Open Mic: Changing Major League Baseball from the Commissioner's Chair

J.C. AyvaziSenior Analyst IJanuary 27, 2009

The Commissioner of Major League Baseball is charged with regulating the game. Decisions should be in the best interests of the game, sportsmanship, and fair play. Unfortunately, we are not at that place at the present.

So much lip service is given that the game is for the fans. Yet, these fans are treated like dairy cows, shuttled in and milked dry, then fed and rested up for a bit, until ready for the process to start over again.

The commissioner should be looking out for the fans. However, when the commissioner is a former owner, such as is the case with our current commissioner, it is painfully obvious which group will receive the lion's share of consideration in all rulings.

In a previous article by one of the bleacher creatures, they took on the mantle of Commissioner of Baseball. This got me to thinking what would I do if given a shot at the top spot.

First on my list would be to consult with the three branches of government: Congress, Chief Executive, and Supreme Court. I would outline my agenda and make sure I had legal and legislative sanction to carry out the changes needed to update and strengthen the game without unnecessary delay from the unions and owners.

Someone doesn't like an element and files a lawsuit? Here, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on line three to explain why you are going to lose—and lose big.

Then I'd get to work. Many of the changes would be dependent on others to make the system work for everyone. The best commissioner would leave the players, owners, and umpires all slightly dissatisfied but able to move forward.

Everyone should have to give something and be able to get something, but consideration has to be given to the folks who foot the bill, the fans. They have lacked an advocate for much too long.


Assisted living residences for players, umps, staff

It is pathetic the way Major League Baseball and the players union has dragged their feet in providing proper health coverage for older players and staff. They are sitting on big mountains of cash yet force many senior citizen baseball alums into governmental programs with lower quality care or worse. This should be the first item on the agenda for change.

Major League Baseball should purchase existing and/or build new assisted living centers for ball players, front office personnel, scouts, and umpires. Priority should be placed for Florida, Arizona, and Southern California as these are popular retirement areas. Expansion to other areas would follow soon thereafter.

Local teams could "adopt" centers, decorating common rooms in team colors and with memorabilia. Funds could be raised by having some of the residents and active players hold autograph and photo sessions, say for $25 a ticket in small groups so the fans can actually have a couple minutes face time with the players.

These senior citizens are an irreplaceable treasure, they could be considered encyclopedias of living history, a resource that should not be ignored and pushed aside. As to the current players, they should be required to attend at least two sessions per year, a couple of hours of their time, as a part of their union dues.

Players who repeatedly blow off their slots or display extreme poor social skills would face suspension. No playing around, everybody needs to pitch in with this.

Jobs would be created or augmented in the varied medical fields. There would also be relief for some governmental and other medical programs, creating space for others who could use the assistance.


Expanding roster to 28 with 25 active per game.

Major league rosters would be expanded to 28 players. However, in any particular game, the team will designate three players as inactive. This is similar to how NFL teams operate, though the numbers are different. Each team will still have a 25-man roster for the particular game.

Ballplayers come up with minor injuries all the time. Many times they will be out for only three to five games or so. Thus, it is not worth putting them on the 15-day disabled list for the team would lose their services for too long of a period of time.

But during those few games the player is too banged up to play, the team is left at a disadvantage, as they are short handed. The fans that have paid to see a major league team are receiving a diluted product. In effect, they are paying full price for second quality goods. They are getting ripped off.

Another situation that often happens is when a relief pitcher has thrown for three or four days in a row and is gassed. It would be irresponsible for the manager to put him in the current game as the risk of injury is increased.

Teams would be able to carry three catchers without fear of shortchanging themselves at other positions. Bench depth would be enhanced as well. A sound veteran who is great for chemistry in the clubhouse may be kept when they would have been cut before.

A younger player whom the team may want to keep but is out of options can be retained, on scholarship with the big club as it were.

To prevent the inactive list from being abused, there would have to be a couple of provisions that must be adhered to. First, no pitcher who had started within the previous five games could be designated inactive. Second, no more than one pitcher may be placed on the list.

Game instead of day is specifically designated to allow for changes to the list when teams play doubleheaders. This new rule would have no effect on the bereavement list, which would continue as is, for its scope is different.

The net result of this will mean 90 extra Major League jobs for players, a significant boon for the union.


