CHANGING THE OIL AND CHECKING THE ENGINE

Baseball is like an automobile. Every now and again the moving parts must be checked. Maintenance is required. Professional baseball has lots of miles on the odometer, so some fine tuning is required.

If professional baseball was a human body and I was a doctor, I would declare baseball in relatively good shape. Aging gracefully. Sound heartbeat. No issues that appear to be disruptive in the short-term. However, I see signs of wear and tear that require some new, out of the box remedies that are intended to slow any rapid decline.

Today I’m going to share some ideas I have to improve an already fantastic game. Some might be called petty tinkering. Others may be more surgical in nature. Some of you are familiar with a few of these ideas, as I have floated them before in many outlets. I am stating others here for the first time. Whatever the case, here is a review of what I think is needed to keep the baseball machine in good working order for years to come.

My ideas relate only to major-league baseball and major-league Championship season venues. Minor league baseball is an entirely different situation.

THE FAN EXPERIENCE

Baseball must not lose sight of the fans, the people that make the game what it is. Fans have to be the focal point of the decision making process, not an afterthought.

1) Entering the stadium: I attend almost every home Arizona Diamondbacks game. After proper technology based security screening, I am fortunate to walk right in the Press Gate. I don’t have to wait in long lines. However, I see fans waiting in 105 degree temperatures for the gates of the stadium to open. At times fans are standing there for at least a half hour. Here’s my idea: Every major-league stadium should have lengthy awnings at every gate to protect fans from heat, cold, wind and rain. The awnings could actually become extended tents with protection on both sides as well. I think the cost of protecting fans with shelter is worth the good will. Enclosing gates with awnings, tents or some kind of fabric to protect patrons makes sense to me.

2) Batting practice-Gates to every major-league stadium should open in time for fans to see both teams take batting practice. A great experience for young and old, fans should be able to gather beyond the fence and try to catch a home run ball or sit in the stands and watch hitters take batting practice. Opening gates after batting practice, as is done today in may parks, deprives fans who attend games from witnessing an important component of baseball.

3) Batting practice jerseys should have the player name and number on the back. It is difficult for fans lucky enough to witness batting practice to identify a player without his name and number on his warmup jersey. This is a simple tweak, and it should be required.

4) Security personnel should not disappear from parking lots after games. Security is at the parking lot to take money before the game, they should be there after the game to guide fans on their way home.

5) Whenever there is umpire involvement in the game the fans in the stands should be notified of what is happening. Whenever a player leaves with an injury, fans in the stands should be notified of the reason for his departure. In short, whatever information broadcasters or those seated in the press box learn during a game should be made available via the public address system to those buying tickets and sitting in the stands. It wouldn’t be difficult to make an announcement of every situation that occurs in a game. All too often, fans have no idea what just happened or why it happened on the field while those watching at home or listening on the radio learn the entire story.

6) Players should be made available for autographs at least once every home stand. Fans should be able to wait in line for an autograph as players are alternated in and out during the season. The team should make players available for 30 minutes before the game. It can be once during the home stand or several times. In short, players need to connect more with fans. It won’t hurt any player to sit in a chair and sign his name for 30 minutes. Lines can be situated at several locations in the concourse to give fans a better chance to obtain an autograph. Obtaining an autograph would be on a first-come, first-served basis, with no guarantees.

7) Promotional give aways should include every person who enters the stadium, not just the “first 10,000” or whatever the cutoff number may be. There may be circumstances why people don’t get to the park within that first 10,000. Maybe they work. Maybe they were in traffic. I can just imagine what it must be like to explain to your kid why you missed out on this t-shirt or that backpack. Limiting the number of give-aways is ridiculous and it should stop.

8) Blaring stadium scoreboards should be toned down. Conversations with one another take place at ball parks. With the sound systems blaring as they do in many parks (See Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks) it makes it hard to think, let alone talk. The answer from the sound people? “Millennials like it loud”. Thankfully, not all millennials think alike. And even more realistically, not all fans attending games are millennials.

9) Eliminate home game blackouts and allow all games to be televised in all markets. People who pay for televised baseball games should not be prohibited from watching their home market games. In some instances, the home market is miles and miles away from the viewer’s home. I fail to see how televising home games on all devices and outlets hurts attendance. Baseball is better watched in person. If the product is worthwhile, fans will attend. There is no need to blackout any game from any market.

THE GAME ON THE FIELD

1) Make all the rules the same in both leagues. In other words, both leagues should either play with the designated hitter or not. My choice would be to have the designated hitter in both leagues. The two leagues now play two different baseball games. They converge during interleague play and at the World Series. It isn’t fair to either league. Fix it, once and for all. My choice would be to use the designated hitter everywhere. As it stands, the National League is the only place a pitcher hits. Why risk injury to the pitcher? Pitchers in the American League are not used to hitting and running the bases. Too many pitcher injuries have taken place when the pitcher hits. The time for consolidation of the rules is next season. Don’t wait for the next Basic Agreement. The Commissioner needs to step in and make whatever concessions are necessary to fix the problem. But it won’t happen next season. If the designated hitter is introduced and a change is announced, the National League clubs will be given some time to properly adjust their organizational rosters.

