Baseball Digest

Fans offer six ways to improve game at the major league level

Fans offer six ways to improve game at the major league level

John Kuenster

IT HAS BEEN A LITTLE MORE THAN TEN YEARS SINCE MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL HIT the pits with a destructive, season-ending players’ strike, forcing owners to cancel the 1994 World Series.

Both the players’ association of millionaires, headed by Donald Fehr, and hard-headed owners such as Bud Selig and Jerry Reinsdorf were scorched by fans for the long, grudge battle that extended into the 1995 season.

The work stoppage diminished the popularity of the game at the big league level and caused all sorts of collateral damage.

During the strike, a physician from Texas who was a subscriber to Baseball Digest, called our office in anger.

“Is your magazine subsidized by major league baseball?” he asked.

“No, we’re an independent operation” was the response.

“Well, good,” said the doctor, “otherwise I would have cancelled my subscription.”

The man’s irritated reaction to the strike reflected widespread disgust among fans over what had happened to their favorite pastime.

Now, with the booming success of the 2004 season in the books, it’s obvious the game has regained its lost popularity, with average attendance of games (30,599) virtually matching that of 1994, and with the minimum salary for players ($300,000) and average player salary ($2.49 million) far exceeding wage figures of $109,00 per annum for rookies and a $1.18 million average salary per man ten years ago.

The recently concluded season gave ownership and players no cause to complain about the status of the game.

In talking about the reasons for the renaissance of baseball over the last decade, Selig told Hal Bodley of USA Today, “There were a lot of new ball parks. A change in the economic system was critical because it created much more competitive balance. The wild card and inter-league play have worked.

“The game is still the best ever invented.”

Selig is right on target with his last comment, but through the years our readers have suggested additional steps to improve “the best” game as it is today in the majors.

The current labor agreement between the players’ union and owners expires on December 19, 2006, so there’s plenty of time for both sides between now and then to consider and perhaps eventually approve some of their suggestions.

At least, their opinions deserve a hearing.

So, here are six special changes to the game Baseball Digest readers have offered in recent months, including their paraphrased observations.

1. ELIMINATE THE DH RULE: “It’s absolutely nuts to have the two leagues playing under different rules. It’s a ten-man game in the American League; that’s like softball. Why can’t pitchers hit for themselves? In the World Series, without an experienced designated hitter, the National League team is at a disadvantage in games played at the A.L. park. Where’s the fairness there?”

2. DISCONTINUE INTER-LEAGUE PLAY: “This idea should’ve been dumped before it came into force. It helped attendance in some places, but it’s no longer novel and will eventually wear out. It creates havoc on normal scheduling within each league. It also diminishes the allure of the World Series and dulls the edge of competition between the two leagues.”

3. BAN MULTI-YEAR CONTRACTS: “The players’ union would oppose this and so would the players’ agents. A multi-year contract, however, is a poor risk from an ownership standpoint, particularly for pitchers, because injury and decline of skills can happen rapidly in baseball. If those things take place, the owner is left holding the bag. The major league season is a long, demanding haul, and players need an extra incentive to excel if their team is out of the running. In other words, keep on grinding or you might not do as well financially in the immediate future.”

4. ALTER THE SAVE RULE: “The way the save rule (10.20) is set Up now, it’s a little too liberal. It gives the relief pitcher a save if the tying run is represented by the batter in the on-deck circle. A save would be more merited if the batter at the plate, not the on-deck guy, represented the tying run. It would be even more merited if the reliever comes into a game and saves it with the tying run on base. That’s a genuine save.”

5. REVISE WORLD SEINES HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE: “The league winning the All-Star game at mid-season now gets home field advantage in the World Series. The All-Star game, for gosh sakes, is an exhibition. Players are there to have fun, and enjoy a break from regular competition. Go back to the old format of alternating World Series home field advantage between the two leagues year by year.”

6. KEEP SEASON OPENERS IN THE U.S.: “Baseball is America’s game. Why should season openers be played in such places as Japan and Mexico? Maybe there is good reason for trying to internationalize the game, but this isn’t one of them. Cincinnati for years was the traditional site of season openers, but major league operators evidently don’t care much for tradition.”

These six suggestions have been culled from a list of many other proposals from readers who would also like to see lower ticket prices to games, mandatory drug testing of players, a shorter regular season, restrictions on the use of intentional walks (to hitters like Barry Bonds), prevention of hitters from wandering out of the batter’s box, elimination of the wild card system, and allowance of the use of instant replay by umpires in making calls on disputed home runs or fan interference.

There is something about baseball that elicits strong opinions from its fans.

And, that quality reinforces an important aspect of the game’s inherent appeal whether the fans’ opinions mirror common sense or belong in the trash can.

Whatever, it has to be admitted that baseball remains a breeding ground for controversy.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Century Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group