‘Fixing’ the game, and not in the Black Sox sense

Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell has a checklist for Bud Selig’s new 14-man special committee.

Boswell’s thoughts, and mine:

1.) Cut 15 to 20 minutes off the average time of a regular season game.

Yes, absolutely. While there are days — warm, breezy, 68-degree Saturdays in May — when I don’t want the game to end. But there are nights — frigid, 40-degree, windy April weeknights — when the seventh-inning stretch at 9:20 p.m. has me longing for my couch and the remote.

2.) I’ve “timed” every facet of the game. Okay, I’m a nut. But I’m right. The average “mound visit” wastes 60 to 70 seconds. Ban ’em all. Middle-aged guys stay in the dugout. Mike up the pitcher and a coach. Talk all you want. Use a crackberry. But no visits.

I’m OK with this. Tennis coaches aren’t allowed to talk with their players during matches. Let the pitchers work it out themselves. A compromise might be to limit teams’ timeouts. Seriously — they get unlimited chances to ask the ump for time so that anyone can go to the mound — catcher, third baseman, pitching coach, manager, batboy. Give them — what else? — three per game, since three is natural to baseball. And time them, with an actual clock on the scoreboard visible to fans. None of this leaving it to the umpire to take a slow walk to the mound, get there, and then give the coach another 12 seconds to finish his sentence. On a timeout, the umpire walks to the mound with the catcher and stands there watching the clock on the scoreboard. When it reaches five seconds, the umpire tells the coach his time is up. If he has not taken a step toward the dugout by the time it hits zero, it’s an automatic ejection.

3.) Putting a clock on mid-inning pitching changes is a must. If it only takes 150 seconds between innings, there’s no excuse why “waving for the left-hander” should burn more than three minutes.

Another use for the clock. Put one behind the plate, too, so that the reliever sees how much time he has left to “get loose” — the quotation marks are needed because he just came in from the bullpen, where he was already getting loose!

4.) Sorry about “God Bless America” at the seventh-inning stretch, but it needs to go. It was a fine idea after 9/11. But it has served its purpose. And it wastes two minutes.

Agreed. Play it before the game, with the national anthem, if you want it in your ballpark.

5.) Yes, of course, wave the hitter to first on an intentional walk.

I know, right? I’m trying to think of an equivalent in another major sport, but I’m unable to at the moment. Maybe the caution flag in auto racing, because “play” continues as the cars circle the track, and if the caution isn’t cleared by the time the race is over, whoever leads at that time wins the race. In baseball, I don’t think anything is lost competitively in removing these four intentional pitches from the game. Plus, pitch counts would not include them, and pitchers’ stats wouldn’t include intentional walks allowed. I know teams usually don’t count such pitches in their internal count — or don’t weigh them the same — and there are stats pages that will include a second column for intentional bases on balls, so at least you can subtract them from the total walks. I’d think the players’ association would go for this, too, because pitchers would benefit by having fewer walks charged to them. Hitters could still get them listed in their stats. Slightly confusing, I know, but so is the NFL’s rule for yards lost on a sack.

6.) A huge time saver, since every relief pitching change eats about four minutes, would be curtailing the plague of relief specialists who now face only one hitter. This isn’t “core” to baseball. It evolved. Then metastasized. Change the rules. A relief pitcher must face two hitters. The effect: more offense, and better pace of play, in late innings.

I do like this. It would bring a different type of strategy to the game. And since teams can’t sell beer after the seventh and food sales drop off late in the game anyway (there are always stands closing before the final out), those breaks aren’t as big, financially.

7.) Stop the insanity: Don’t award home field in the World Series on the results of the all-star game. At least go by “better record.” The history of the all-star game is a series of long 15- to 20-year streaks of dominance by one league. The last thing any sport needs is an arrangement that reinforces the imbalance between leagues or conferences. You want to hide it.

Yes, yes, a thousand times, YES! Good point about hiding the imbalance between leagues; I hadn’t heard that argument before, and it’s a valid one. Not necessarily the strongest one (I believe that would be why are you letting an exhibition game play a part in deciding how your championship is won?), but still a good one. And for those who say better record isn’t an equal barometer because of the different leagues, well, the Wild Card isn’t fair, either, because of the unbalanced schedule. Teams in the AL Central and West tend to have an easier schedule than the Rays, Blue Jays or Orioles, who have to play about 36 games against the Red Sox and Yankees. If Roy Halladay were a Twin, they might not have needed to trade him, because his reason for wanting out was that he wants to win, not that he wanted to get paid. The Twins have been able to win, but if they were in the AL East, they wouldn’t have nearly as many postseason appearances this decade.

8.) Make sure no game is ever scheduled for November again.

Amen. November is for football. Boswell mentions the World Baseball Classic’s role in this, and a solution might be to schedule it for mid-July. (If I find the Jayson Stark proposal — I believe it was him — where I first saw this, I’ll include it.) Do what the NHL does when they don’t hold an all-star game in seasons, like this one, when the Winter Olympics are held. In Classic years, skip the All-Star Game and put the season on hold for a little longer. Play the Classic then, when player are already in midseason form.

9.) What will never happen is cutting the 162-game schedule. “That idea gets zero votes” from owners, Selig said. Lost games mean lots of lost revenue. Is there a compromise? Could every team schedule one doubleheader per month — a day-night, split-gate affair?

Don’t cut the schedule, but don’t insult the fans by allowing for six doubleheader dates (one per month) and have all of them be day-night, split-admission affairs. I’ll acknowledge that six traditional doubleheaders is an unreasonable request, too, so how about three and three? Teams can choose the opponents (Pirates? Royals?) and dates, but there must be three traditional twin bills with 30 minutes between games and three day-night doubleheaders on the home schedule. MLB may have to regulate it somehow, though, so that one team isn’t playing doubleheaders on consecutive weekends at the end of May and beginning of June, for example. But are teams really benefiting by having two April weekend dates against the Pirates that bring in 15,000 fans each day for about two hours (because they might leave early in boring game) instead of a traditional twin bill on a Saturday that might draw 20,000 or 25,000 for four hours?

10.) Finally, hanging in the air after so many umpiring mistakes in this postseason is the issue of instant replay. As long as Selig is boss, don’t expect to see much more of it in the regular season than currently exists. Over 162 games, most baseball people believe the proper attitude is, “It all evens out. Live with it.”

However, more use of replay in the postseason appears to be an open subject. Modern fans are driven nutty by the idea of a pennant being decided by an incorrect umpire call that millions of TV viewers realize is incorrect within a minute. Selig gets that.

I found this one the most interesting, because it would mean that baseball has one set of rules for the regular season and another for the postseason. I’m not sure I like that, but I do understand the reasoning behind it. However, while postseason mistakes are highlighted because of the games’ importance and the national broadcasts, regular-season mistakes can get national recognition with so many outlets to spread the word: “SportsCenter,” “Baseball Tonight,” MLB Network, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and blogs. And for teams that win or lose a division or Wild Card by one game, that one win or loss decided by a blown call won’t soon be forgotten.

Another compromise might be worth adding here. If replay is expanded in the regular season and visits to the mound are outlawed, maybe a solution to attempt to keep the time of games reasonable is to allow coaches or managers to talk with pitchers during replay review periods. After all, hitters are already allowed to step toward the dugout or meet with the third-base coach to get instruction, why not allow coaches and pitchers to meet at the baseline near the dugout. (Keeping pitchers on the field of play would be a rule to help maintain some order and pacing.)

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