Bud Selig has officially announced that he'll step down as commissioner in January 2015. Jerry Crasnick will assess his legacy (hey, if Bowie Kuhn made the Hall of Fame I suspect Selig will eventually as well), but here are five key issues for the next commissioner to address.
1. Instant replay and quality of umpiring
We finally get expanded replay next season, so that should help resolve some of the controversial and blown calls. It remains to be seen how effective and efficient the system will be, but it can be adjusted as necessary. Just as importantly, the new commissioner has to work to improve consistency of ball/strike calls and reduce the episodes of ump rage.
Right now, the best umps (Eric Cooper, Chad Fairchild, Phil Cuzzi) get about 90 percent of ball/strike calls correct, according to our pitch data; the worst umps (Wally Bell, Tim Welke, Kerwin Danley, Jerry Meals) are at 86 percent. That difference may not seem like a lot, but that's a spread of 10 incorrect calls per 250 pitches. Even a 90 percent correct rate means the best umps are missing about 25 to 30 ball/strike calls a game. Maybe the human eye can't do better, but MLB needs to pay its umpire better, and in particular pay minor league umpires a living wage, so you can recruit from a wider field of candidates.
2. To DH or not to DH?
This ridiculousness has gone on too long. You simply can't have one sport with two leagues playing under different rules. The answer seems to be pretty obvious: Get rid of the designated hitter. There were only four full-time DHs this year: David Ortiz, Victor Martinez, Billy Butler and Kendrys Morales. They all batted at least 500 times as a DH. Nobody else even had 300 plate appearances (including Adam Dunn, who played a lot of first base). With so few teams actually using a DH, the resolution should be pretty clear. OK, so Butler is the youngest of those four and signed through 2015. No DH starting in 2016.
3. Oakland and Tampa Bay stadium issues
Look, both organizations have shown they can compete and win in spite of their lousy ballparks and low revenue. Part of the problem is that other teams are tired of propping up the Rays and A's. "The key here is to recognize that without the revenue-sharing dollars, we wouldn't even be able to compete or do what we're doing," Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said in August. "The other owners are looking at this and saying, 'How many years is this going to be? How much money is this going to be to a failing situation?'"
Oakland's problem is more easily solved. The A's want to move to San Jose; the Giants hold territorial rights to Santa Clara County (given to them years ago by the A's). A three-quarters majority vote of all owners can return those rights to the A's, but Selig has refused to call for a vote, wanting unanimity, including the Giants. Well, of course, the Giants would vote against it. The new commish should side with the A's here and get them, literally, out of the sewage.
I've written about this issue. Buster Olney addressed it the other day. The current collective bargaining agreement makes it beneficial for teams to lose -- either to get a higher draft position (and thus more money to spend in the draft) or finish with one of the 10 worst records and thus have a protected first-round pick when signing free agents. What kind of sport essentially encourages tanking for 10 or more teams?
This season, we'll likely finish with 10 teams and maybe 11 winning 90 games ... and seven to 10 losing 90 games. You don't want to read too much into one season, but it's possible we'll see more seasons like this: Contenders and non-contenders, which makes for a less interesting sport. Back in 2004, only five teams won 90 and six lost 90. That's a healthier sport.
But the draft rules tie into another problem. For the most part, the owners love the new rules and capping the amount teams can spend in the draft. Why give more money to amateurs when you can pocket some of that money instead and buy new leather seats for your private jet? The long-range issue here is obvious: You risk talented athletes choosing other sports as signing bonuses decrease. The new commissioner should find ways to get more athletes playing baseball, rather than potentially pushing them towards a different sport.
5. The schedule
Nobody likes the fact that interleague play is now a constant throughout the season, but that's unavoidable with 15 teams in each league. But the unbalanced schedule creates issues of teams competing for the same thing (a wild-card spot) while playing vastly different schedules.
My own personal pet peeve is that the season drags too long into October. Last year's World Series games in Detroit were played in brutally cold weather. Depending on which teams advance, you're often playing your most important games of the year in your worst weather. The World Series can be as much a test of ability as a test of weather fortitude. There isn't a good solution, unless your shorten the regular season or the playoffs, add some doubleheaders, or -- god forbid -- play some World Series games during the day. The weather in Detroit in the afternoon last October was quite lovely. At night? Not so much.