- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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We set out to change baseball. Our mission wasn't to "fix" it or reinvent it. Our goal was merely to take a great sport and make it greater.
Uhhhh, it seemed like a cool idea at the time. But can any of this really work? Good question. But we're here to answer it.
We've had a day of rolling out five brainstorms from our resident ESPN geniuses. We've had another day of laying out some of the fun reader proposals we received. Now it's time to read the reviews. Ready or not, here is how people inside the game reacted to our suggestions -- and to yours:
Part 1: ESPN.com's proposals
1. David Schoenfield: Shorten game to eight innings
Obviously, our man Dave Schoenfield meant well. Go from nine innings to eight. Shave 20 minutes or so off game times. Hopefully run fewer relief pitchers out there. And theoretically encourage a whole different sort of roster construction. But Dave, here's the deal: The eight-inning game was about as popular an idea as Brussels-sprout ice cream.
• From John Schuerholz, esteemed president of the Atlanta Braves: "The worst idea on there. Come on. I mean, come on. No. No. A thousand times no."
• From Michael Young, trusty cleanup hitter for the Texas Rangers: "That's nuts. I'm hoping that's something that never happens. That's crazy. No way. I'm all for trying to make changes that can improve the game. But I'm definitely opposed to making fundamental changes to the game of baseball."
• From John Thorn, the eloquent author of many baseball books and now the official historian of Major League Baseball -- but a man who spoke in this case not for MLB but purely as a longtime lover of baseball: "The supposition here is a supposition that people always seem to make, that baseball games are too long. But I don't think they're too long. A great game that lasts four hours is better than a dull game that lasts two hours. It's not a matter of time. It's a matter of pace. The pace of the game could do with some quickening, but too much is made about length. Just because they once played a major league game in 51 minutes doesn't mean it was a good game. It was a freak show."
We made the point to Thorn that at least, after that 51-minute game (in 1919), everyone could go to dinner. His reply: "If going to dinner is the goal, don't go to the ballpark."
2. Jayson Stark: Give us Doubleheader Day in America
This was my brilliant contribution to this project. My proposal was for every team to play a couple of Saturday doubleheaders a month. My preference was for traditional doubleheaders, but I'd consider day-nighters so owners couldn't complain about all the money they'd be losing.
My goals: to preserve a hallowed baseball tradition, give players more days off and shorten the length of the season. And the reviews were shockingly positive -- until we heard from baseball's scheduling guru, anyway.
• Young: "From the players' standpoint, I don't think this would be an issue at all. If it would mean additional off days if we have more doubleheaders, players wouldn't have a problem with it. Owners would have a problem with it, but players would be receptive. Just one request, speaking as a player in Texas: Could you make sure all our doubleheaders were on the road? Playing two games in one day when it's 110 degrees? No thanks."
• Thorn: "Doubleheader Day idea would be like having an 1890s Day in your local village. It's like having a baseball fair, and I like it. Anything that connects baseball with its past is a good idea, a feel-good idea, and it reminds us of the core strength of baseball, as compared with the other sports: It connects the generations."
• Schuerholz: "This one doesn't go in the 'Discard' basket. It stays in play. The idea, in a perfect world without other issues added, is not a bad idea. Unfortunately, in the real world, there ARE other issues added."
Uh-oh. That sounded ominous. So I made the mistake of asking Katy Feeney, MLB's senior vice president for scheduling, what those issues were. After listening to her input for the next 45 minutes, I could see this thing had some glitches. Such as
• The Basic Agreement only permits day-night doubleheaders in the event of postponements. So we'd have to negotiate the right to schedule them.
• If we played those day-nighters on Saturdays, we'd run into Fox's window of exclusivity, which would prevent some teams from televising one end of those doubleheaders. Just guessing they wouldn't be real ecstatic about that.
• The four-game series we'd be adding would have a ripple effect that would make piecing the rest of the schedule together tough to pull off. Oops!
• And if a team ran into a bunch of rainouts, all those extra doubleheaders could create a scheduling nightmare. Whereupon their pitching staffs would all be looking to blame me, most likely. And that's never good.
"So two doubleheaders a month -- that's a lot," Feeney said. "You'd have to lower your number, to maybe two or three a year. I'm not saying it's not doable. Anything's doable. I'm just saying you might have to tone it back a little bit."
That wasn't quite the reaction I was looking for. But at least it beats "That's nuts."
