The Rules, according to ESPN

After the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell wrote a column with 10 improvements baseball could make, I went through each one and gave my thoughts. In its latest issue, ESPN the Magazine looks at 31 new rules for sports in 2010, so I’ll give it the same treatment.

Rule: Universal instant replay. Their gist: Because of the advances in technology, all sports should adopt instant replay, with all scoring plays automatically reviewed (except in basketball). My take: Definitely. And with baseball’s already-slow pace, reviewing home runs isn’t a problem when you figure many will be confirmed or overturned in the time between the ball leaving the park and the next hitter stepping into the batter’s box. Plays at the plate usually have some recovery period afterward, too, as the catcher gathers himself, the pitcher goes back to the hill, etc. (As for football, adjust the rule that a review has to be called — or completed — before the extra point is kicked. Use the time of the kick and subsequent commercial break to review the TD if need be. You could do the same if a team goes for two, or you could hold up the PAT try in that case.) The Mag also suggests challenges for all sports, with three per game and wrong challenges resulting in a penalty to be determined by sport. I’m not sure I like this for baseball, unless the penalty is something significant to make the decision to challenge a call a tough one.
Rule: Enforce them. Their gist: No more neighborhood plays on double plays at second base. The infielder must touch the bag and the runner must slide. My take: Absolutely. Take the gray area out of the equation. But if I had to rank the changes I’d like to see or the things I’d address if I were commissioner for a day, this would be near the bottom.
Rule: Make pitchers pitch and hitters hit. Their gist: No more Nomar (tugging at the gloves, etc., for two minutes before each pitch) and no more pitchers stepping to the back of the mound to lick their fingers. Award a ball (to the batter on pitchers’ infractions) or a strike (to the pitcher on hitters’ delays) to stop the practice. My take: Eliminating these little delays will help speeding up the pace of the game overall, so it’s not a bad idea.
Rule: Limit catcher visits. Their gist: No matter who visits, the pitcher must be replaced on the second visit of the inning. My take: Already in favor.
Rule: Contract 40-man rosters. Their gist: The expansion of rosters from 25 to 40 in September means teams are playing a different game in the most important month, so in order to expand the rosters, teams must “concede defeat” in the pennant race. Then they may only use the players brought up in the expansion against other teams that have conceded. My take: I kind of like the expanded rosters, but I definitely see the point. But the season is already played under different rules — DH and no DH, unbalanced schedules, different dimensions in ballparks, indoor and outdoor games.
Rule: Abolish the DH. Their gist, in its entirety: “Because having two leagues in the same sport with different ideas about who should hit is really, really (very) dumb.” My take: YES, please.
Rule: Drop the dropped third strike. Their gist: The pitcher did his job, why is he penalized if the catcher can’t do his? My take: I’m not even sure why this rule exists, and doing away with it would close membership to the club of pitchers who have struck out four batters in one inning.
Rule: Balance out the postseason. Their gist: Make it fair. Quoting Lastings Milledge (more teams should make it), Mike Lowell (the team with the best record should have more of an advantage) and Andy Pettitte (first round should be more than five games), the Mag proposes:

1. Add one more wild-card team in each league.
2. The two playoff teams in each league with the worst record (wild-card or not) meet in a best-of-three play-in series.
3. The day after the conclusion of the play-in series, the play-in winner meets the No. 1 seed. (This forces the play-in winner to start, at best, its No. 3 starter.)
4. All rounds after play-in series are best-of-sevens.
5. To further test teams’ pitching depth, nontravel off-days during the postseason are eliminated.

My take: The off-days are a killer for the fans. And I do like this expansion of the postseason. It does give the teams that performed the best in the regular season a better advantage. Ignoring division or wild-card winners and forcing the two teams with the worst records to meet in the best-of-three play-in series is brilliant. I don’t like the rule that two teams can’t meet in the first round if they’re from the same division. Who does that? It doesn’t matter in the NFL — though in that league, the top two records in each conference get the teams the advantage of a bye week. The team with the best record should get to play the team with the worst, no matter the division alignments. And please get rid of the idiocy of an exhibition game determining home-field advantage for the World Series. I’d prefer that over eliminating the dropped third strike rule or the neighborhood play.

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