The 30 Worst Ideas in Baseball History
Baseball is as much a part of the American identity as apple pie, hamburgers and freedom. However, that doesn’t mean our national pastime is perfect.
Time and time again baseball fans have had to endure narrow-minded schemes, hackneyed plans and controversial decisions. Some of them work out, but there are also more than a handful that leave us scratching our heads and contemplating when football season starts.
The blame is not limited to the commissioner of baseball either. Owners, coaches and players are all responsible for defacing the game of baseball and alienating thousands of fans in the process.
With that in mind, here are the 30 worst ideas in baseball history.
Not Banning PEDs
It took until the 1990s for anyone to notice that performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) were a rampant part of baseball. It took until the 21st century for MLB to do anything about it.
We may never fully understand the consequences of this shortsightedness, but just on the surface, we have record books riddled with the names of cheaters and championships and games won on the backs of steroids and amphetamines.
Some might say PEDs were a necessary evil to get the game to where it was today, but try telling that to the thousands of young, aspiring ballplayers who juiced up just like their role models.
Making the All-Star Game Count
In 2003, MLB and the players union decided to award home-field advantage for the World Series to the league that won the All-Star game. The idea was to provide players and coaches with an incentive to win a game that had largely become a joke.
However, if the ASG really counts, then how come the best players only last two or three innings? Instead, the ASG is typically decided by players at the end of the roster who were barely elected to play in the game. This one needs a bit more tinkering.
Putting a Team in St. Petersburg
In 1995, Bud Selig awarded St. Petersburg with an MLB franchise: the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Three years later, the Devil Rays began play with a roster of over-the-hill veterans (Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, Jose Canseco).
Those early Tampa Bay teams were some of the worst in baseball history, and it took a decade before the newly named “Rays” had any success. However, not even an AL pennant is enough to get baseball fans in St. Petersburg interested in the Rays.
Tampa Bay still has among the worst attendance figures in all of baseball and a bite-sized payroll to go with it. Perhaps the city of St. Petersburg should stick to hosting spring training games and leave the real games to the markets that can actually support an MLB franchise.
Allowing a DH in One League but Not the Other
In 1973, MLB collectively decided that it was tired of watching pitchers go up to the plate and strike out and consequently adopted the DH rule, except only in the American League.
Professional sports is all about parity and a level playing field, but by matching up two leagues with a completely different set of rules, MLB made parity a pipe dream (the AL has outscored the NL every year since 2003).
Whether you support the DH rule or not, it’s impossible to deny that the AL has an implicit advantage when it comes to interleague games.
Strike of 1994
Lockouts and labor disputes may seem like the norm today, but back in 1994, baseball suffered a massive blow.
The owners wanted a salary cap and revenue sharing to increase parity, while the players saw the new proposal as a way to restrict free agency and salaries and to protect the owners from misusing their own money (sound familiar?).
Players decided to strike, and MLB had no choice but to cancel the postseason, a move that helped lead to the meteoric rise of the NFL.
Eliminating Scheduled Doubleheaders
Back in the day before every MLB stadium had lights, teams used to regularly schedule doubleheaders, with one game in the early afternoon and the second in the late afternoon. Fans bought one ticket and were allowed to stay for both games.
However, today doubleheaders are usually the result of a rainout and are a burden on the players, coaches and especially fans. With ticket prices again at an all-time high, it may be a good idea for baseball to bring back scheduled doubleheaders and boost attendance.
Putting Lights at Wrigley Field
Wrigley Field is one of the most iconic parks not just in baseball, but also in all of sports. A day at Wrigley Field used to be like stepping into the past to a time when baseball was a simpler game.
However, in 1988, the home of the Cubs joined the rest of MLB by installing lights so Chicago could host night games. With state-of-the-art ballparks being built seemingly every other year, it would’ve been nice to see one of the original homes of baseball stay true to its history.
Knocking Down Yankee Stadium
The original Yankee Stadium was one of the most iconic ballparks in the country, but apparently that wasn’t enough for the Steinbrenner family. The owners decided to build a new Yankee Stadium, and in 2008 the $2.3 billion stadium, the third-most expensive in the world, officially opened.
It’s a fantastic stadium, but George Steinbrenner lost sight of what baseball is all about—the fans. How do you justify a $2,625 baseball ticket and thousands of empty seats? Some things aren’t meant to be changed.
Promising an All-Star to Every MLB Team
It seems logical that the All-Star game should feature baseball’s best players. However, this isn’t always the case.
The current voting rules require that every MLB team have at least one All-Star representative, whether they deserve it or not. This has led to some questionable selections (Aaron Crow?) and players who, more often than not, don’t even get into the game.
What’s the point of having the ASG count if the managers can’t even put together the best rosters?
The idea sounds great in theory. The ASG is about showcasing the country’s favorite players, so fans should be allowed to select which players they want to watch.
However, in practice, voting doesn’t typically work this way, with large-market teams (New York, Boston) dominating the rosters because of larger fanbases.