2) Increase the rosters of major-league clubs from the current 25 to 27 and require at least a minimum of 14 of the 27 players to be pitchers. We have far too many arm injuries to pitchers. With more pitchers, the workload of each may be reduced. Those two extra pitchers will allow teams to give each pitcher more rest, including the starters. Starting pitchers are pitching fewer innings due to the emergence of quality bullpen pitchers. Having two more pitchers in the pen can allow the manager to divide the work evenly and preserve his staff. If a team wishes a shorter bench than five players, the team can add to the 14-man pitching staff and reduce the bench. (compromise: The roster is increased to 27 and two players are inactive each day. Most likely they would be yesterday’s starter and the next day’s starter). Same thing, actually.

3) Eliminate the shift. In my ideal world, the defense would have to deploy two players left of second base and two players right of second base. It is too easy to say that players should be able to adjust their hitting game to account for the shift. That’s way easier said than done. Players have been perfecting their swing since they were in high school. Change is possible, but it isn’t likely. Change has taken place in the form of greater uppercut to hit more home runs, true. But we have seen far too many important hitters compromised terribly by the shift. Yes, the shift works. But is it good for the game of baseball? I don’t think so. I think it hurts fan interest. I don’t think baseball fans like to see a ball that would be a base hit fielded by a second baseman stationed in short right field. Not good. Not good for the long-term health of baseball. That’s what I’m concerned about-the long term health of baseball. Protecting the product and increasing the number of interested baseball fans.

4) Reduce the number of times a pitcher can throw over to a base. If the number of times a pitcher can throw over to keep a runner close to the base is reduced to say, three times, it will increase the number of stolen base attempts. Steal attempts are exciting. I think fans love to watch players try to steal. I think they love to watch the mechanics of the pitcher and catcher in steal situations. The game will get a shot in the arm with more steal attempts. The game will shorten with fewer throws to the bases. The pace of play will improve markedly. I think everyone wins, but especially the fans. They hate to see pitchers throw over to keep a runner close.

TEAM FINANCES

Part of baseball’s most serious problem stems from non-competitive teams. The serious problem is leading to a serious reduction in attendance for several clubs hopelessly out of their respective pennant races. Previous editions of BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD covered the non-contenders extensively. Many fans really don’t want to watch mediocre non-competitive teams going through the motions in hopes of landing a prime June draft slot. So, here is what I would do about competitive balance and trying to create parody:

1) Install a 40-man roster salary floor for each club. Whatever minimal operating payroll number is negotiated between the Player’s Association and team owners would have to be met on an annual basis. At every point of the season, the minimal payroll must be met for the 40-man roster. In the event a team falls below the minimal payroll at any point during the season, the team loses a draft pick.

2) In an effort to level the playing field for all clubs and increase competitive balance, establish a slot amount for each round of the first-year player draft. Similar to a pay scale for teachers, newly drafted players would receive the slot amount for their first year in professional baseball from the team that drafts them. The player can choose to sign or not. Unsigned players would return to the draft the following year. Slot amounts decrease as the draft moves along. Slot money cannot be traded. Contracts beyond the first year are fully negotiable between the player and ownership based upon standard regulations. Note: Slot amounts are suggested now, but there is not enforcement of the suggestion.

3) Create an international draft similar to the first-year player draft. Determine which countries should be included, but conduct an international draft with the order of selection being the reverse of the final Championship season standings. By creating an international financial draft pool that a team cannot exceed, every team would have the chance to select (not bid) on an international player. With an international draft, every team has a chance to sign international players without getting into a bidding war. A slot amount for each round would be provided and players could not be given a contract above the slot. International pool money could not be traded. Contracts beyond the first year are fully negotiable between the player and ownership based upon standard regulations. The rich won’t get richer solely by buying international players as they do now in the current bidding wars. Every team will have their turn in the draft.

PLAYER SUSPENSIONS

1) Treat domestic abuse for the heinous act that it is. Players accused of domestic abuse are entitled to a fair hearing of the accusation. However, not all cases go to a legal trial. Not all cases that go to trial are heard in a timely manner. Major-league baseball should completely and thoroughly investigate every instance of domestic abuse, as they currently do. And if major-league baseball reaches a conclusion the player is, indeed, responsible for domestic abuse, the player should be suspended for the equivalency of 162 games-one entire season’s worth of games without pay. The suspension would be given at the time the conclusion is reached and it would end 162 games later.

If the Office of the Commissioner and the team ownership disagree on a conclusion, a team of three impartial arbiters should adjudicate the matter, with their opinion to be binding.

