To take our minds off of this horrible, horrible World Series, I thought I’d take a moment to write about the game we love, and how it can be even better. I am something of a baseball purist — I miss the old days when starters completed their games and threw inside. I hate the designated hitter. I’m not a big fan of the new-fangled sabermetrics “Moneyball” statistics. On the other hand, I am open to change. I think the wild card has been the greatest thing for baseball since expansion. I love interleague play. But there are some things about baseball that I think need changing that will make it an even better game. Here goes:
I know, I just said I love interleague play. And I still do. But while it is a stretch to say it is broken, interleague play does need fixing. Maybe tweaking is a better word.
When the Mets play the Yankees, they are six of the most exciting games of the season. The same goes for the Dodgers and Angels, and the Cubs and White Sox. But to experience those games, we also have to suffer through the scintillating Mets-Royals matchup, not to mention Dodgers-Rangers and Rockies-White Sox. There has to be a way to do away with those meaningless matchups while keeping the good ones. And I’ve got it an idea.
Interleague play should take place each weekend in June, making June “Interleague Month.” The first and last weekends would be the regional matchups — Mets-Yanks, etc. The middle two weekends would be matchups that make sense, such as teams that have met in the World Series — Mets-Red Sox, Mets-Orioles, Yankees-Everyone, etc. Each series would be an event. Old-timers who played in the series can come back, and maybe take the field again in old fashioned old-timers game. Highlights of the series would play on the Jumbotron between innings. Really do it up.
Those matchups can also be about specific players. For example, in the 2008 season, the Mets could have played the Twins in Minnesota, so Johan Santana could pitch against his former team. In 2005, the Orioles would have visited the Cubs, so Sammy Sosa would play in Wrigley Field again. And this can even extend to managers. In 2008 the Yankees would have hosted the Dodgers, so Joe Torre could be in Yankee Stadium decked out in Dodger blue. Doesn’t this sound much better than Mets-Tigers?
This plan would also limit each team to four interleague series instead of five or six. This way, teams can play additional series with rivals in their own league. Admit it, wouldn’t you rather see the formerly hated Cubs, Cards or Dodgers visiting Citi Field than the Blue Jays?
The multitude of save rules have long been a joke. Here’s one example — if a reliever comes in with the tying run on deck and gets the final out, he gets a save. So theoretically, the score can be 6-1, and if a reliever comes in with the bases loaded, and gets the final out, he gets a save (because the on-deck batter could have made it 6-6). A save in a 6-1 game — how ridiculous is that?
But the rule I would like to change is that the save goes to the pitcher who throws the final pitch. Just consider this highly improbable scenario — the Mets are leading 1-0 in the top of the 8th, when Johan Santana loads the bases with no outs. He is removed from the game, replaced with Bobby Parnell. Parnell proceeds to strike out the next three batters, preserving the lead. The Mets score two runs in the bottom of the 8th to take a 3-0 lead. Francisco Rodriguez comes on in the 9th for the save opportunity (since it is a three runs or fewer lead). He proceeds to walk the first five batters he faces, so now it’s 3-2, bases loaded. The next three batters hit drives to the outfield that Carlos Beltran, Jeff Francoeur and Matt Holliday (I can dream, can’t I) make catches that make Endy Chavez and Ron Swoboda go “wow, now those were great catches!” Incidentally, the runner at third fell down tagging on the first two catches and had to retreat back to third. Mets win 3-2.
K-Rod gets the save, and Parnell gets the hold (don’t get me started on that ridiculous stat). K-Rod pitched horribly, but he earns a save because he was the last man standing. But wasn’t the game really saved in the 8th, when Parnell struck out the side with the game at 1-0? Why can’t he be awarded the well-deserved save? I say the rule should be changed to award the save to the pitcher who truly “saved” the game.
One more thought. I remember there being a rule that said a save can be awarded at the discretion of the official scorer — that if a pitcher didn’t pitch well enough, he would not get the save. Presumably in my scenario, Rodriguez should not be awarded the save. But I’ve never seen this rule, if there even is a rule, utilized.
Speaking of official scorers, when did they stop giving players errors? To get an error nowadays, a fielder really has to screw up. That’s great for the fielder and the hitter, but it’s a killer for the pitcher’s ERA.
Remember Angel Pagan’s inside-the-park-homer against the Phillies at Citi Field late in the season? If you don’t, this is what happened: Pagan hit a drive to center, the ball coming to a stop in a gap between the wall and the field. Instead of simply bending down and picking up the ball, Shane Victorino threw his hands up in the air, because that same play at Citizens Bank Park is a grounds-rule double. But not at old Citi Field. While Victorino looked around for a ruling, Pagan zipped around the bases. It was scored a homer, but I think it should have beena double and an error. Because that’s just what Victorino did — he made a mistake in not picking up the ball, an error, if you will. Pagan did not deserve a home run, yet he got one.
And how about when an easy pop fly falls between two fielders because of a lack of communication? The hitter should have been out, but invariably it is ruled a hit because the official scorer can’t figure out to whom to award the error. If it had hit one of their gloves, it would have been an error, but because they both watched it drop betwen them, because one or both of them made a mistake, it’s an undeserved hit. It makes no sense. Either give an error to the one who should have fielded it, or institute a team error stat.
The call for instant replay has never been louder, following all of those inexplicably bad calls during this post-season. Even though commissioner Bud Selig says he’s against expanding replay now, at some point it will happen. It’s just a matter of how far they go.
While I support instant replay for pretty much everything short of balls and strikes, there are inherent problems with whatever system is instituted. For example, let’s say there was instant replay on that horrendous call on Joe Mauer’s fly ball to Melky Cabrera (left). The apparently seeing-impaired umpire called it foul. If there was replay and it was reversed, what do you do with Mauer? Do you award him first base, or second? Who knows where he would have ended up if the correct call was made initially.
And let’s say there was a runner on second who might have scored on the play? Do you give the Twins a run, or do the umpires stop him at third?
And how would the calls be made? I think the best system would be to have a fifth umpire up in the press box watching the replays, and making the final calls from there. This would speed up the game by not having to have the crew chief run off the field to watch the replay. The umpires union is sure to resist instant replay, which doesn’t make sense because it could only help the umpires get the calls right, and at the same time, the days of second guessing umpires would be over. Plus, under my system, MLB would have to hire 15 new umpires to staff the games with a fifth ump.
So there you have it — four ideas to make baseball even better. A fifth would be to eliminate the Yankees, but I doubt MLB would go for that. I’m sure there are a whole lot more ideas out there. Feel free to write in with your ideas.