3. Jim Caple: Move the losers down; move the winners up
I'm sure the ever-creative Jim Caple was well-intentioned when he suggested modeling MLB after European soccer leagues. Of course he was. When he proposed that the worst teams in baseball should get relegated to the minor leagues and the best teams in the minors should get elevated to the big leagues, he was clearly just trying to create incentive for perennially bad teams to get serious and try to compete -- or else.
But as those of you who watched our rollicking Game Changers video blog now understand, there's zero chance you'll ever see a franchise from, say, Scranton in the big leagues. And the baseball insiders didn't exactly see the genius behind this idea, either.
• Schuerholz: "It's crazy. Second-worst idea on the list. Trash it."
• Thorn thought the whole premise here was misguided. If a team feels pressured to make moves solely to avoid getting relegated to the minors, it could wind up making short-term deals that are actually self-destructive in the long run, he said: "If your team is 20 games out of first place at the All-Star break, it's more wise to try out as many prospects and young players as you can in the second half, instead of trying to win as many games as you can. Baseball is the long season, and the best strategists play the long game, not the short game."
• At least Young found one silver lining in this mess -- after he'd finished laughing for about 30 seconds, that is: "Cool. Let's do that. I'm all for bringing up a team we can kick the crap out of. Yeah, let's do that. I'll take playing games against a Triple-A team all day long. You think we could schedule that series for Sept. 30? That would be great."
4. Tim Kurkjian: Keep September rosters at 25, not 40
Like many people, the all-knowing Timmy the K doesn't understand why the most important month of the season is played under different rules than the first five months. He's flexible on this, but he doesn't see how it's fair for one team in September to play with a 34-man roster while another is playing with 28 men. And whaddaya know -- the experts agree.
• Young: "I don't like the idea of loading up to 40 players. That's insane. It's too much. I like the idea of expanding rosters, but it should be limited to 30, something like that. I think young players gain a lot from that September experience. But we can't be fielding football teams."
• Thorn: "Speaking from the perspective of a fan of a team that's frequently a cellar-dweller (identity withheld!), I like the chance to see your prospects in the fall, and I've always loved that. If somebody did well in September, it gave you a warm feeling throughout the winter, that he was going to be a star, even if it was frequently a delusion. If the issue is fairness, you could just put a cap on how many players are available to play in a given game."
• Schuerholz said he's open to a rule that would limit September rosters to a "reasonable" number: "This idea is not new to us. [Brewers GM] Doug Melvin has been talking about this for 20 years. So I'd like to give Tim credit for being first to propose it, but he's not. So he can't get a gold star for that one."
5. Christina Kahrl: Stop the parade of one-hitter relievers
Just because Tony La Russa is no longer dialing the bullpen phone doesn't mean this isn't still an issue. So Christina Kahrl wants to see a rule that says any reliever who comes into a game either has to finish the inning or face at least three hitters.
And the manager and/or pitching coach can only go to the mound once per inning without pulling his pitcher. After that, every visit means the pitcher has to leave. So there. That ought to stop those wild and crazy managers from heading for the mound 11 times an inning. Right?
Interesting concept. But the reactions to it were all over the map.
• Young: "This is another idea that's trying to speed up play. But if you're talking about your left-handed specialist coming in to face Robinson Cano in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning that, to me, is the fun part of the game. I could care less about speeding up the game at that point. I understand where this is coming from. But anything that involves inventing things to speed up the game, I'd be opposed to."
• Schuerholz: "I don't think you can do that. There's a strategy to our game that makes it beautiful. We're not flinging red flags. We don't have guys faking injury. We have real strategy. So I don't agree with taking away a strategic consideration from the manager. I also think it's more important to be able to protect a player. There are a lot of young players in our game. And if your young pitchers are out there getting their brains beat in, you've got to be allowed to go get them."
• Thorn, on the other hand, liked that this would actually add a layer of strategy to that frantic bullpen maneuvering we all enjoy so much: "The idea to have some penalty for a move that goes wrong -- that's pretty intriguing. I like it because it would impose a significant penalty to a managerial mistake. The use of six relief pitchers a game bends the rules and tries the fans' patience. If the outcome is victory, nobody cares too much. But it's a question of balance and rhythm and pace. And for those of us who don't have a rooting interest in a particular game, what we care about is: Is the game beautiful?"
Heck, if the game of baseball wasn't supposed to be beautiful, we wouldn't be running this series in the first place, right? So as we continue in search of that intrinsic beauty, we move along to
Part 2: Five fun reader proposals
We asked for your Game Changer ideas. We got 'em. We got 'em by the hundreds, in fact. You threw lots of brainstorms at us that made us think. But here are five we especially liked -- with the reaction they got from our baseball insiders:
1. Put a replay umpire in the booth
Many of you proposed variations of this idea. But we'll credit reader Patrick O'Kennedy for laying out virtually the exact plan I've been pushing for over a year: Place a real big league umpire -- a fifth member of every crew -- in the press box. Then give him the authority to review all calls except balls and strikes. If it's clear, quickly, that the umps on the field missed the call, he can fix it with the push of a button.
