Column: Great game, but baseball in need of a fix
Opening night of the baseball playoffs provided some great theater, assuming you could stay awake long enough to watch.
That the 12th-inning win by Kansas City over Oakland took nearly five hours to play highlights a problem baseball still has to address. Still, the return to small ball in a sport plagued by steroids should be celebrated just as much as the first postseason win by the Royals in 29 years.
But as Bud Selig prepares to take a victory lap on behalf of the owners he represented so well, there are issues he hasn’t handled nearly as well. While the game is awash in cash that is making both owners and players richer than ever, it has become increasingly marginalized as a national sport as attendance sags in some cities and television ratings continue to sink.
Incoming commissioner Rob Manfred has a chance to do something about that. As the playoffs begin, here are a few suggestions to help the grand old game:
HIRE VINNY — Clayton Kershaw may get the Dodgers in the World Series all by himself, but how about giving us a treat once they’re there? Put Vin Scully in the broadcast booth for Game 1 and let of the rest of the nation find out why the 86-year-old announcer is so revered in Southern California. Let Scully work alone as always and spin stories, like the time in 1956 he called Don Larsen’s perfect game at Yankee Stadium on NBC and was afraid to say much more than “Strike 3” because he had been told the new medium would tell the story. Nothing to lose, because World Series ratings have been sinking for decades now.
SET THINGS STRAIGHT — Selig will be gone in January, which is probably a good thing for baseball. Selig did what commissioners are supposed to do, which is make owners money and get taxpayers to build new ballparks. But he turned a blind eye to the steroid scandal and will leave office still thinking Barry Bonds is the career home run leader. The new commissioner should on his first day of the job declare any offensive mark set between 1988 (Jose Canseco’s heyday) and today void simply because they can’t be believed.
ALL STARS — If Manfred still has time on his first day he should abolish Selig’s rule giving the league that wins the All-Star game home-field advantage in the World Series. The desperate attempt to make the All-Star game meaningful in some way was a joke from the beginning.
SOLVE THE DH — Either ban the designated hitter or make it mandatory in the National League, too. No other major league sport plays by different rules in different divisions, but baseball hasn’t figured out the DH dilemma since it was introduced in the American League 41 years ago. It’s an issue in the postseason when AL pitchers are ill-prepared to hit in NL parks, and NL rosters are not built with a slugger to plug in the middle of the lineup.
FIX INSTANT REPLAY — Baseball was a latecomer to the instant replay party, but got it mostly right in its inaugural season. What needs to go away is the dance that has developed when managers come out of the dugout to stall while getting word whether to appeal a call or not.
LET PETE IN — It’s way past time to allow Pete Rose back into the game. Selig’s refusal to revisit the subject of the hits king doesn’t make sense anymore, if it ever did. Rose has more than served his time for betting on games, yet his only connection to the game remains signing baseballs in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, others who have disgraced baseball by using steroids are working in dugouts and keep appearing on Hall of Fame ballots.
SPEED THINGS UP — In one of his final acts in office, Selig formed a committee to come up with recommendations to speed up games that now top out at an average of more than three hours apiece. No committee needed because it’s mostly common sense. Make batters stay in the box; don’t let pitchers stroll from the mound. Add to that some batting gloves that don’t need to be constantly adjusted, and the game will suddenly be a half hour shorter.
ONE SONG IS ENOUGH — Playing the national anthem before the game is a time-honored tradition that began in baseball and has been embraced by almost every sport. But is there really a need for another song during the seventh-inning stretch to remind us we live in the greatest country on earth? “God Bless America” is a fine tune, but fans buy tickets for a baseball game, not a patriotic rally.
CELEBRATE KERSHAW — He’s most often compared to Sandy Koufax, but it may not be long before Clayton Kershaw is the one that others are compared to. He’s an artist on the mound, with four straight ERA titles, and will likely be the National League MVP as well as Cy Young winner. He’s also the highest paid pitcher in the game, but he and his wife are heavy into charitable activities, including building an orphanage in Africa. About the only thing Kershaw hasn’t done is pitch well deep into the postseason. Get that done this year and lot of people will be celebrating along with him.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg