With the exception of 2020, I can’t tell you the last time I didn’t go to at least 25 professional baseball games in a year. We’ve had our 17 game season ticket plan with the Phillies since 1991 and our 18 game plan with their AAA affiliate, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, since their 2008 inception. I love baseball more than most fans, and certainly for me the league is hardly dying. My 3-0 Eagles are a one day a week thing until the Phillies season has ended.
Baseball has issues though. The league is definitely making money, sure, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. In the American League, you have five teams heading for a solid 90 losses or more, while eight of the fifteen teams are on their ways to losing seasons. In the National League, seven of the fifteen teams are going to smash the 90 plus loss barrier, eight are on their way to losing seasons, and a solid three should lose 100 plus this season. Essentially baseball has 14 winning teams and 12 playoff spots, so only one decent team per league doesn’t get a participation trophy. Meanwhile half the teams in the league are absolute garbage, totally abysmal to watch, and give you no reason to care about them if they’re your team. This in a league where games are longer and longer to watch, hitters strikeout a lot, and fundamentals have been replaced with the analytical theory of three true outcomes. I get it, the sport is not the healthiest it ever has been, even if TV revenues are setting records, and guaranteeing franchises (even small ones) about $100 million before anyone steps through the gate.
The game is not broken though. Revenues are great. The players and owners both do pretty well, though the owners do better. Minor leaguers don’t get paid great, but I sat at games all of last weekend with 8,000 or so fans a night in Allentown. There is interest in the game, even if it doesn’t match the NFL anymore. Who cares? Money is being made, even the Royals sold for a billion dollars recently. I have a few tweaks to the game I would do to make it better, but I wouldn’t run a full scale overhaul. Here’s my in depth ideas…
Salary Floors, Roster Sizes, Trade Deadlines, and September Call-Ups
Lots of people like to complain that ballplayers make a lot of money. Why? Baseball players are the reason the league is making money. The problem with the game is not that the Dodgers are paying good players and putting a good product on the field, it’s that Oakland, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Detroit never intended to put anything even subpar on the field. Between the local market television deals all 30 clubs sign and the national deal the league signs, every single ball club in the league makes $100 million before selling tickets, merchandise, parking, and concessions. Requiring clubs to put 80%, or even all of their TV money back into the baseball payroll seems like a reasonable way to insure teams don’t run out totally no-name line-ups. A salary floor with the existing luxury tax rules would create some level of parity.
I don’t have any big issues with the 26 man roster or the 40 man roster sizes. For that matter, I think the IL rules have actually improved over time. About the only thing I would change is not counting starting pitchers who aren’t starting that day against the 26 active player limit, unless the team is designating them as a position player option (so basically Ohtani or any pitcher you’d consider to pinch hit). If a starting pitcher isn’t pitching that day, now that we have a universal DH, they’re effectively a dead roster spot. Since most teams carry five starting pitchers, you’d open up four roster spots more every day on the 26 man roster. In order to prevent managers like Gabe Kapler from adding four more relief arms, I’d mandate it be two position players and two pitchers, basically meaning a team could carry one starting pitcher, ten relief pitchers, the starting nine position players in the lineup, and a six man bench. This would take some work with the union on how pitchers are paid different for on and off days to still meet their guaranteed contracts, but the union would jump at the chance to get four more players service time and big league paychecks each day.
I don’t love the new trade deadline rules. The end of July deadline, formerly known as the non-waiver deadline is definitely exciting, but the season has almost a third left beyond that. I would bring back the August waiver trades. In order to prevent losing teams from just dumping players to save salary, I would require teams to take back Major League salary in any August trades. Trades could only be made with baseball purposes in mind then.
I’m actually fine with MLB’s 28 player limit for September call-ups. Would I be fine with 30? Yes I would, but there’s really no need to give managers a full AAA squad as extras. Since I’d already be discounting the four inactive starting pitchers from the numbers anyway, 28 is fine to me. And again, one pitcher and one position player each. With AAA baseball now playing until nearly the end of the MLB season this year (three days apart), there’s no need to call everyone up. There’s a place for young guys and depth players to keep getting their reps at.
Expansion, Realignment, Schedules, and Playoffs
Baseball needs to do two things that are sort of at odds- make sure all the fans can see their stars play, regardless of divisions, but also cater to what really still sells the game- regional rivalries. In other words, you should see Mike Trout play in Philadelphia and Washington at least every other year, but I also get that Phillies-Mets games are what gets me psyched up for baseball. So, here’s my expansion and realignment plans for MLB…
National League East- Pittsburgh Pirates, Montreal Expos (expansion), Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets
American League East- Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees
American League South- Kansas City Royals, Nashville Rays (Relocated from Tampa and preferably renamed), Texas (Dallas) Rangers, Houston Astros
National League South- Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins, Cincinnati Reds
National League North- Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals
American League North- Cleveland Guardians, Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins
American League West- Seattle Mariners, Las Vegas A’s, LA Angels of Anaheim, San Jose (Expansion team)
National League West- Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants
On-Deck Expansion (In Order): Portland (NL West), Charlotte (AL South), San Antonio (NL South), Salt Lake City (AL West), Indianapolis (either North), Tampa/Orlando (either South)
Obviously this represents a major change to the current alignment by adding two teams and going to four divisions instead of three. Moving the A’s and Rays out of failing stadium/market situations into the booming Vegas and Nashville markets helps both. I’m not convinced the Bay can’t handle an AL team with the Giants though, as it’s a mega market with good baseball fans, so I immediately give San Jose (the tenth largest city in America) a brand new AL team. On the NL side I side with bringing back the NL East Canadian rivals from Montreal as the new expansion team and sliding their old replacements in Washington south to be the big market down there, rather than keeping the Nats with the northeast markets and adding a Southern team. Atlanta and Miami need someone to hate.