• Young: "I'm kind of a traditionalist. But what's interesting is, in the past couple of years, I've asked a lot of umpires about this and they say, 'We're all for it.' It takes a lot of pressure off the umpires. So the more I think about it, the more I think it makes sense if it can be done quickly and easily. What I wouldn't like is to have the players waiting around on the field, twiddling their thumbs, waiting for the call. But if we can do it pretty efficiently, I'm for it."
2. No pitches thrown to issue intentional walks
Even Bud Selig wants these games to zip along a little faster, right? So why are we forcing pitchers to lob those four balls during an intentional walk? That's what reader Dave Levenhagen wanted to know. He admits that "sure, you'll lose the occasional blooper highlight when a pitcher unloads a wild pitch while trying to miss the strike zone, but those are too rare to matter. It speeds up the game and reduces boredom by fans. Watching a major league pitcher lob the baseball towards home plate at 40 mph just lacks excitement." Well, Dave, believe it or not, our experts did NOT agree.
• Thorn: "You save 60 seconds. That's it. While it's very rare that the batter will swing at one of those pitches during an intentional walk or that the catcher will miss one, there's always that chance. It's a ritual, and every part of baseball's rituals reinforces the notion of, 'This is the game we grew up with and the game we're going to pass along to our kids.' So this is an innovation that would only save 60 seconds. Why bother?"
3. Use the visiting team's rules for interleague games
I've always been a fan of this concept -- proposed in this case by tweeter Michael Stafford (@Mike_Stafford6). When an AL team plays in an NL park, it's "DH Night." Let the kids go out and see Big Papi. When an NL team visits an AL park, it's "Pitchers Get to Hit Night." Why not? If we're heading for a schedule that features an interleague game every day of the season, we need some way to make those games special.
• Young: "I'd be up for that. It would give the fans a new look. Say Yu Darvish is pitching, and the Texas fans get to see him with a helmet on and taking some hacks. I think they'd love that."
4. Create a weeklong midseason extravaganza
This idea comes from a reader named Michael, of San Bernardino, Calif. He wants to take a week in mid-July and pack it with all of our favorite midseason diversions -- the Futures Game, Old-Timers' Game, Home Run Derby, All-Star Game, the draft, Hall of Fame inductions and a summer version of the winter meetings leading up to a Sunday trading deadline. "Imagine," he said, "the buzz this would create about baseball." Boy, no doubt about that. But when we ran this past people inside the game, they all had the same reaction: It might create a little TOO MUCH buzz.
• Schuerholz: "My concern is, I think it diminishes the importance of each of those dynamic events if you put them all in one week. There should be a brighter spotlight shined on all of these. And you lose that if they're all in the same week."
5. Get those managers out of uniform already
Finally, reader Andrew Ervin posed a question folks have been asking for decades: What the heck are managers doing wearing uniforms anyway? To be honest, he wasn't real enthusiastic about coaches wearing uniforms, either. But whatever, his proposal was simple: Don't make these guys wear a uniform. Get them "into professional attire." Well, it's a noble idea. But just warning you, Andrew. Our panel couldn't trash this idea more vociferously -- or unanimously.
• Schuerholz: "Who gets to choose how they dress? Do we let them wear hoodies? Do we let them wear jeans? I don't think it's a big deal. Why do we have to be like all the other leagues?"
• Young: "I kind of like it this way. If Lou Piniella wore a suit, he'd have been less likely to freak out. And players love freak-outs. We love it when a manager loses it."
• Thorn: "Why? Do we really want a guy with pointy shoes going out to the mound to make a pitching change?"
Well, when you put it that way, that's the last thing we want. We didn't get ourselves into this project in a quest to bring more pointy shoes to this great game. We just wanted to make baseball a better, more entertaining, more 21st-century kind of sport.
We may not have pulled that off -- yet. But at least we gave ourselves some ingenious ideas to think about to kill the time till pitchers and catchers report. Now all we have to do is figure out how to get somebody in the game to listen to us.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in a new paperback edition, in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.
Follow Jayson Stark on Twitter @jaysonst.
We made our best pitch. So did you. Now let's hear what a panel of baseball insiders had to say about all of our game-changing proposals.