40-man roster for agents

Ballclubs are allowed to protect up to 40 players on their roster, others with the required service time are able to leave as free agents or eligible to be selected in the Rule Five draft. This is to prevent clubs from stacking up players so deep that the ones at the lower level are locked out of any realistic chance for advancement.

If teams are not allowed to have unlimited amounts of players bound to them, why should agents be granted unlimited numbers to how many players with whom they are associated? We are at a tipping point, where a couple of agents hamstring teams with dubious tactics, that if employed by the ballclubs, would elicit howls of collusion from the union.

Agents should have more of an obligation to a player than simply negotiating a contract. Their specialized skills should be used to manage their client's financial portfolio; which would include things such as their financial investments in the stock, bond, and commodities markets; investment real estate; commercial endorsements; and other aspects of their client's financial interests.

These management services would be reviewed by the Commissioner's office to prevent fraud and protect the player's future security.

To do this important job properly, agents should be limited in the number of players they can represent. In this way, a small number of agents will not have unyielding influence over the sport. Can an agent with 50 free agents in the offseason realistically act in the best interest of each of their clients? Of course not. Priorities will be set and some must wait with the hats in hand until called upon.

This is not fair to the players or the teams. Strict rules need to be put into place preventing agent collusion, which improperly drives up salaries and the resulting costs that are passed along from the teams to advertisers and the fans.

Are we to expect an agent who negotiated a contract in the morning will put those numbers and terms out of their mind while negotiating another player's deal that evening? Of course they will not.

All the while these agents rake in more and more obscene profits that, if were being earned by oil companies, would result in calls in Congress for windfall profit taxes to be enacted.


Rookie Salary Cap

There is no good reason why players who haven't played a major-league game should be guaranteed multimillion-dollar contracts. Potential is not a hard and fast promise for a return on that investment. It is foolish and poor business sense for such a financial guarantee until the player has proven himself at the major league level.

I've heard the argument that a player will lose out on the last year of earnings if paid after showing his worth. The best way to combat that is for Major League Baseball to pay a player on a severance contract after filing his retirement paperwork. One year of pay, based on a calculation of the number of days of Major League service along with previous salary.

A player may return to the majors, but his salary will be put into an escrow account, releasing only a small percentage to the player, until such time as the player again retires and the league can recalculate the severance pay.

The interest on the account would go to the league as a consideration for the early payment of the severance season, much like an early withdrawal penalty from an IRA account.


Bonuses for awards

The commissioner's office should be responsible for paying a fixed dollar amount to a player who achieves the following honors:

All-Star Game starter, All-Star Game reserves

MVP awards (regular and postseason), Cy Young Award

Jackie Robinson Award (also know as Rookie of the Year)

League leaders for Home Runs, RBI, Batting Average, & Stolen Bases

League leaders for Wins, ERA, Strikeouts, & Saves

Silver Bat, Gold Glove

This will simplify contract negotiations. If a player is getting $15 Million, it is reasonable to assume the team would expect the player to achieve some of these honors. They should not be forced to fork over an additional payment.

These payments should be on par with others would make for the same achievement. At present, they are not. Some players don't even have bonus clauses and miss out entirely.

For the All-Star Game, the player would be required to be in uniform and available to the manager to collect payment. Players on the disabled list during the time the All-Star Game is played would receive a reduced bonus. Players who are selected but opt out of playing will not receive any bonus.


All-Star Game participation

Each All-Star team shall have an additional three pitcher slots. These pitchers must be setup or long relievers. Currently, All-Star pitching rosters are mainly comprised of starters and closers. It is extremely rare for setup men to be selected.

The additional three pitchers will not be eligible to play unless the game goes into extra innings. Also in extra innings, all members of the original starting lineup will be eligible to return to the game. If after all starters have been reinserted, the game continues, reserves will become eligible to return to the game.

Thus, all field players should be required to remain in uniform and available until the end of the game. Pitchers would not be required to remain in full game uniform, but shall return to the bench in warmups or other official uniform after showering.

As a concession to the players, the season will resume on Friday. Minor league all-star games should be played on Wednesday and Thursday.


Revamping the Major-League Schedule

The months of May and June should feature double headers on Saturdays or Sundays when facing divisional rivals. This would create multiple four-game series that will shorten the end of the schedule so the playoffs can start earlier and reduce the chance of playing World Series games in winter type weather.

Six doubleheaders (three home and three away) over eight weeks in the earlier part of the season will clear open a week at the end of the year. May and June are early enough that the weather will not be as oppressive as in July or August and players will not become overly fatigued.

It is reasonable to expect two of the three doubleheaders to be day/night deals with separate tickets required, but at least one should be the traditional type where you get two games for the price of one. With the way the economy is going, teams need to throw fans a few bones, this would be one of them.


Five-year limit on player contracts

There is no reason, other than unparalleled greed or abject foolishness, for a team to have to commit to any player guaranteed money for seven or 10 years. So many things can happen in that time span, and most of those things are bad.

Take the example of Jason Giambi. He was an MVP, high-average and power hitter when he signed with New York. Now most Yankee fans are very happy he is no longer on the team.

Injury and diminished capacity are common in ball players. It's not their fault in many cases—a noticeable exception being Andruw Jones—but the teams, sponsors, and fans should not be on the hook for all this cash either.

The way money gets wasted; one would think these are Congressional earmarks for bridges to nowhere, built with the unused lumber of hitters who have lost the ability to swing their bats.


Instant replay and boundaries

Major League Baseball wanted to create an instant replay program based on the NHL system. The problem is they copied the homework wrong.

Hockey has a war room that reviews plays. If they suspect a call is incorrect, they pick up a direct line to the off-ice officials, who stop the action. If further review shows the call to be incorrect, the war room tells the game officials to reverse the call.

Baseball's system has three of the four umpires leave the field and watch the replay themselves. This creates longer delays than is necessary and forces the original decision makers to second-guess themselves in front of their coworkers. This is not a healthy system.

The war room will pick up a phone that rings in the press box, to the crew chief who is carrying a cell phone, and in each dugout so all parties know the previous play is under review. The review is then carried out and the decision is relayed to all parties.

The public address announcer will deliver the decision to the fans while the umpires inform the dugouts. As with ball and strikes, contesting the call will result in automatic ejection.

Two war rooms should be set up, one in New York and the other in Los Angeles. This way the work is divided by region and not overly cumbersome. Retired major league umpires of high caliber will staff each war room. They will be able to make correct calls and will have rapport with the umpires on the field so no one's nose gets out of joint.

Three fixed cameras will be directed down each foul line, to give enough coverage for the entire foul line in the outfield. These will definitively indicate if a ball is fair or foul. Dedicated cameras will also cover the outfield walls to confirm home run calls.

Additionally, each stadium will be remodeled as so no fan can interfere with a potential home run. Seats can be removed and obstacles constructed so front row fans will not be able to reach to the edge of the boundary.

Alternately, baskets can be installed such as is in use at Wrigley Field to catch home run balls before they reach the existing stands. Large yellow painted boundaries will be added in all stadiums to aid the determination if a ball is indeed a home run or not.


League Suspension

If you subscribe to the theory that punishment delayed is punishment denied, there is no operating system of punishment in MLB. The league can take over a week to pull its act together and decide to suspend, then appeals can take weeks more.

Often, just before the hearing, the appeal gets dropped—many times because the player has a minor injury or the team is facing a weaker team and feels they can get by without the suspended player.

It has been very usual in the past for the hearing to be set for when the offending player's team is going to New York. Then what happens? The player is suspended for games against the New York teams. Gee, how convenient for a sport whose headquarters are based in New York.

The league gets reports from the umpiring crew that night. Also, there are former players who observe the umpires and file reports. Along with that, there have been great advancements in audio and video technology.

The league should be able to make a decision on a suspension within 36 hours of the conclusion of the game, if not sooner. The player should have no more than 24 hours to appeal. Then the hearing can take place before the next game, a lag time of two to three days at the most.

The player's agent and union representative can participate even if they are in different states via video telephone or Internet connection. The league representative also can be in a different state. But a decision will be made in a timely fashion for the integrity of the game—what a concept!


Kill the crawl and pop-up ads

The NFL doesn't allow it on Monday Night Football. On Sundays, only NFL scores and stats are displayed. Why should baseball be forced to endure whatever the worldwide leader and it's Foxy cohort feels like running at the bottom of the screen during their contests?

These sports tickers should be suspended during broadcasts of Major League games. A quick graphic at the start of the inning or between batters can give viewers updated scores without the incessant barrage the must now endure.

With the networks now morphing the ticker into advertising their other programs and inserting gossip filled "news" items, such abuse of the ticker should lead to it's termination during game broadcasts.

Another vile network trick being used more and more is the insertion of advertisements in the corner of the screen during game action. It is the video equivalent of the drunken fool of a fan who is always walking down the row, stepping on your foot just as a pitch is being delivered. Either on another beer run or relieving himself or herself after finished with it's rental.

This is an obnoxious practice that shows no respect for the viewing audience. Only someone with the clout of the league or government can make the networks clean up their act, as fans are powerless on this issue. And don't look for the government to get involved.



The arbitration system used in baseball defies logic. Yeah, I know, so do many other elements of this sports business.

In California real estate arbitrations—a system used in my business—the parties take their case to an arbitrator who has a background in real estate law, usually a retired judge, lawyer, or arbitrator whom both parties agree to use. Their decisions are based on the legal codes and consistent with real estate law.

Baseball has a system when they go to folks who are not involved with the business of baseball. Thus, decisions are made that are not consistent with responsible front office management practices.

Determining factors are previous salary and service time. No consideration is given to recovery from injury. For example, the former Dodgers closer Takashi Saito, who had delivered two-and-a-half stellar years of service, then suffered significant elbow injuries last season.

The Dodgers were in a box, having to guarantee money as if there were no injury, if they were to offer arbitration to Saito.

Instead, he was made a free agent and signed a deal with the Boston Red Sox with around $2 million guaranteed and incentive clauses for innings pitched. The Dodgers would have had to guarantee much more money in arbitration with no consideration for performance.

A better system would have former players and front office executives, folks who know the sport, serve as arbitrators. Additionally, there must be some flexibility to allow for a decision that is between the numbers submitted instead of simply selecting one or the other.

The either or system was created to help force settlements before going to arbitration, but is still leaves a lot of room for error. This current system has improperly increased player salaries by awarding more money than is often worth to a player and setting precedent for following players to be paid that much or even more.

It is a broken system that needs to be overhauled.


Team option to extend injured player contracts

Baseball needs to do more to help keep fan favorite players with their teams after suffering injury.

A change can be made to allow veteran players who have been with a team for at least the previous five seasons to continue with their current team if they are injured and miss at least a third of the final season on their contract with a minimum of half the injury time coming in the final two months.

At the team's option, the injured player will remain with the current team for one more season at the same terms and conditions of the contract for the previous year. This option should be able to be exercised only once for the particular player.

It allows for a team to retain a quality player whom they had paid a fair amount of money over the previous years but was now unable to perform.

This option would not be available if the injury time came during the first half of the season and the player had been able to come back and prove they have recovered from the injury during the last two months of the season.

This change will allow injured players to prove they are again healthy in a familiar environment that would be more supportive as opposed to moving to a different team and having the pressure of proving their worth to new management, teammates and fans.

Agents will not care for this, as they are out to get every last dollar possible. A player's comfort level is not very important to many of them. Baseball should create an opportunity for the player to remain in a place that is familiar and they are wanted.


Steroid punishment

Half, full, gone. Those would be the suspension levels.

First time caught, the player is suspended for 81 games, that's equal to one half of a major-league season. The second time the player is forced to sit out 162 games. Do it again and it's time to find a new line of work. End of story.

Not only would a three-time loser be barred from playing, they would not be allowed to be employed in any capacity, including working in the minor leagues. I wouldn't even want them to clean out the toilets in the stadium. Pack up your rags and git.


Pete Rose

Saved ol' lovable Petey for last. He seems to have as many supporters who feel he's been overly punished as there are those would love to see a return to the days of tar and feathers, if not burning at the stake.

Pete was a hell of a player, just look at the record book sometime if you are not sure. But he did the one thing nobody can get away with, even if you have more hits than anyone else ever. He bet on the game.

I would make Pete Rose eligible for induction to the Hall of Fame. If selected, he would have two plaques. The first would be a typical playing career plaque listing the teams and achievements of his stellar career.

The second would detail the reasons why he is permanently suspended from ever being employed or associated with a major league team until such time as he leaves this mortal coil.

His induction would be first on the docket at Cooperstown, but all the chairs for the existing Hall of Fame members who have come for the festivities would remain empty. The members would not have to endure his presence and Pete would be ushered from the Hall before any further ceremony continues.

There are more than a few members of the Hall who would be very tempted to take a poke at Rose and there is no logic in allowing the ceremony to turn into a free-for-all. Pete Rose would be a Hall of Famer—as is proper—but he would also be isolated from the fellowship of the Hall, which is also proper.


I encourage the thoughts of those who may have a different yet respectful opinion on these matters.


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