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Sports Then and Now

Five Sorely Needed Changes to MLB

Posted on June 02, 2010 by Don Spieles
Rays manager Maddon argues with umpire Hernandez on behalf of his batter Pena after he was called out on strikes against the Blue Jays during their MLB baseball game in Toronto

Umpiring is just one (well...two) of the things that need changed in MLB.

Most fans don’t care about ratings or polls. When you sit down at the ball park with your son, the last thing you’re thinking about is whether the NFL or MLB has the bigger fan base. When you clear your evenings in October to watch the playoffs, thoughts of revenue sharing and rookie signing bonus ceilings are not on the menu for conversation. Aside from the geeks (of which I am one) who listen to sports talk radio all day long, these topics are marginal issues at best. Instead, what the real fans car about – game-wise, that is – has to do more with the legacy of the game and its heroes than of the television ratings. Kids want to see their favorite player in the All-Star Game and everyone looks to watch baseball (as opposed to posturing and argument) between the first and last pitch.

With those desires (and those who desire such) in mind, the following is a list of five things that Major League Baseball could change to make their fans much, much happier.

5. Umpire Quarum for Ejections

This is the lowest item on the list and the one that is least likely to occur. Why? Ego – that of the umpires.

The premise is simple. When an umpire feels that he has been wronged in some way (batter/manager arguing strikes, pitcher getting mouthy, etc) he can do his normal gyration for an ejection, which more or less amounts to pointing toward the locker room. But unless another umpire on the crew agrees and follows suit with his own ejection sign, the player is not ejected. This would eliminate the knee-jerk reaction ejections we’re seeing so much of lately (the most recent being Bill Hohn’s lightning quick ejection of Roy Oswalt on Monday).

Not much of what Ozzie Guillen says is quotable (or even repeatable, for that matter) but after Mark Buehrle was ejected by Joe West for dropping his glove after a second balk call, Guillen pointed out that fans are not there to watch the umpires, they are there to watch the players. Whether you believe the rumors going around that umpires have gotten together and are consciously trying to be stricter this season or if it is simply a lot of one-upmanship, the umpires need to be reigned in and having to get two involved in an ejection is step one. But more on that later…

4. Make HFA of World Series Basesd on Inter-League Play

The All-Star Game is meant to be an exhibition. One of the things that sticks in my memories of All-Star Games of my youth was the fun that is seemed the players were having – before and after the game – because there was no pressure. Now, since Bud Selig decided that home field advantage for the World Series would ride on the outcome of the All-Star Game, things have changed. Take this year’s game as an example. Joe Girardi of the defending World Champion Yankees will skipper the American League team. Now, in this particular case, the Yankkes have a good shot at being in the next World Series. How important then is winning the All-Star Game to Girardi? How does it affect his decisions during the game? The thing that makes using the All-Star Game in this way such a patheticly dumb idea, though, is the fact that the answer is staring everyone in the face. It would require nothing more than a few strokes of Bud Selig’s pen to make Inter-League play decide the home field advantage for the World Series. The benefits are numerous. It is more fair to base such a thing on a list of games than on one. The games are all real games where there is competition abound as teams are already aware of who the games affect their overall standings. Most importantly, it would return the Midsummer Classic to what it was. Sixty-some odd big league guys having a blast (sort of like at the home run derby) and playing like they were kids again in stead of million dollar athletes. What could be better than that?

3.Change All-Star Voting

Speaking of the All-Star Game, there is another disturbing trend associated with this iconic American event. Thanks to the Internet, fans can vote multiple times, and very easily. Where it used to be fans in the stands and die hard fans who got their hands on ballots that voted, not it can be anyone. The issue with this is not the voters, but how they vote. When you can vote 25 times, voting for your favorite teams players over and over is more common. Just above average players on popular teams like the Yankees and Red Sox have a better chance of getting in than do stellar players who might be on teams like Kansas City or Pittsburgh. The answer to this is to spread the wealth – the voting wealth, that it. The All-Star ballots need to be three tiered. One set from fans, one set from current managers and general managers, and one set from sports writers. A process such as this would make sure that the field is “all stars”. Also, the rule of having at least one player from each team should be abolished, Would you want to be the one guy who made it from a team because of that rule? Even if your awesome, the consensus is that you got there because you’re the best of the worst.

2. Change HOF Voting

Pete Rose smiles during MLB's top ten ceremony

If fans, Managers, and GM's had a say, Pete Rose would be in the Hall of Fame

While we’re splitting the vote and putting some of the All-Star game into the sports writers’ hands, let’s finally take something off of them that they have abused for years: The voting for the Hall of fame should have the same, three tiered approach. Sports writers have taken this honor that was bestowed upon them so many years ago and turned it into a circus for the sake of copy. Every year, regardless of the caliber of the names on the list, there is argument ad nauseum over whether this player or that player will be a first ballot inductee. Over the years the slights have made more news than the stories about the players.

First Time Ballot Slights (with ballot number):

Tris Speaker (2)

Cy Young (2)

Joe DiMaggio (4)

Rogers Hornsby (5)

Roy Campanella (5)

Jimmie Foxx (7)

Dizzy Dean (9)

Hank Greenberg (9)

Bruce Sutter (13)

Let’s give the fans, and current and former managers or GM’s (with at least 5 cumulative years in those positions) a vote.

And while my soap box is still out… Pete Rose needs to be in the Hall of Fame. If anyone even considers the possibility of allowing players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Manny Ramirez, or Alex Rodriguez a bust in the hall, Charlie Hustle must get there.  He first must be reinstated by the Commissioner.  Hello!  Mr. Selig!

1. Minor League Assignments for Lousy Umpiring

This is not a ground breaking theory. If a player is in the big leagues and he is lousy (many times even if it is for a short time) he gets sent to the minors. If an umpire stinks it up – even if it is game in and game out – do you know where he gets sent? To his next game. There is no incentive for umpires to improve or for the umpires union to be cognizant of the talent of its members.

Fans do not want games decided by umpires. When your team loses because of a bad call, it is a tragedy of epic proportions. But even if you team wins due to a flub my an ump, you still can’t truly celebrate because you know you will take grief forever from your pals because “The umps gave them the game!”

With the ongoing progressions in technology, specifically slow motion replay and Questec, there is more info than ever to “grade” umpires. Once graded, then deal with them.  First time the trip to the minors should be brief – almost a slap on the wrist deal.  The next time longer, and so on.  Each time, let a minor league umpire with some experience come up.  Whether or not the the new guy stays or not could be dependent on his performance.

This outline is not revolutionary.  It’s done with the players and in just about every office I’ve ever worked in.  Isn’t it about time it was done for the umpires?

Don Spieles covers Major League Baseball for Sports Then and Now.

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