Bud Selig and Major League Baseball, apparently displeased that this offseason has been relatively tranquil as salaries fall and multi-year contracts for talented, young players become things of the past, they have decided to tinker with the game again.
Frustrated that folding your favorite team is no longer an option at present, Bud and the boys are falling back on tried and true ways to screw up the game: appointing committees, that always include George Will, and sending Sandy Alderson and the bean counters in to shorten the game. In other words, they are again finding fault in the game at a time when everyone and his uncle have beaten them to the punch.
Sandy Alderson announced today that baseball is concerned that the length of World Series games was 3:30 even though the regular-season average had dipped to 2:52. MLB will be asking umps to "to emphasize the need to keep hitters in the box. They will also try and keep pitchers working at a reasonable pace and enforce the rule that states a relief pitcher must be ready to face a hitter no more than two minutes and 25 seconds from the time the manager signals the bullpen."
Well, that's all good and well, enforce the rules by all means. Take Chuck Knoblauch and his ilk to a shrink so that they can get over their obsessive-compulsive rituals before each pitch. Bring back the bullpen carts to get men to the mound quickly or force them to run to get to the mound in time. When Livan Hernandez falls behind a hitter, remind him that this is not chess, especially the way he pitches-but keep him away from golf clubs when you do it.
Fine. But the biggest problem wasn't even mentioned: commercial breaks. During the playoffs the commercial breaks whenever there was a pitching change were long enough to decompress from the Steve Lyons-Thom Brennamen fiasco that was unfolding before your eyes. Two minutes and twenty-five seconds? There was no way that the commercial breaks were that short. The Fox promos alone seemed to last longer than the games.
But baseball isn't willing to turn down the extra cash in order to present a better product to its fans. They would rather do what comes naturally, blame the players and talk down the sport. I can't believe that Alderson seemed revelatory just a couple of years ago in his dealings with the umps. Now, he is more concerned with the sartorial splendor and workmanlike demeanor of the players:
"If there are any sanctions, they will be imposed much as baseball handled violations of the uniform code last season. The clubs will be sanctioned and they in turn will deal with individual players"
Next up, Bud has commissioned a special task force called the "Commissioner's Initiative: Major League Baseball in the 21st Century." It's got to important if it has a subtitle in its name. It's stated goal is "to shape the future development of the game." Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't we in the 21st century right now? Then it's not the future. It's now.
Bud is prepared to scare us right from the get-go:
"It has a very broad potential agenda," Selig said. "This is very important to me."
"There's no subject from marketing to the game on the field that we will not address," Selig said, adding that the group could even deal with issues as to whether or not to expand the playoffs.
Of course a good number of the usual suspects are on hand: George Will, who would be the owners' shill if he were not an owner himself (minority owner of two clubs, but shh! don't tell anyone), MLB executives and owners, and people who work for companies owned by or affiliated with team owners (ESPN, Fox, and Anheuser-Busch). There is also Gene Orza from the Players' Association, a few professors, and Maryann, here at Bud Selig's Special Task Force. Of course, Bud dressed as Bob Denver in the red rugby shirt, white pants, and white sailor's hat spouting, "Skipper!" is too good an image not to dwell on. So I shall dwell.
Anyway, given the success of the Blue Ribbon Panel report that was oft-quoted in the labor negotiations, Bud must be salivating more than usual to get his hands on another panel to finally put his signature on the game. I mean it's not like he added an extra round of playoffs, wild card playoff teams, interleague baseball, 4 expansion teams in two rounds of expansion, an unbalanced schedule, the outlawing of doubleheaders, carding bat boys, two extra divisions, and a partridge in a pear tree or anything.
I may be too world-weary but I would be totally shocked if this committee was not formed to basically reiterate back to baseball exactly what it wants to hear. If it doesn't, MLB will just ignore its findings anyway.
Apparently, the first salvo has been fired. Baseball wants to expand the playoffs. I'm not sure if that means an extra round or just expanding the first round to seven games. Great, when will the season end, around Super Bowl time? But of course MLB will not be willing to shorten the regular season or play dreaded double-headers during the year. Maybe they'll just start the season in March in Japan every year.
Keep in mind that throughout all of their efforts to tweak the game, baseball still stays true to its roots:
"That's something we're not considering," Alderson said. "We don't think that the game lends itself to a clock, it's never been associated with a clock. We think we can shorten the games without having to do that. The idea here is to limit the dead time."