I hate the unbalanced schedule, yet I do think you should play your division rivals more. I would have teams play 14 times against each of their three division rivals, 7 home and away. I would have every team play six games, three home and three away, against the other 12 teams in their league. Finally I’d have each team play one three game series against each team in the opposite league, each year. That adds up to 42 division games, 72 league games, and 48 inter league games, for a total of 162 games.
Playoffs? You talking about playoffs? There are four divisions in each league, and each winner would make it. In my ideal world, that’s it. I know the owners would never allow that though. Two Wild Cards in each league, matching the current six team playoffs, would be great. If they insist on going to eight teams, fine I guess, just make it best four remaining records, not each second place team. Best of three in the first round, best of five in the second, and best of seven in the LCS’s and World Series.
The “on the field” Stuff
Umpires? Shifts? Pitch clocks? DH’s? “Ghost runners” on second in extra innings? These seem to be the debates that really animate debates between fans. For what it’s worth, I still like the product overall. Do I miss stolen bases, hit and runs, double switches, and bunts? Yes. Baseball’s greatness was always grounded in being a thinking man’s game. It’s sad to see that diminished because ironically the “spreadsheet nerds” in front offices think it’s all homers, strikeouts, and walks. But I digress…
Umpires and Challenges- Prior to replay review being introduced to baseball, I would have told you the human error of umpires is part of the game. Allowing replay review challenges changes this in two ways though. First, just about every play should be subject to review if some are. Second, it’s time for at least a robotic strike zone. If getting it right is important, get it right. There is no in-between. Also though, make the number of challenges make sense for me. Also, just have the league office handle all challenges and speed it up. Why do the on-field umpires need to re-watch the play?
Shifts- I hate the shift. What I think I hate more than anything about it is when one of the infielders is way out in the outfield taking away clean singles by playing halfway out. Infielders should be in the infield. I think I’m okay with the rules changes that say two guys have to be on each side of second base. That’s as far as I’d go though. Hitters need to stop trying to pull every pitch with maximum launch angle. There are more than three true outcomes, just ask Tony Gwynn and Pete Rose. Learn to hit the ball the other way.
Pitch clocks and mound visits- I’m 100% with the new pitch clock rules and limiting mound visits. Good job by MLB.
The DH- I’m not desperate for more offense, but this is just a quality product issue. Do you want to see 9 professional hitters or 8? For me, the answer is obvious.
“Ghost runners” in extra innings- This rule has been super unpopular with many people, and I don’t know why. Do you really want 20 inning regular season games lasting seven hours? No thanks. I would play through the 12th normal and then go to ghost runners to get some scoring going. Long games wreck bullpens and cause injuries. I’ll take a hard pass, in the regular season. Play all night in October.
Sticky substances on pitchers, batting armor- Pitchers don’t need any extra help getting spin on the ball, so I think the ban is warranted. Pitchers need to be able to throw inside and back a hitter off the plate though, so all the “body armor” these guys wear is unnecessary to the game. Hard no thanks from me.
PEDs- I don’t hate PED use the way some folks do. With that said, rules are rules. I like the rules banning players from the postseason who are suspended any games that season for cheating. Half season bans are light compared to many international sports. 162 game bans would be serious.
The Hall of Fame is a museum, it is not a church. If we’re going to enshrine players in the Hall, they should be enshrined for their play, not their morality. This is not to overlook the terrible behavior of a Ty Cobb or Pete Rose, that should be a part of their plaques. It’s to say there should be plaques.
Pete Rose may be a jerk, but he’s a jerk who has the most hits in baseball history. He belongs in the Hall of Fame. Put on his plaque that he broke the rules and bet on baseball, or any other negative thing you want. It’s all true. And this is about the history of the game. You can put him in and still keep him banned from any role in the game.
You can probably guess my position on Barry Bonds, on A-Rod, on Clemens, on Sosa, on McGwire, or even Curt Schilling (who didn’t cheat, he’s just a jerk). You can’t write the history of baseball without any of them. Sure, Barry Bonds isn’t the man Hank Aaron was, and you can easily say that on the plaque. For the most part though, I put them all in.
Maybe the way to make this work is to do an exhibit on the PED era when you put them in. Satisfy the purists that way. I’m not really comfortable with the morality of baseball writers dictating what history gets remembered from the game, as morality tends to change with society, but history shouldn’t. I’d like to see the players have a bigger say, if not the say over who gets in down the line. I think it would be a lot more telling than leaving it to the press alone.
The minors… I would greatly reform the minor leagues. Florida and Arizona would be strictly Rookie League Ball clubs at the complexes, with every MLB getting four additional affiliates in the rest of the states. I would try to geographically align the affiliates in their home media markets as much as possible, while still trying to have a team in driving distance of all of America, if possible. Obviously I’d fix the pay too so no player earned less than $75k a year.
I wrote 90% of this piece in September’s final weekend in 2022. I need to reread it. But what do you think?