We’ve made it to 2022, but baseball has not. The players remain locked out by the owners with the first spring training games about eight weeks away.
For now, nothing has been lost. There’s ample time to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement and allow teams to get back to building their rosters.
At the risk of appearing hopelessly naïve, surely both sides understand how damaging it would be for baseball to have a labor dispute that extends into spring training. Sorry about the pandemic and the bad economy, folks, we’ll be over here fighting about money and driving more kids away from our sport.
Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.
In the meantime, here are 22 ideas on how to improve the game in 2022 and beyond:
1. Incorporate the universal DH: Pitchers hit .110 with a .293 OPS last season and struck out in 44 percent of their plate appearances. A universal DH is an easy way to get more offense into the game and ends the farce of having American League pitchers hit in the World Series.
Pitchers don’t hit in high school, college, or the minors (unless two National League affiliates are playing in Double A or Triple A). Enough is enough.
2. Discourage tanking: Here’s an easy solution to improve competitiveness. Lose 92 games and you fall three spots in the draft. Lose 95 and you fall three more. Lose 100 and the highest you can pick is 10th.
This will encourage would-be tankers to build at least a team capable of winning 70 games, which isn’t too much to expect. It also would discourage July fire sales. Plus, fans of bad teams would have something to root for in September.
3. Rescue Mike Trout: It’s a crime the best player of his generation is 30 and hasn’t played in the postseason since 2014. Either the Angels figure this out in two years or Trout becomes a free agent. Obviously, that’s not going to happen. But Trout wasting his vast talent in Anaheim is like hiring Jasper Johns to paint your garage.
Trout has 76.1 WAR since playing his first game in 2011. He’s 25.4 WAR ahead of second-place Paul Goldschmidt, and that’s in 181 fewer games.
4. Don’t expand the postseason: This is likely a lost cause. The owners want expanded playoffs because their television partners will pay big money to carry the games. But it’s a bad idea.
A 14-team postseason devalues the regular season, especially September. The final week of the Red Sox season was thrilling and led to a Wild Card Game against the Yankees that was one of the most pulsating nights in Fenway Park history.
If 47 percent of the teams make the postseason, baseball is not much better than the NBA (53 percent) or NHL (50 percent).
5. Keep the extra-innings rule: This was a change that worked, although it would be better to wait until the 11th inning to put a runner on second base.
The runner forces action and rewards fundamental play as opposed to waiting around for a home run. This idea seemed like heresy at first. But it’s fun.
6. Limit the number of pitchers on the roster: Pitchers are so far ahead of hitters that the game has become a parade of strikeouts. Moving the mound back is too radical. Instead, limit teams to 12 pitchers.
That would force starters to work longer and bring back the idea of wanting to buy tickets to see an ace work deep into a game.
7. Do not ban shifts: The idea of limiting shifts rewards teams who don’t effectively use them.
Teams have shifted since the days Lou Boudreau put six players on the right side against Ted Williams. It’s incumbent on the hitter to adjust or for teams to put a greater priority on developing hitters who can go to the opposite field.
The problem isn’t shifting. The problem is stubborn hitters.
8. Pitch clock: The beauty of baseball is there is no clock. But something must be done to get recalcitrant pitchers to throw the darn ball.
Minor league pitchers adapted quickly to a clock and major leaguers would, too. Any rule would be loaded with exceptions, but the long-term goal would be to bring pitchers back to the idea of maintaining a good rhythm, and keeping the batter from getting comfortable is a better strategy than making every pitch a one-act drama that takes 25 seconds.
9. Fix the replay rule: Replays should be used to correct egregiously missed calls by the umpires. That makes sense.
But replay should not be used to examine if a base runner lifted his hand off the bag by an eighth of an inch while a fielder held a glove on him. MLB should get back to what the spirit of the rule is, perhaps by cutting down on how many challenges a manager gets.
10. Eliminate sign stealing: If NFL coaches can talk to their quarterbacks via a microphone, surely a catcher can communicate to a pitcher in a stealthier way than wiggling his fingers.
It’s past time to figure that out. Too much time is wasted trying to give signs the opposing team can’t decipher in time to signal the hitter.
11. Bring back the stolen base: Counting only full seasons, stolen bases have dropped five consecutive years. Eleven teams had 60 or fewer last season.
Stolen bases are exciting, but teams are so cautious about giving up outs that they’ll steal only when the numbers suggest there’s an 80 percent chance of success.
MLB has experimented with slightly larger bases in the minors or limiting pickoffs. However it works, it would be beneficial to make speed a bigger weapon.
12. Market players more effectively: Teams such as the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, and Cubs market their tradition more than their players. The NBA surpassed baseball, in part, because the players became household names.
Baseball needs to get its stars in the public eye. Xander Bogaerts is a two-time World Series winner and three-time All-Star who rarely misses a game and is unfailingly a good guy. How is he not on billboards in Boston?
13. Unleash the young stars: Under the recently expired CBA, teams benefited by holding players back in the minors long enough to keep them from gaining a year of service time.
That would seem easy to fix by tying free agency to age instead of service time. If a 21-year-old is ready to contribute, economics shouldn’t stand in the way.
14. Quiet down: At what point did ballparks decide louder was better? It’s becoming impossible to have a conversation at the park. Music is an integral part of the experience and it’s fine to mix in some sound effects. But people are there to watch a game and talk with their friends and family. Drop the volume a bit.
15. Mic up more players: Everybody loves it when a player agrees to wear a microphone for a spring training game. It’s entertaining. Then it rarely happens once the regular season starts.
The Players Association has opposed this in the past, and there are some teams that stand in the way, too.
This is one time baseball’s lack of action plays to its advantage. We should be able to hear the first baseman chat with the runner or what the outfielders say back and forth. It would improve the telecast and create good content for websites and social media.
Objectionable language could be bleeped out, if necessary. But the advantages far outweigh any detriments.
As an addendum to this, umpires should explain unusual calls to the crowd (like NFL officials do) or at least have it explained by the PA announcer.
16. Create a “ManningCast” for baseball: ESPN has had great success with Peyton and Eli Manning jabbering away on ESPN2 while watching “Monday Night Football.”
ESPN or Fox should try the same thing with baseball.
Get a few colorful former players — Dustin Pedroia, Torii Hunter, and Pedro Martinez come to mind — to watch the game together and talk. Maybe throw in an injured player from one of the teams playing that night.
Chris Sale watched the first four months of last season from the dugout. It would have been fun to listen to him talk pitching during a game.
17. A winter deadline: The impending lockout generated a flurry of transactions over the final days of November, giving baseball the same spotlight from which the NFL and NBA annually benefit.
MLB should try a Dec. 15 deadline for any trades or free agent signings, followed by a month-long dead period before free agency and trades can resume. That should spur more teams and players into action.
Baseball has the most tedious offseason in sports. Something should be done to make it more interesting.
18. No advertisements on uniforms: The MLBPA reportedly offered up the idea of advertising patches on uniforms before the lockout. That would be awful.
Whatever revenue gained would be lost by spoiling the classic look of the jerseys worn by the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Cardinals, Giants, Cubs, Orioles, and others.
This is one time when tradition works in baseball’s favor. Don’t mess with it.
19. All-Stars should go to the All-Star Game: What a concept. But year after year, players come up with excuses not to attend the game. There were 82 All-Stars last season because 17 players bailed out.
Injuries are certainly an excused absence. But 82 All-Stars?
20. Make all Hall of Fame votes public: The Baseball Writers’ Association of America overwhelmingly voted to do this a few years ago, but the Hall of Fame refused.
Hall of Fame voters have the option to make their choices public on BBWAA.com, but it’s not mandated. It should be.
As journalists, a big part of our job is to ask players, managers, and executives to go on the record about their performances and decisions. We should be held to the same standard.
Only 17 percent of the ballots cast last year were kept private, but that’s still too many.
Presumably some voters are afraid of blowback on social media. At this point, any media member should know enough to ignore trolls. If you’re unwilling to defend your vote, give it up.
21. Retire No. 21 for Roberto Clemente: MLB has justifiably honored Jackie Robinson by retiring his No. 42. The time has come to do the same and recognize Clemente, one of the first Latin American stars.
Latinos make up nearly 30 percent of MLB rosters and include some of the game’s best players. Retiring Clemente’s number would be a worthy symbol of how much MLB is defined by its international players, coaches, managers, and broadcasters.
22. Local voices in October: Joe Buck doesn’t hate your team. He’s actually great calling the World Series. But MLB should take a page from its past and invite the broadcasters from each team to join Buck for a game.
If the Red Sox make the Series, fans who have followed the team all season should get a chance to hear from Dave O’Brien and Dennis Eckersley for at least a few innings.
The national audience could benefit. Can you imagine if Jerry Remy had done a few innings in 2004 or ‘13 and given a voice to what those seasons meant in New England?
Until the mid-’70s, it was common to have local broadcasters call Series games with a national play-by-play announcer. Revisiting that in a reduced way would be welcome.
Waiting is the hardest part
Hall of Fame voting has concluded, and the results will be announced on Jan. 25.
Based on the ballots already revealed, David Ortiz has a good chance at being elected, but it’s not a sure thing.
Curt Schilling, meanwhile, has apparently talked himself out of Cooperstown.
The righthander was only 16 votes shy of induction last year, a deficit he had a good chance of making up in his final year on the BBWAA ballot.
Typically, a player in his final attempt gets a boost. Edgar Martinez went up 15 percent to gain induction in 2019 and Larry Walker climbed 22 percent a year later.
But Schilling, despite coming close, released a long, rambling statement last year calling writers “morally decrepit” for not choosing him. He also asked to be taken off the ballot, which the Hall and BBWAA rejected.
Through Friday, 11 voters abided by his request and did not vote for Schilling after doing so last year. Only one had added him. The latest tracking of public ballots had him at 62.3 percent.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ NFL legend John Madden, who died this past week, was a catcher at Jefferson High School in Daly City, Calif., and for two seasons at Cal Poly.
Madden was a better football player, good enough to be drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1958. But according to several obituaries, Madden was scouted by the Red Sox, Yankees, and several other teams.
▪ The Fenway Bowl is not off to a rousing start. The 2020 game was canceled in October because of the pandemic. SMU and Virginia were scheduled to play in 2021, but that game also was canceled.
The silver lining was that four high school games were played on the football field at Fenway from Nov. 23-24, so the work reconfiguring the surface wasn’t wasted.
Next time you’re tempted to grouse about the payroll of your favorite team, remember that the Pirates haven’t signed a player to a contract of at least $60 million since Jason Kendall in 2000. The Red Sox have had 12 deals for major league players worth at least $68 million since 2000. That doesn’t include the $103.1 million it cost to land Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2006 because $51.1 million went to the posting fee. The Yankees have had eight contracts worth at least $120 million since 2001 and that doesn’t include the $230 million commitment they made by trading for Giancarlo Stanton in 2017 … Congratulations to former NESN anchor Kacie McDonnell, who married Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer in a lavish ceremony at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla., on Friday … Happy birthday to Jeff Suppan, who is 47. The righthander was a second-round pick of the Red Sox in the 1993 draft. He was in the majors by 1995 at the age of 20 and went on to play 17 seasons for seven teams. The Sox lost Suppan to Arizona in the 1997 expansion draft, then picked him back up in 2003 in a trade with the Pirates. Suppan started 417 games in his career, tied for 117th all time. That’s more than Pedro Martinez (409), Clayton Kershaw (376), Adam Wainwright (358), Josh Beckett (332), and plenty of other notable pitchers.