Electing Derek Jeter as a starter this year was absolutely inexcusable and evidence that maybe fans don’t deserve the privilege to vote on the starters for the ASG.
In 1957, there were seven Cincinnati Reds players elected to start the All-Star game, among them Johnny Temple and Frank Robinson. The Cincinnati Enquirer even printed pre-marked ballots and distributed them to fans.
The Reds were a great team; however, the vast majority of these players did not deserve to be playing in the ASG, let alone starting. So what happened? MLB took away fan voting rights and appointed Willie Mays and Hank Aaron as substitutes for two Cincinnati players.
Ballot stuffing has been fairly common since fans regained voting rights in 1969 and generally ruins the experience of the ASG for fans from all but one or two cities.
A Tie at the All-Star Game
In 2002, the All-Star game lasted 11 innings and ended in a 7-7 tie after both teams ran out of relievers. Bud Selig made the decision to call the game, played in his hometown of Milwaukee, much to the dismay of the fans and the media.
Ties are incredibly uncommon in baseball, and as much as Selig has a duty to the owners to preserve the health of the All-Stars, it’s an incredibly unsatisfying result. Let the players finish the game!
World Baseball Classic
Ever since baseball was cut as an Olympic sport, fans have been clamoring for an international baseball tournament. In response, the World Baseball Classic was founded in 2005.
The idea of showcasing the world’s baseball talent on an international stage is a great one; however, the execution was seriously lacking.
The biggest problem is that the WBC is played in March, before most players are ready to be playing competitive baseball. In addition, many of the world’s best players forgo participation in the tournament for fear of injury, especially on the United States roster.
What’s the point of an international tournament when it doesn’t even feature the best players in the world playing at a peak level?
Bidding for Daisuke Matsuzaka
For a time, Daisuke Matsuzaka was the hottest thing since sliced bread, and in 2006 the Boston Red Sox bid over $51.1 million just for the right to negotiate with him.
More than four years later, Matsuzaka might be one of the biggest busts in baseball history. He has won just 49 games in a Boston uniform and will likely end his Red Sox career with a 4.25 ERA and 1.40 WHIP.
In Theo Epstein’s defense, everyone else in baseball thought Matsuzaka would be an ace too. That’s $50 million the Red Sox will never get back.
Black Sox Scandal
In one of the most infamous scandals in sports history, eight members of the Chicago White Sox intentionally threw the 1919 World Series to win a big bet. Each of the eight players, including the legendary “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, were banned from baseball for life.
It’s understandable that the White Sox players felt the notoriously cheap Chicago owner, Charles Comiskey, was underpaying them. However, losing the biggest series of your career is no way to get revenge and is a sure-fire way to get your name stained in permanent black ink.
In case you haven’t looked at the MLB standings lately, there are 16 teams in the NL and just 14 teams in the AL. There are also six teams in the NL Central and just four teams in the AL West.
How did this happen?
League expansion skewed the balance of power in baseball and put three of the league’s best teams in the same division (AL East). There are talks about realignment to fix this imbalance (with the Houston Astros probably headed to the AL West), but what the hell took so long?
Roger Clemens Throwing at Mike Piazza’s Head
Mike Piazza is 6’3”, 200 pounds and one of the toughest guys in baseball history. Roger Clemens is a pretty big guy himself at 6’4” and 205 pounds, but even Shaquille O’Neal wouldn’t have tried to irritate Piazza by throwing at his head.
In 2000, Piazza suffered a concussion after being drilled by a Clemens pitch. Then, when the Mets and Yankees met that year in the World Series, Clemens took a broken bat and tossed it in Piazza’s direction.
That’s the kind of behavior that will get you a broken jaw, but Clemens somehow escaped the fiasco unscathed. At least now we know roid rage really does exist.
Pedro Martinez Takes Down Don Zimmer
Pedro Martinez isn’t exactly a big guy (5’10”, 170), but he’s still a professional athlete. So what was Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer thinking when he charged Pedro in the middle of a playoff game?
Pedro did what any other self-respecting man with a 95 mph fastball would do—he threw Zimmer to the ground. When the guy you’re charging is 30 years younger than you and in far better shape, you’re probably out of your mind.
Grady Little Leaves Pedro In
In one of the most controversial decisions in baseball history, former Red Sox manager Grady Little left Pedro Martinez in to face Hideki Matsui in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Pedro gave up four consecutive hits, surrendered a three-run lead and let the game slip out of Boston’s grasp.
Nobody knows what would have happened if Little had gone to his bullpen instead of staying with his ace, but Red Sox fans in 2003 had a bit of a short leash when it came to losing to the Yankees, especially with the World Series so close.
Chicago White Sox and Bermuda Shorts
White Sox owner Bill Veeck wanted to spice up his last-place team and in 1976 introduced navy blue and white pajama-style uniforms.
