I have some fairly radical changes I would want to make if I were the Commissioner of baseball. But before trying anything drastic, there are a few easy fixes I would focus on.
World Series Home Field Advantage and the All-Star Game
The 2002 All-Star Game ending in a tie was un-American. This is baseball, after all! Nonetheless, the decision to base home-field advantage in the World Series on the result of the All-Star game was a silly overreaction. Sure, fans threw beer bottles and commentators skewered Selig in the press. But it was a short-sighted decision.
The All-Star game is supposed to be all about fun. Artificially adding importance to it has the effect of making the whole thing decidedly less fun, since the manager and players know that losing can have real consequences for their team down the line. Honoring the best players in the game is reason enough to hold the All-Star game.
So here is the simple fix: either base home-field advantage in the World Series on overall record (with tiebreak scenarios), or simply have it alternate between leagues.
The Wildcard Play-In
Major League Baseball added a play-in game as a permanent fixture of the wildcard system for the playoffs in 2012. Previously there was only a play-in game if two teams tied for the best at large record in the league. Now there is a game between the next best two teams no matter what.
It seems that the motivation for this additional game is purely to get one extra game with playoff excitement. I also like to think of it as Major League Baseball providing one last chance for the major market teams (especially the Yankees and Red Sox) to make the playoffs.
While I love the excitement of a 163rd game, it is grossly unfair to teams which have earned the wildcard berth outright. Consider Atlanta in 2012, the inaugural year of this system. They were a full six games ahead of the next-closest team, the St. Louis Cardinals. Yet due to the silly one-game play-in, the Braves had their post-season hopes squashed. The 162-game regular season is just too long to let everything come down to a single game. The Wildcard Play-In has to go, reverting to the original system.
The use of video instant-reply to adjudicate sports is the great gnostic heresy of our time. It has already practically ruined football and hockey, and has an unfortunate and growing hold in baseball. The never-ending desire to know “what really happened” will probably inevitably lead to all professional sports adopting replay – and perhaps completely computerizing officiating.
Officials are a human element of the game, just like the athletes. A blown call is a tragic part of the drama of sports, just like a crucial error in the field. The game can survive the errors of officials. It is, after all, just a game. And it has worked well for many decades. Technology cannot perfect baseball, so I would stick with traditional officiating (and booing the umps when they get it wrong).
I am half expecting Selig to end baseball’s lifetime ban on Pete Rose before leaving office. In so doing he would emulate a rich heritage of US Presidents pardoning a slew of criminals on their way out of the White House. Shouldn’t Selig endeavor to seem gracious and merciful on his way out?
The ban has gone on long enough, and I think everyone gets the message: do not gamble. If Selig does not free Pete, I will.