2) Unlike the situation today, players accused and suspended for domestic abuse should not be permitted to participate in the postseason. Currently, players violating substance abuse polices of major-league baseball are not permitted to play in the postseason (see Robinson Cano). Players accused of domestic abuse are permitted to play in the postseason (see Roberto Osuna). That makes absolutely no sense.
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We are in a period now when waivers are required on a player before he can be traded. In order for a player to be eligible for the postseason, he must be on the team’s roster by September 1. This past week San Diego pitchers Jordan Lyles and Tyson Ross both cleared waivers. Generally when that happens, a trade is made that includes the player that has cleared waivers. In the case of Lyles, the Milwaukee Brewers claimed him and were not required to provide the Padres with another player or with cash. The Padres got nothing for the right-handed reliever.

And if that wasn’t strange enough, the Padres sent right-handed starter Ross to the St. Louis Cardinals without compensation. So they lost both Lyles and Ross and got nothing in return. They gave both pitchers away. I literally had to read each of those transactions twice before I could believe the Padres would simply give two pitchers away. That’s what they did to clear roster space. They gave two perfectly good pitchers to other teams. And both other teams are in the National League. It makes no sense. None whatsoever.

I guess the baseball world in general and the New York Yankees in particular are learning how important slugger Aaron Judge is to their fortunes. The team is not the same without him. I can’t say the team is suffering without catcher Gary Sanchez. Both his replacements, Austin Romine and Kyle Higashioka are holding their own as good shepherds for their pitchers.

The trio of shortstop Francisco Lindor, left fielder Michael Brantley and third baseman Jose Ramirez have been terrorizing pitchers. When Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso get hot, which happens upon occasion, the Indians lineup is killing mediocre pitching. Lindor, Brantley and Ramirez set the tone from the first inning on. Now Jason Kipnis is hitting better and when healthy, newcomer Leonys Martin was adding some spark to the bottom part of the batting order as well.

The Astors Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Chris Devenski, Brian McCann, Lance McCullers and now George Springer have all have missed or are missing playing time in August. That’s a hefty chunk of talent to remove from the World Champions. Their key will be how well they can withstand the loss of those key players over the course of time.

I’ve never felt Yoan Moncada would become a consistent All-Star player. I have, in fact, indicated I believe he will be a solid, every day regular player with good pop to right/center. Someday. When he matures as a hitter and has seen everything the opposition has to throw at him. While he has a good eye at the plate, Moncada has taken an awful lot of called third strikes. While some young players swing at everything, Moncada isn’t very aggressive. He still has to learn to recognize pitches out of the hand, and he can’t take the number of called third strikes we’ve seen so far. You may remember me saying before on this site that a hitter should never, ever allow the umpire to determine the fate of an at-bat by taking a called third strike. Moncada will improve, but it will take him more time.

There is concern as I write this about the health of new Indians outfielder Leonys Martin. Martin has been hospitalized with an undisclosed illness. Manager Terry Francona has asked fans to “keep Leonys in your thoughts”. That has really raised concern.

When he pitched for the Minnesota Twins, Fernando Rodney drove his manager nuts by having to pitch out of jams with multiple runners on base. He did, however, get the job done as a closer. He was tough to watch, but he was effective. He moved on to Minnesota this season, where Twins players and fans saw much of the same pitching hiccups. Every appearance was an acid reflux inning. Well, Rodney was in demand. The Twins traded him to the surprising Oakland Athletics who are trying to make the playoffs by lengthening their bullpen. Hats off to Oakland for going out and getting a pitcher that ultimately gets the job done in the 9th inning.

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen may miss up to a month with an irregular heart beat. The Dodgers are dependent upon their strong pitching to keep them at the top of the National League west. With the Diamondbacks and Rockies nipping at their heels, the Dodgers have to have Jansen back for the end of the regular season and the playoffs to have their best shot at winning.

Justin Bour is now a member of the Phillies. Their moves confuse me. They had Rhys Hoskins at first base before trading for Carlos Santana. Now they have Bour and Santana. So where does Bour play? My best guess is that he will be coming off the bench for Philadelphia. And it reminded me that they already had Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp behind the plate before adding the injured Wilson Ramos who is disabled with a hamstring injury. What happens when Ramos returns? The Phillies are assembling a loaded roster of capable position players to go along with young, improving pitchers.

More chronologically advanced (old) baseball scouts are losing their jobs. I hate to see it happen. But it’s a fact of life in today’s game. Many have much more to give the game, but it isn’t happening. But to their credit, I don’t hear many of the seasoned war horses complaining about being treated unfairly. They are all well aware that the game of baseball has changed.

Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff and feel free to engage with me. I enjoy Twitter conversations with my followers.

About The Author

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Bernie's work has been featured on MLB Pipeline, MLB.com and FanRag Sports, among others. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff