MLB All-Star Game 2011: Making the Game Count and 4 Other Bad MLB Innovations
Major League Baseball has endured some very rough times. There was the Black Sox scandal, Pete Rose betting on baseball, PEDs, the Barry Bonds trial and now the upcoming Roger Clemens case. In spite of all of these ugly issues, baseball continues on, as popular as ever.
There are a few changes to the game that we have seen in the modern era that have either outlived their usefulness or were bad ideas in the first place.
I will list five of these innovations that have got to go, or at the very least be improved.
5. Maple Wood Bats
In recent years, many ballplayers have moved away from the traditional bats made from ash wood toward maple wood bats. Since the introduction of maple wood bats in the late 1990s, we have seen a marked increase in the use of these bats.
Maple is a harder wood than ash and has less flexibility. Many players feel like the maple bats hit the ball with more authority than ash. There are now a very high number of players who are using maple bats. Chuck Schapp of Louisville Slugger told ESPN's Amy K. Nelson that, in 2008, "65 percent of Louisville Sluggers sent to major leaguers [were] maple."
The problem with maple wood bats is when they break, they violently splinter, often creating very sharp edges and flying bat heads that resemble spears. It's just a matter of time before a player, umpire or fan is impaled by one of these flying spears.
Short of banning the use of these bats, there needs to be a way to treat the wood so that it does not break into sharp splinters. Baseball is slow to make any changes, so it will likely take a few serious injuries or even a death before they realistically consider outlawing these hazardous bats.
4. Instant Replay
MLB is on the right track by introducing replay to verify home runs. However, this does not go far enough. The technology is available, so instant replay should be expanded.
I would allow the use of instant replay on everything except balls and strikes. However, the way I would recommend implementing replay is that each manager gets two challenges per game. This way, the game will not be held up by the constant viewing of replay.
Once the manager has used his two challenges, that's it for the game. If there's another questionable call, that's too bad. The onus of whether to challenge a call falls on the manager.
In order to overturn a call, the replay must clearly show that a mistake was made. The bottom line is to get the calls right. Proper utilization of replay will mean that egregious errors can be corrected—although it's too late for former Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga.
3. Round 1 of the Playoffs
After 162 games, the top four teams in each league make the playoffs. Round 1 is only five games, whereas Round 2 and the World Series are seven-game series.
(As a side note, I strongly prefer the current format of eight playoff teams to the 10 that is being discussed.)
There are too many variables and potentially fluky things that can occur in just a five-game series. This also heavily favors a team with two top-tier starters.
The argument that the season is already too long does not hold water. Two or three extra days are appropriate if it means getting the best teams in the LCS and World Series.
The goal is to see the best teams from each league make it to the LCS and World Series. A seven-game series in the first round is a better measure of a team's relative strengths and weaknesses.
2. All-Star Game
There was a time when the All-Star game meant a lot to the players. Managers were not compelled to put their entire rosters in the game, and each side was intent on winning.
I still recall how much Willie Mays and his fellow National League teammates wanted to beat the American League. Players like Mays, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson, just to name a few, were extremely focused on winning the game.
According to Pete Rose via Bob McManaman of The Arizona Republic, even Warren Giles, the former NL President, "'believed that the All-Star Game was an opportunity to show the world that the National League was better than the American League.'"
That has changed in recent years. The All-Star game is an exhibition, and it's played that way. This year, there is an abundance of players who have begged out of the game for one reason or another. The All-Star game just does not hold the same meaning to today's players as it did in the past.
In an effort to bring meaning to the game, commissioner Bud Selig decided that the league that wins the game will have home-field advantage in the World Series.
By the same token, if you're a Giants, Phillies, Yankees or Red Sox player, do you really want this important advantage decided by someone who who has no chance to even make the playoffs?
1. Designated Hitter
The designated hitter was adopted by the American League in 1973. At first, the idea took hold because we got to see aging American League stars like Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Harmon Killebrew hit.
The DH has extended the careers of players like Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz. However, the luster of the DH has largely worn off.
After watching the game closely for the past few decades, I have come to the conclusion that the DH has got to go the way of the dinosaur. It's ludicrous to have a separate set of rules for each league.
The DH eliminates a lot of the tough decisions a manager must make throughout the game: when to make a pitching change, double-switch, sacrifice bunt, pinch-hit or leave in a starting pitcher.
Let's say you're in the top of the seventh inning and your team is at bat in a 0-0 ballgame. You have a man on second and one out. Do you pinch-hit and then bring in a new pitcher for the bottom of the seventh?
Your pitcher has thrown 82 pitches. Do you let your pitcher bat, even though this may be your best chance to score?
In the American League, the manager does not have to make that decision. In fact, the decision-making process and strategy of the National League game is so much more complex and better than the American League.
The 2010 World Series was a classic example. Giants manager Bruce Bochy thoroughly out-managed Rangers manager Ron Washington. It seemed like Bochy was a step or two ahead of Washington with every decision.
Fans that say they like the DH because they hate to see the pitcher bat are not appreciating the intricacies of the game.
Baseball is a great game of strategy and decision-making. The designated hitter eliminates a huge amount of that complexity. It's time to go back to a similar set of rules for both leagues and do away with the DH.
Get Ready for a Fun Second Half
Following the 2011 All-Star Game, teams will have roughly 70 games to go. There are some exciting stories and compelling races to watch.
The San Francisco Giants are reigning world champions and have suffered some major injuries that would have derailed a lesser team. Pitching has kept the Giants in almost every game and given them a chance to win. We'll see if the Giants can repeat or if another team can win it all this season.
With the trade deadline looming, we'll also see which teams can help themselves for the stretch run.
Stay tuned; it's going to be fun!