Editor's note: In the first part of this three-part series, we present our writers' game-changing ideas. On Wednesday, we'll unveil the best plans from you, our readers. (Send us your thoughts via Facebook or this mailbag.) And on Thursday, in the series finale, Jayson Stark will share feedback on all proposals -- yours included -- from various people around the game.
Want shorter games? Play eight innings!
Here's a radical, off-the-wall solution to improve baseball: Shorten games to eight innings. I know, I know three strikes, nine players, 90 feet, 27 outs all that symmetry would be ruined. (Of course, what about four balls, four bases and Bruce Bochy's hat size?)
Three reasons why it could work:
1. Shorten the time of games. Do I really need to defend this? Does anybody want longer games? Cut an inning and you cut 20 minutes or so from the average game time. It locks most games not involving the Red Sox or Yankees into under three hours (good for TV contracts) and sends people home sooner from the ballpark (good if you have to work the next day). Die-hard fans are going to watch no matter what; shorten games and maybe you'll get more casual fans out to the park.
2. Get rid of an inning and you get rid of a pitcher. Why is this good? Because teams can carry an extra position player for the bench. This means more pinch-hitting or pinch-running or platooning. Instead of the incessant defensive maneuverings of mediocre LOOGYs and ROOGYs we'll get OFFENSIVE maneuvers. I'd love to see managers use a pinch hitter for their weak-hitting shortstop in the middle innings or carrying a speed burner on the bench. Because benches are now so thin, AL managers rarely do anything and NL managers have to hold their pinch hitters for the pitchers.
3. It won't ruin the stats. An eight-inning complete game in 2012 is just as impressive as a nine-inning complete game in 1973, when pitchers got to face hitters like Roger Metzger.
Bring back the "scheduled" doubleheader
Doubleheader Day in America. Who among us couldn't get behind that concept? OK, don't answer that. Unfortunately, every player, owner and bean counter on all 30 teams would probably be happy to shoot down this brilliant idea. But all I ask is: Hear me out on this.
What I'd like to see is for every team to play a doubleheader -- a scheduled doubleheader -- on a couple of Saturdays every month. I'd prefer the traditional rendition, with two games back to back, but that's negotiable. Either way, it would ensure the continuation of a tremendous American tradition that is slowly dying for no reason other than dollar signs.
I know players hate doubleheaders. But here's what would be in it for them: We'd then guarantee them at least one day off every week of the season. Players now need that break just as much as players needed it in the old days, when both doubleheaders and weekly off days were standard. Right? This plan might also enable us to shrink the season. Another great goal. Don't you think?
I know owners also hate doubleheaders -- at least the two-games-for-the-price-of-one variety. So I'd be willing to allow day-nighters, which would enable teams to sell four weekend games instead of three. They'd be all for that, wouldn't they? And to rake in even more cash, they're welcome to also sell Doubleheader Day to a corporate sponsor. Double Whopper, anyone?
Oh, and one more thing: On holidays -- Memorial Day, Labor Day and Fourth of July -- I still think every team should play an old-fashioned doubleheader. Think of the tradition. Think of the patriotic spirit. Just don't think about the money teams would lose. For once, can't we be above all that?
Move the losers down; move the winners up
Want a radical but serious proposal for real baseball change? Try relegation and promotion.
Under this system used in European soccer, the worst clubs in one league are relegated down to the next level while the best teams in a lower level are promoted up. In theory, the lowest-level club can rise to the top league (and vice-versa), a near-journey entertainingly documented in Joe McGinniss' book, "The Miracle of Castel di Sangro."
Given their teams' inept performances over recent decades, Pittsburgh and Kansas City fans might shudder at relegation. But it actually would benefit them by forcing their perennial losers to be competitive. Right now, bad clubs can make money by not trying to win -- cutting payroll and constantly running out bad teams while accepting lucrative revenue-sharing checks. Not with relegation, because the Pirates, Royals and others would need to compete or risk losing their major league status and the accompanying gravy train.
There would also be a financial benefit for them. Losing teams whose crowds normally dwindle after August would see attendance gains with something at stake. It wouldn't be a pennant run, but fear of relegation is a compelling storyline that sparks interest.
Promotion likewise would give minor league fans a greater interest in the majors with the possibility their team might eventually join the adults' table.
And if that doesn't entice you, consider the most delicious aspect of this immodest proposal: The Yankees could have a down year and be relegated away from ruining everyone else's season.
Keep rosters at 25 players, all season long
It is time to change a baseball rule that makes no sense: expanding rosters to 40 in September, the most important month of the regular season.
It makes no sense that the game is played by one set of rules for five months, then by another set for the last month. It provides a competitive advantage for big-market teams that can afford to recall five, six, 10 players in September, while smaller-market teams can't or won't bring up that many, and pay them major league money, for a month.
But if you must expand the rosters, make every team have the same amount of players for every game: The Royals deserve to have the same number of players as the Yankees.
"I believe the Cardinals won the World Series because of the expanded rosters in September," Brewers GM Doug Melvin said. "Tony La Russa is the best in the game at using his roster, especially with an expanded roster in September. In September, they had a ton of players that he could use."
Impose reliever minimums, limit mound visits
Any pitcher has to face a minimum of three batters in an inning or complete that inning before he may be removed from a game. Throwing a single ball or strike does not constitute "facing a batter" -- the at-bat must be completed -- but issuing an intentional walk does.
Also, the pitching coach or manager can make just one visit to the mound in any inning without pulling the pitcher. (Injury-related mound visits do not count.)
The goal is to cut down on the shuffling from the 'pen and the interminable committee meetings that can make the last three innings of action in a ballgame seem anything but active.
The other upshot is that it makes a modest demand of relievers to be something more than extreme specialists. You'll probably still get that Boone Logan-versus-David Ortiz seventh-inning showdown -- as long as Logan can also get the odd right-hander out, or gets Papi out to end the inning.
For example, say A.J. Burnett's worn out with two outs and the bases loaded: It's Papi! Joe Girardi calls on Logan. If he gets Papi out, ending the inning, Girardi's free to pull Logan and pitch somebody else to start the next frame (against at least three batters). But if Logan doesn't get Papi, he'll have to face the next guy.
As for limiting mound visits, the manager or pitching coach still gets to meet with every reliever when he's put in, but if they already used that inning's non-substitution mound visit, that's it for chit-chat on the bump until they take him out.