Veeck went a step further when, later that summer, he also introduced Bermuda shorts exclusively for hot day games. The shorts never caught on because 1) they were ridiculous, and 2) the players feared getting hurt on slides in the dirt.
Somehow I don’t think Ozzie Guillen would really mind Bermuda shorts.
White Sox Invent “Rent a Player”
Just a year after his 1976 Bermuda shorts fiasco, owner Bill Veeck tried something new to try to get the White Sox into the postseason.
Veeck figured that since he couldn’t afford to pay all of the best players, he could instead trade for players a year away from free agency and hope that the moves would be enough to win a championship.
The plan failed miserably, but that hasn’t stopped GMs from following the same strategy almost every season since. We should also thank Veeck for the phrase “mortgaging the future” and over-ranked prospects everywhere.
Pulling Your Best Hitter for a Pinch Runner
Somewhere in the unwritten manager’s handbook, there’s a passage on how managers should use pinch runners late in the game if there’s a chance to score the winning run, even if the runner on base is the team’s best hitter.
Managers do this constantly, and although the logic makes sense, the math indicates otherwise. Pinch-running for your best hitter is almost never a good move, whether or not the pinch runner actually scores.
Sabermetrics has changed the way teams scout players, but will it ever replace baseball intuition?
Pitchers Batting Ninth
Another unwritten law of baseball is that you have to bat your worst hitter ninth, which in the case of the NL is almost always the pitcher.
However, in 2007 St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa defied conventional wisdom by batting his pitcher eighth and using a more leadoff-type hitter ninth to set up the top of the order.
Sound crazy? The math actually backs it up.
Using Your Closer in the Ninth Inning
Saves are a sexy stat in baseball, but they aren’t particularly meaningful. The reality is that the most high-pressure situations usually come in the seventh or eighth innings, not the ninth.
So why do closers typically only pitch the ninth inning? Ignorance? Stubbornness?
If baseball teams really cared about winning, they’d wise up and use their best pitcher in the middle of the game when they can actually make a difference, not at the end of it.
Home Run Derby Captains
MLB tried to add another level of excitement to the All-Star game festivities by allowing two sluggers to pick their teams for the Home Run Derby.
David Ortiz and Prince Fielder squared off in the new format but left fans wanting more. Who wants to watch Jose Bautista do what he does every other day when the human launching pad otherwise known as Adam Dunn is sitting at home?
Let’s take this a step further and let the fans vote on at least some of the participants.
Delaying Instant Replay
MLB became the last professional sports league of the Big Four to allow instant replay when it passed a resolution almost three years ago. The move was long overdue, especially considering the deteriorating quality of umpiring over the years.
In a game of inches, it makes only too much sense to leave the big calls up to a computer rather than the human eye. How long until MLB expands instant replay to beyond just home run calls?
Draft Slotting System
During negotiations for the current CBA, the players and owners agreed to a draft slotting system where every draft spot was assigned a specific numerical value used to dictate signing bonuses. The problem is that nobody pays attention to MLB's slot recommendations, and some agents, notably Scott Boras, use it as a floor in contract negotiations.
This eliminates any advantage small-market teams may have from picking higher in the draft because the big-market teams can simply scoop up the tough signs in the later rounds. So much for parity.
Draft Pick Compensation
Every offseason you see GMs talk about Type A and Type B free agents. Teams are awarded draft picks based on the quality of the free agents they lose, using a metric called Elias rankings. This system, just like slot recommendations, was intended to give small-market teams a fighting chance by compensating them for losing their young, high-priced players via free agency.
In practice, however, big-market teams lose just as many, if not more, Type A and Type B free agents, replacing their high-priced players year after year without losing draft picks.
The system also prevents the worst teams from signing any of the big free agents because it would mean forfeiting their first-round draft selection, a likely top-10 pick.
This one hasn't actually happened yet, but it's on its way in the next CBA. MLB has planned on instituting an international draft for years as a way of cutting down on the extravagant signing bonuses given to top international players (like the $30 million Aroldis Chapman got last summer).
However, an international draft could have disastrous consequences on parity in baseball. Small-market teams like the Reds, Royals, A's, Indians and Blue Jays are able to stay competitive by scouting and signing these international players. A price tag of $30 million may sound steep for a small-market team, but it pales in comparison to the $100 million deals given to the top free agents.
If MLB goes ahead with an international draft, then the big-market teams will have equal access to all the best players via the draft and free agency, creating a competitive advantage. It's no wonder that the owners leading the negotiations (typically those from the biggest teams) are so keen on getting this done.
Selling Babe Ruth
In 1919, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold the infamous Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees to finance his Broadway play No, No, Nanette. The Red Sox, at the time one of the most successful franchises in baseball history, would not win another World Series for 86 years.
The Curse of the Bambino has since been broken twice, but that doesn’t stop this from being one of the most lopsided deals in the history of sports. Frazee not only destroyed the franchise he owned, but he catapulted the archrival Yankees into the winningest baseball franchise ever.
Now that’s what you call a bad idea.