As we hit the homestretch of the MLB season, it seems like a good time to reflect on the state of our beloved game. Over the next few weeks, we'll get caught up in the postseason races and then pick our favorites among the eight teams left standing on October 2nd...but we shouldn't forget that all is hardly ideal with America's favorite pastime.
Granted, the sport is certainly on more solid footing than it has been in recent years—and so maybe you're wondering why I'm complaining at all. The simple answer: because I expect this fine game to be perfect, like the gleam of a meticulously manicured field or the smell of an expertly cooked hot dog. Few things in life are flawless, but I hope you'll forgive for wanting baseball to be one of them—for wanting a crisp, clean sport tailored exactly to my liking.
With that in mind, I've listed here are a few things I'd like to see changed in the world of Major League Baseball. Some issues, obviously, are more pressing than others, but even the minor points stick in my craw like a piece of stale Cracker Jack. Here's hoping that Bud Selig is paying attention.
Drug Use and Tarnished Records
This one is so obvious that I won't even waste time explaining it. Any way you cut it, the record books now herald a cadre of players whose performance was enhanced by unnatural means. And just as steroid testing is finally implemented, we hear of human growth hormone and the league's inability to detect it in a test. The beat goes on.
In 2001, MLB moved to a schedule that placed heavy emphasis on intradivision games. It was great news for teams in weak divisions, but bad news for everyone else—including the fans who'd like to watch a variety of opponents square off against their hometown squad over the course of a season. As a Cubs fan, I've got to watch my team play the Reds and Cardinals 19 times apiece in 2006...which is, believe me, a bit much, even for a rivalry as fierce as Chicago-St. Louis. Even worse, the Cubs play NL teams outside the Central only six times each. When they were in the NL East, the Cubs had a healthy rivalry with the Mets. Now, the teams play just two series a year—and since they took place in a span of 14 days this season, they were over before we'd even started to enjoy them.
East Coast Media Bias
I know a lot of people don't want to hear it, but this stings as much as a Roger Clemens fastball to the kiester. Yes, I agree that the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is one of the best in professional sports. But shockingly—and I know this will be hard for some people to believe—there are 28 other teams in the league, and they don't stop playing when the superpowers meet in Fenway or the Bronx. Put simply, the Sox and the Yankees hog way too much air time, both for game broadcasts and analysis segments; on the night of the trade deadline, for example, the first twelve minutes of Baseball Tonight dealt exclusively with Boston. When both teams went down in the first round of the 2005 playoffs, the tone of the shocked national coverage seemed to imply that the White Sox and Angels had only been allowed into the postseason to compete for some kind of consolation prize. And speaking of October: the East Coast teams—especially the Sox and the Yankees—always get first crack at the primetime games. In 2000, the first three games of the ALDS featuring the Mariners and White Sox were scheduled for weekday afternoons. If I were a Seattle fan who'd put my heart and soul into the team for 162 games only to find that the playoffs were destined to start and finish while I was at work, I would have been nothing short of absolutely livid.
World Series Home-Field Advantage
This is far too important an issue to be decided by an All-Star Game—or even by the year, for that matter; the alternating AL-NL hosting of the Fall Classic was just as unacceptable as Selig's much-maligned All-Star method. The last time a team won a seventh game of the Series on the road was 1979. There have been eight Game Sevens in the twenty-five World Series since then, and the home team has won all of them. Here's a question, then: why not award advantage to the team with the better record? The official MLB line is that it would be too hard to make last-minute travel and game arrangements...but I'm not buying it. Even if you exclude one league from hosting (either because it's not their turn or because they lost the All-Star Game), you still need to make preparations for two cities while the ALCS and NLCS play out. If you allow the team with the best record to host, on the other hand, you know as soon as you get to the final four that one team—the team with the worst record—cannot host, so you then need only make arrangements for three cities. Hmmm...three cities instead of two. As a layman who's never been trained in the ways of the Commissioner's Office, I can only imagine how impossible such an undertaking might be.
So that's that. While there are other improvements I could recommend, these are the ones that are most significant to me—and, I'd suspect, to at least a handful of other fans. Certainly, the sport is by no means in shambles right now, but like I said: I'm not willing to settle for anything less than perfection. And who knows—if the powers-that-be finally get their act together, we might just get a little closer to where we're trying to go.