Baseball has problems. Teams no longer stay together. Players move from team to team. Unfamiliarity lessens interest. Why watch if you don't recognize the pitcher and you have no idea who's hitting? Worse yet, teams are scattered about, spread across all four time zones. Old, reliable, traditional rivalries have vanished.
Technology has passed baseball by. How often do we clearly see an outfielder trap a ball, but the umpire doesn't, and the game goes on with the batter called out. For many fans the rest of the inning is tarnished and the final outcome marred by oversights like this.
And then, pitchers and hitters seem determined to make the game boring. The constant stepping in and out of the batter's box, adjusting wristbands and shirt collars, and the incessant, delays on the mound hurt the game.
The quintessential beauty of baseball rests largely on the nonviolent nature of the competition. Baseball, unlike football, is not angry.There's no gratuitous mayhem like hockey. And thankfully baseball has escaped the preening thuggery of basketball. But, when a runner trying to score with little or no chance of making it safely home plows headlong into the catcher, all sense of grace is lost, the social contract broken.
Finally, games start and end too late. Sure, they no longer play baseball in daylight because TV ratings at night are much higher. And who doesn't love a long game - extra innings - free baseball! But, without the wonderment of children there will eventually be no one left to watch night baseball and few who want to play it. If the games are all televised so late at night that schoolchildren can't become lifelong devoted fans, what is baseball's future?
That's the bad news. The good news is with a few changes Major League Baseball can recapture past glory and lost fans, find new ones and build a strong fan base. Here's how baseball can save itself.
First, forget about the National and American Leagues. Realign all MLB teams into four divisions of 7 and 8 teams, roughly based on proximity. Name the divisions after great, old players. I suggest this:
BABE RUTH DIVISION
Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
HENRY AARON DIVISION
Tampa Bay Rays
WILLIE MAYS DIVISION
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Angels
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres
SANDY KOUFAX DIVISION
Chicago White Sox
St. Louis Cardinals
Kansas City Royals
The regular season would be divided into two 70 game sections. In the First Half, The Babe Ruth Division and The Willie Mays Division would play against one another while The Henry Aaron Division and The Sandy Koufax Division do likewise. Of these 15 team groupings, teams would play all others 5 times. After 70 games, Division Champions would be crowned and those teams would earn spots in the Post Season Playoffs. In case of ties, both teams would be Champions.
In the Second Half, division play would switch. The Babe Ruth Division would play The Sandy Koufax Division and The Henry Aaron Division would be pitted against teams from The Willie Mays Division. Again, all teams would play all others 5 times and at the end of the 70 game Second Half, Division winners would earn spots in the Post Season.
The Playoffs would include the 4 Division Champs and 4 Wild Card teams determined by the best total record over all 140 regular season games. In case of ties or should a Division Champ repeat from First to Second Half, the Wild Card teams would be affected. Division Championship ties would eliminate a Wild Card while a double Champion would add one. This would be important because no Wild Card team should have any home games. Wild Card teams would play all their Round One playoff games on the road. For a Wild Card team to make it to the World Series, it ought to very special, very difficult and very rare. If you want a home game, go win your division.
Playoff Round One would match Division Champs against Wild Card teams, seeded according to most wins in the overall 140 game season. Round Two would have the highest remaining seed play the lowest with home field based on best total regular season record.
Finally, the teams surviving the playoffs would meet in The World Series. Home field now would be determined by best regular season and playoff record.
Second, for Baseball to save itself the game must enter the modern age. The following changes should be instituted immediately: Use of instant replay on all plays except balls and strikes. Each team should get 3 challenges per game and if a manager wins a challenge, he shouldn't lose it; The trade deadline should be set at Opening Day. The team you have is the team you play. One day of trading should be allowed between the First and Second Half of the regular season; Batters and pitchers should have only 10 seconds between pitches to make personal adjustments, but no healthy batter or pitcher should be allowed to leave the batter's box or pitching mound once the at-bat has begun or a strike will be called on the hitter or a ball against the pitcher; Players who attempt to score standing up and run into the catcher should be called out and ejected from the game; First pitch for all games including Playoff and World Series games must be before 7:30 PM.