Rob Manfred was appointed the new MLB commissioner last week. And even as the news was announced, the speculation began as to what Manfred could do to improve the sport, seeing as how he's not old and ancient like Bud Selig, the man he's replacing. Not that he's asked me, but I have a few suggestions, so...
INCREASE THE SPEED OF PLAY
Baseball's always been a leisurely game, but crap, no 1-0 nine-inning game should ever take over three hours to play. There's been talk about cutting down on coaching visits to the mound, on the number of pitchers who can pitch in an inning, and other such stupid nonsense. But here's a simple suggestion: Enforce the damn rule book.
Rule 8:04 is simple and to the point: If the bases are empty, a pitcher has 20 seconds to throw the pitch. If he doesn't, the umpire is instructed to call a ball. And rule 6.02 instructs the batter to remain in the batter's box, and that if he refuses to step back into the box upon an umpire's request, then a strike should be called.
If we really want to improve game speed, let's enforce the rules before implementing others.
DITCH THE INSANE TV BLACKOUT RULES
Cable/satellite providers and regional sports networks demand that game broadcasts be blacked out from non-subscribers in designated home team TV areas. This is to protect investments made in creating RSNs and to generate the funds needed to pay teams ever-increasing rights fees. The teams and MLB support this because it means more dollars for the clubs.
Thus that five-state area centered on Texas, where Astros fans have been unable to see the games for two seasons. Or Los Angeles, where Dodgers fans can't see the games, or the stupidity found in locations like Las Vegas, which is claimed as home territory by six teams and in which possible Padres, Dodgers, A's, Giants, Rockies and D-backs fans are unable to see the games, or Des Moines, Iowa, where the games of the Twins, Royals, Cubs, White Sox, Brewers and Cardinals are blacked out.
You don't grow interest in games by making it impossible for fans to watch games. There's a lawsuit in New York challenging these blackouts, but MLB should do the right thing and make all games, no matter the team, available to all MLB.TV subscribers. I doubt the RSNs will be as damaged as they claim, but shouldn't making the games available to the fans be more important? FIX THE MLB NETWORK
The MLB Network was the greatest thing ever when it started. It showed old baseball games and old highlight films. The studio show was great, with multiple analysts well-versed in all of the ins-and-outs who loved the game and talked about it intelligently while popping into games throughout the country.
But at some point it decided that stupid pays. So Chris Russo has a show where he screams for an hour while having seemingly not watched a game since 1932 and apparently hating the sport. The studio show has become the Harold Reynolds show, a nightly display of nonsensical commentary that shows off a proud ignorance of advanced stats while shouting at anyone who disagrees with him -- normally Dan Plesac. And the less said the better about the abomination known as Intentional Talk.
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You don't grow a sport with cranky old men who want a return to the 1950s. And you don't grab new fans by embracing ignorance. Baseball's a beautiful sport, and it deserves a network that acknowledges that beauty.
NO MORE WORK STOPPAGES
The last work stoppage the MLB experienced was in 1994. And that worked out not so well for all involved -- remember how the game needed Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa to go on a PED-inspired home run race to save baseball? Yet there is talk, once again, of hardline owners wanting to destroy the players union, even if it means canceling another World Series.
So just say no. Tell Jerry Reinsdorf to shut up, stop the illegal crusades against players and keep playing baseball. After all, we all know just how well those work stoppages have worked out for the NHL. And surely you don't want to be known as the commissioner who turned MLB into another version of the NHL.