Fixing Baseball's Problems: The Wild Card, Umpires, Interleague Play, and the Never Ending Schedule

This year Major League Baseball expanded the playoffs to include two additional teams and an additional wild card round in each league. These games are essentially play-in games and is very similar to what the NCAA did when it recently expanded its basketball tournament. In my opinion neither is a good idea, if you're a serious fan of sports.

Playoffs, tournaments, championships, or whatever they are called are meant to be played, in basketball and baseball, in a series. Although many Braves fans will argue their team was “screwed” by left field umpire Sam Holbrook on his interpretation of the infield fly rule, the reality is that they were “screwed” by MLB. By MLB, I do not mean Bud Selig, although he seems to be a popular whipping boy, I mean the owners and the television networks that have the most to gain by extending the playoffs. MLB should have added a full, best-of-five series to make this fair to the fans and players.

The more I think about this, or write about this, the more I realize the problem is not the amount of games during the post-season, but the amount of games during the regular season. Baseball has too many regular season games thus making the post-season extend into late October or early November. Money is the only motivating factor to keeping such an asinine schedule.

Sure, if MLB (read: the owners) wanted to play 162 games they could do it in fewer dates. This can be accomplished by playing double-headers on Sundays, reducing the All-Star break, or reducing off-days. The better solution would be to reduce the total number of games played per season.

My personal preference would be to reduce the number of games by 20, but that alone will not solve other problems. Another of the big problem for the owners is attendance in early games in traditionally cold-weather climate cities is terrible. Yes, most fans will show up en masse for Opening Day or weekend, but after that, the majority of fans will not arrive until late April or May.

There is no good reason why teams in cities like Cleveland, Chicago, New York, Boston, etc. should have to suffer through cold and inclement weather in the early part of the season. Reduce the chance for rainouts by having those teams play on the road the first few weeks of the season. Now that MLB (the league) has gone to an unbalanced schedule, more teams can play interleague baseball on Opening Day in warmer cities or locations with domes.

The above suggestions about reducing the schedule do not solve two other long-standing problems with baseball: interleague play and umpires.

Interleague Play: I am one of the few fans of interleague play. There is one fundamental problem with the way it is constructed right now: they are doing it backwards. I live in an American League city. We use the designated hitter. Why, when National League teams come to my stadium do I see them using the designated hitter? When MLB (Bud Selig) sold me on interleague play, he touted it as a way for fans to see teams in the other league play. Except that it is not how they are doing it. When the Reds visit the Indians the Indians should have to play without the DH. As it stands now the Reds have to use the DH; well I already know what the DH looks like. I see it every day. This is an easy fix—when AL teams go to NL cities, use the DH, and when NL teams visit AL cities, no DH. See how easy that was?

Umpires: Additional umpires in the playoffs is a bad idea and we saw why last Friday in Atlanta. The problem with additional umpires in the playoffs is that MLB (Selig) is putting the umpires in positions they have not worked the entire season. Therefore, they are not immediately used to the mechanics even if they have worked the playoffs many times. The quick solution to the problem, or at least preventing last Friday’s call from happening again, would be to only have infield umpires make calls regarding the infield fly rule. The long-term solution, which World Umpires Association would not easily agree to, would be to eliminate the use of the extra two umpires. As long as baseball has the intention of expanding instant replay, there is no longer a need for the two outfield umpires.

The wrong thing to do is to change the rule strictly defining what the infield is or is not. Changing that rule and adding language that can be further misapplied by game officials does nothing but make the rules more confusing for players, coaches and fans. Changing the rule to give a strict definition of the infield introduces rules makers’ least favorite rule: the rule of unintended consequences.

Example: MLB used to have 2-3 format in the Division Series from 1995-1997, Indians fans will remember this specifically, in which the team that hosted the first two games never had a chance to win a series at home. When MLB created the series, they implemented this format because teams did not want to travel more than once for a five game series.

Rule of unintended consequences: the disadvantaged team (not always lower seeded) could virtually never win the series and never had a chance to win the series at home. In its zeal to please owners and players with a “simple” rule change it instead gave an inherit advantage to the wrong team.

Can you think of any other changes Major League Baseball Should make? Tell me about them in the comments below.

Written by !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src="//";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");