Play
On the other hand, if MLB won’t make the rules the same in both leagues, then it’s time for interleague play to stop. It was a fun little experiment while it lasted (and it’s lasted far too long), but it’s time for it to go. While it may still hold novelty in places like New York (Subway Series) or Chicago (Southside versus Northside), most teams just shrug their shoulders about interleague play. You think Blue Jays fans care about the Atlanta Braves coming to town? (Spoiler alert: they definitely do not care.)
The interleague schedule is weird anyway, with each team having a supposed “rival” in the opposing league. But a lot of those rivalries don’t actually exist. The whole thing is kind of weird. If they don’t wanna scrap interleague play entirely, they should consider doing it in a more balanced way. Keep the games against division rivals, but play more games against the opposing leagues. The NBA and NHL already play liberally between the East and West, and it’s not like there aren’t 162 games for each MLB team to fit in a wider variety of opponents.
1. Suspend Bad Umps
When was the last time you bought a ticket or tuned in on television to watch Joe West or Angel Hernandez throw players out of a game? Yeah, we didn’t think so. It’s gotten so bad in recent years that social media has coined the term “Ump Show” for overzealous officials who seem to think the fans in the building came to watch them work.
Listen, we know that there are some situations where players should be tossed from games. But some of the quick triggers in the current umpire pool are ridiculous. Worst of all, there never appears to be any punishment for egregious umping decisions. The umpire’s union should be way more transparent, issuing punishment (and press releases to accompany them) when one of their own makes a major mistake. If a player screws up, they get benched or suspended. When an ump screws up, he has a little chuckle about it and gets to go to work the next day like nothing happened. Sit these idiots down until they realize that they aren’t the stars of the show.