Baseball may be America's pastime, but more and more in recent years it has lost fans to football, basketball, and even soccer. They claim that the game is not exciting, that it moves too slowly, that it's too long, that it takes no athletic ability. And while everyone who actually played baseball knows that the last one is a complete lie, they do have a valid point - games in recent years have become increasingly and unnecessarily longer, with the pace of the game slowing to a crawl, and the lengthy season does have its lulls, and it was not until recently that Major League Baseball expressed much of a desire to "get with the times" by implementing instant replay and managerial challenges. Not surprisingly, especially given Bud Selig's retirement and Robert Manfred taking over as the new commissioner of MLB, many people - including many of my fellow SportsBloggers - have thrown around suggestions as to how the league can continue to "modernize."
Judging from that first paragraph, you might think that this is yet another one of those articles asking for radical changes, such as NBA-style realignment, 116-game seasons, or the DH in the National League. But it's not - while I am all for modernizing the sport and taking advantage of new technology, I think baseball needs to avoid becoming too much like other sports, and instead build upon what makes it so unique and so great in the first place. With that in mind, here is my list on how to make the wonderful game of baseball even better:1. Streamline the process for foreign-born players to enter the league. One of baseball's greatest things is that people play it throughout the world, and is especially prominent in Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and Latin America. Right now, it's a real chore for players to enter the league - the posting system makes it near-impossible for the fans to keep track of Japanese and Taiwanese players entering the league - and the international spending pool for Latin American amateurs is, to be honest, too punishing for larger-market teams; yes, the Yankees and Red Sox spent a lot more money than their allotted amount, but they cannot sign any of the even remotely good players next year. And we never hear anything about players from other parts of the world. What I propose is threefold - one posting system with the Far Eastern leagues (which keep the fans in the loop throughout the process), one amateur draft that includes both American and foreign amateurs, and programs designed to spread the game of baseball throughout the world. The idea behind the combined amateur draft is to promote competitive balance among teams by bringing an international draft while also removing the distinction between American and foreign amateurs, instead placing all under the same system.
2. Keep the DH rules as they are. Now this one will be controversial, but hear me out first. The NFL and NBA are split into two difference Conferences, subdivisions of one large league; baseball, on the other hand, has two leagues - the American and National Leagues - which compete together in one league. Two leagues, two different games, symbolized by the DH rule. This one rule difference creates two very different styles in each league - AL games tend to emphasize offense and utilizing matchups with backups and relievers to create the most favorable conditions possible to win, while the NL relies on figuring out the most effective way to minimize how often the pitcher hits; the NL is more pitcher-friendly than the AL; pinch-hitting is more important in the NL, while managing the bullpen is more important in the AL. Two different games - and it is this difference that makes interleague play and the World Series so exciting, because then you have teams having to play a different style than they are built for; the NL teams tend to lack good DHs, AL teams enough quality players off the bench.
3. Punish managers who stall for time to decide whether or not to challenge. One of the most frustratingly time-consuming things in the league this year was when managers would go out to discuss the call, look back to the dugout, and receive a signal from the bench coach regarding the challenge. This is, to be honest, a ridiculous waste of time and is, in my opinion, not in the spirit of the game. If the manager wants to check the replay before challenging, he should have access to it in the dugout and it should be his decision to make; today's technology should easily get him the footage he needs practically as the play unfolds - he should be able to watch it on an iPad or something in the dugout and then throw the challenge flag (or whatever they do) from the dugout, thus eliminating the "let me walk out and chat and wait never mind my team said you were right, good job guys" delays. To enforce it, simply revoke the offending team's challenge and fine the manager. In addition to saving time, the rule would also help separate managers who are good at challenging from those who have better people in a booth upstairs.
4. Make Opening Day something special - maybe a World Series rematch? The NFL makes the first game of every season must-watch television; every other leagues do similar jobs, although to not nearly as popular an extent. But MLB...not really, not at all. Opening Day is either a weekday afternoon, when everybody is either at work or in school, or a Sunday night when Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, and other popular TV shows steal viewers. Let's be honest - the massive amount of games in the season makes it very hard for any non-playoff game to be "must-watch TV," but the league could certainly try, and I personally think the best answer would be to make Opening Day a Saturday-night game between the two teams who played in the World Series - and then never have them play at all the rest of the year, even if they usually do, like the Yankees and Mets. Fewer things could be hyped as much as the ultimate rematch game.
5. Hold annual "oddity games" during Spring Training. Sixty-one years ago, the New York Yankees, New York Giants, and Brooklyn Dodgers played a three-way exhibition game to help support the war effort. Why not have a similar type of game today, except with the Yankees and Mets fielding one roster in a game against the Dodgers and Giants - the showdown of New York teams. While no team would ever have a midseason exhibition game that is not the All-Star Game for fear of injury, doing this in Spring Training would provide a memorable and fun way for teams to spice up typical Spring Training games; since teams would be all but required not to play minor leaguers during the game due to its high profile, the double rosters would allow starters to play the standard half-game and still field an entire team of quality Major Leaguers (or, at least, as quality as the teams playing would be). Is it silly? Absolutely. But so are the Pro Bowl and Slam-Dunk Contests.
6. Allow people to watch other games throughout the country easier. One of football's most awesome features is that it is easy to catch games on TV where your local team is not involved, even if you only have the basic cable channels. But baseball games? Unless you have the right cable package, you might not get any games at all, except for the few that are nationally televised (Saturday afternoon, Sunday/Monday/Wednesday nights). Make MLB Network more readily available, and cheaper too, and televise as many games as possible. And while we're on the subject of watching games, try to play games during the day on holidays during the school year; the holiday doesn't have to be anything big, even just a religious holiday where only some schools have off, but they provide great ways for kids to watch games, both in person and on TV.
I could go on for ages, but in the end this is the core of my proposal - make the game engaging and fun for the fans, by embracing the things about baseball that make it unique among sports, speeding up the pace of the game by limiting unnecessary delays, and most of all, bringing the game to as many people as possible.