Buster Olney comes up with nine ideas to “improve” baseball. They’re mostly bad.
Buster Olney and the Mike & Mike radio crew at ESPN did a little thought experiment about how to improve baseball. It was partially audience-sourced and the entire idea was based on something ESPN did about the NFL last week. They came up with nine suggestions to improve the game.
Given that (a) baseball is fine; (b) Mike and Mike is a talk radio show that spends far more time dealing with football than baseball; and (c) fan-sourcing anything is going to be a dicey proposition, especially when a huge number of those fans are football fans who dig talk radio, you can imagine the quality of these ideas. Short version: they ain’t that great.
1. Reduce games to seven innings
This is bad because “let’s have less baseball” is not a thing that improves baseball for people who like baseball. Sure, lots of people who don’t much care for baseball tend to think this is a great idea, but I’m not sure they should be driving the bus here. It also stands in direct contradiction to Olney’s idea below about reliever usage. If you have seven inning baseball games, a greater portion of the games will be dominated by max-effort, one-inning relievers. Also: taking two innings off of the game will drastically reduce the amount of advertising MLB and its clubs and network partners can sell which would sort of not be great for the business. Or the network that employs Olney.
2. Two scheduled single-admission doubleheaders a year
I’m fine with that. Owners would complain but it’s a better way to give more off-days to players than chopping games off the season.
3. “Attach one item from the concession stands -- hot dog, soda, something -- to each ticket.”
I assume this means a free coupon for one item to each ticket and not, like, stapling a hot dog to the ticket. I guess this would be nice, but it’s not like there aren’t all kinds of concession promotions and things already. And a lot of parks let you bring your own food within limits. I dunno. Harmless. Not exactly compelling to anyone apart from the people who loudly complain about concession prices while still, as evidenced by the workings of supply and demand, continue to pay ballpark concession prices on the regular, but have fun with it.
4. Reduce the growing number of relievers employed in each game
As mentioned above, if you shorten the games you increase the incentive for managers to eschew the traditional model of starting pitching and go to a platoon of relievers model. Beyond that, managers making choices that benefit their team is what led to increased reliever specialization. If it was actually better for their baseball teams for them to move away from that, they likely would, given the way inefficiencies tend to be exploited by the people who run the game. I dunno, I’m in favor of fewer contrived rules aimed at, possibly, enhancing the fan experience, not more. And I also worry about how this might inadvertently lead to more pitching injuries as managers are forced to keep pitchers in longer when things may be amiss.
5. A two-tiered PED rule. It’s convoluted, so I’ll quote it:
This is about as dumb as it comes. For one thing, the very reason that MLB has the drug system it has is to avoid a protracted trial for each offense aimed at ascertaining intention because in most cases doing so is impossible and expensive and unwieldy. But sure, turning every single positive drug test into the A-Rod arbitration, complete with high-priced lawyers is a fantastic idea. Which, by the way, is 100% likely to happen if you’re literally putting every player who tests positive’s entire career on the line.
This is all about catering to player anger which, however understandable, is simply not rationally-related to the damage PED use actually has on the game. The penalties are already severe. Nothing short of mandating summary execution of players for first offenses would eradicate the incentive to cheat and even then I doubt it’d be 100%. Millions of dollars are at stake. Players are allowed to be mad, and they have been increasingly vocal in their anger, but they need to get a grip about how a drug testing system and work rules actually operate in the real world and accept that the system they have now is pretty good. That someone as smart as Olney -- who certainly understands these matters and who has never been a PED Hawk -- is catering to that irrational anger on the part of players is pretty sad. This conversation needs more adults at the table and less stoking of that primal emotional stuff we see tweeted by players every time someone tests positive.
6. Instruct managers to use their best players for as long as possible at the All-Star Game
I’m cool with this. I’d like to see it be a real game. I fear that more players would beg out if that was the case -- or their managers would force them to or they’d come up with phantom injuries to avoid it -- but the All-Star Game worked like this for many decades and it was OK. I’d like to see it be that way again.
7. A three-man tag team of pitchers hitting at the Home Run Derby to take on the individual hitters, each pitcher taking a round.
Sure. Why not. It’s a fun event. I feel like after watching Giancarlo Stanton and Mark Trumbo hit bombs last week that the pitchers would be embarrassed and exhausted after the first ten pitches, but let ‘em see how they’d do.
8. Let fans move to unoccupied seats in the park during the seventh inning stretch
Sure. “Trading up” is something that used to be a lot easier. I wish parks were less strict about that now. After even the third or fourth inning, if someone isn’t in that primo seat, they aren’t coming.
9. Retire Roberto Clemente’s number throughout baseball.
I’ve written about this before and, however well-intentioned the idea is, I disagree with it. Bud Selig did too, and he put the kibosh on the idea many years ago. His reasoning was the same as mine: Clemente was a special player and the example of both his life and his death were inspiring ones, but Jackie Robinson’s honor -- having his number retired throughout baseball -- should remain singular. If you do it for Clemente, you open the door for good arguments for retiring the numbers of lots of special players/inspirational men. I don’t think we’re at risk of forgetting Clemente if we don’t retire his number and I do think we risk diluting baseball’s single greatest defining moment -- Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier while segregation was still reigning supreme in America at large -- by bestowing that honor on someone else.
To sum up: a couple of these are OK. A couple of them are terrible. The rest are somewhat pointless, underscoring for me the idea that, hey, baseball is actually pretty good and that we don’t need to mount some talk radio-driven campaign to fix what ain’t broken.