For Major League Baseball, less would be more

Francis Boeck, Reporter

This is the third installation of a four-part series that will run in consecutive weeks. This series will focus on what changes the commissioner should do to improve their respective league.  

The MLB season ended just a week ago with the Chicago Cubs breaking the ‘curse’ and winning the World Series, but I still think Major League Baseball needs major improvements. The season is just too long. The pace of play is too slow. It’s time for baseball to move into the 21st century.

Measures need to be taken to quicken up the pace and add more action.

One change that has been proposed is adding a 20-second pitch clock. The pitch clock has already been put in place in the minor leagues, including the International League that the Buffalo Bisons play in. So far, the change has been a big hit and pitchers are not feeling rushed. It’s time for baseball to finally make this change in the Majors.

Speaking of pitchers, I would set a pickoff attempt limit. Meaning that if a runner were on first, second or third base, the pitcher could only attempt to pick off the runner a maximum of two times during the current at bat.

Ask yourself, how many times have you watched a game and the following situation happens?:

There is a runner or two on base. The batter has a full count, growing anticipation from everyone in the stadium and you’re eagerly watching at home. But then the pitcher cowardly throws the ball to first to try to pick off the runner.

A major letdown. You hear fans humming and hawing in the stadium, and you might even do it yourself. The pitcher might do this two, three, four times before finally the at bat ends and the runner is never picked off. They are just trying to delay the outcome of the situation.

The pick off limit would prevent this type of stalling by pitchers. After attempting two pickoffs against a runner in an at bat, the pitcher could not attempt a third or the runner would automatically get the next base. Not only would stalling by pitchers be stopped, but also stolen bases would go up which would help bring more offense.

Baseball is the only sport where the officials communicate so little to the crowd. In the NFL, the refs announce every call. In the NHL, all penalties and reviews are announced and in the NBA the refs communicate very well with the score table, which announces calls. But in baseball, all the umpires do is make hand signals to the crowd.

There was almost an issue in Game 7 of the World Series when the Indians were trying to turn a double-play, but the Cubs runner slid into the fielder at second, preventing a throw. The Indians challenged the play, claiming runner interference on the slide. After reviewing it, all the umpire did was out his hand in a fist to signal an out, but did not make it clear how many outs or at which base. That caused some confusion in the crowd and for the TV audience.

I believe it is time for baseball to move into the 21st century and mic the umpires. Calls need to made clear to the spectators at the stadium and at home.

An exciting World Series ended a week ago, but let’s look at the calendar. Game 7 of the World Series was Nov. 2, seven months after the 2016 season began. For a game that is supposed to be the game of the summer, its championship is decided a lot closer to Christmas than the Fourth of July. The season takes up more than half the calendar year. The season is just too long.

Now think back to grammar school. Did you ever at the end of the school year think, ‘Man this year was really short?’ The answer is probably not. That school year was 180 days long; the baseball regular season is 162 games long. This does not include the playoffs or even any spring training and preseason games.

Even if you loved school as a kid, I think you can admit that 180 days is a long time. Imagine it from the baseball players’ perspective. Even though they are playing the game they love, you have to believe that they, in the warmest part of the year when everyone else is taking a vacation, get tired of baseball.

Major League Baseball pretty much admits this is an issue. The umpires are given four weeks of paid vacation every year. Yes, the umpires themselves are given almost a month’s vacation. And they’re not the only ones. The announcers are taking time off too.

NESN, who broadcasts the Boston Red Sox games, forces their announcers and top producers and directors to take a week vacation during the season in order to keep them fresh.

Yes, I know Rick Jeanneret doesn’t announce all 82 games for the Buffalo Sabres, but Jeanneret is 74 years old and has a had a history of throat cancer. So yes, he can take a few games off, especially the West Coast trips.

Imagine if a completely healthy Al Michaels was forced to take Week 8 of Sunday Night Football off. You can’t, it’s unimaginable because all of the games are important.

If the announcers and the umpires take vacations, then we can all admit the season is too long.

So, let’s shorten it. I propose the regular season should receive major changes. My plan would be to have the regular season cut to 114 games. It would begin one month later than its regular start on May 1 and end on Labor Day. The World Series would be wrapped up in mid-October. Teams would have a total of 15 rest days during a four-month regular season.

Each team will play 12 games against each of their division rivals, three games against a single interleague opponent from a set division, five games against each team in their league not in their division and one annual game against a rival from the other league. (For example: Mets vs. Yankees, Cubs vs. White Sox.)

A shortened schedule would not only give the players more rest, but would strengthen the regular season’s quality of play and it would become easier to sell the product. A shorter schedule would make players less likely to try to get on the DL for a week or so just to get time off. The television ratings would also go up, as every game would now be more valuable.

In short, what I am saying is ‘less is more’ for Major League Baseball.

Twitter: @FBoeck300level

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