The Last Page

If I Were Czar of Baseball

Baseball is a captivating game. It alternates periods of expectant stasis with episodes of frantic activity, it tempers a vigorous presentism with a media-savvy nostalgia, and it interfuses power and grace. But it also has its problems as it enters the twenty-first century. Like many fans, I sometimes
dream about what I would do with these problems if I were the czar of baseball. (The imperial title is necessary: the powers of a mere commissioner are inadequate.) Bulletin Editor Tom Stamp's invitation to write this piece affords me the opportunity to go public with my own agenda of reforms-a list of ten improvements that might restore the primacy the game once claimed in the hearts of American sports fans. I invite comments and brickbats.

First, I'd increase the size of the strike zone. Shell-shocked pitchers deserve a break in the age of McGwire; the luster of hitting a home run needs restoration. And all that's required to achieve this end is the ridiculously simple expedient of insisting that the current rules defining the strike zone-extending it from the arm pits to the tops of the knees-be honored. Whoever gave the umpires the right to override rules anyway?

Second, I'd place a team in Washington, D.C. It is just plain ludicrous that the national pastime isn't played at a major-league level in the national capital.

Third, I'd drop four of the current thirty teams. Montreal, Milwaukee, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh invite attention, though other candidates for relegation are conceivable. I realize that this idea will enrage some readers, especially those who revere the impressive histories of the Orioles and Pirates. But the principle I'm following is a simple one: demographic shifts have occurred, and teams should not be located where a fan base is inadequate.

Fourth, I'd globalize baseball, installing teams in Havana, Mexico City, Sydney, Taipei, and Tokyo. When all the shifting was over, there would be thirty-two major league clubs, which I'd divide between two leagues of equal size.

Fifth, with each league composed of four divisions of four teams each, I'd continue the current practice of having three winnowing stages of postseason competition that culminate in the World Series. But the new system would have the advantage of abolishing the wild card. No loss there. After all, if you can't win a divisional title, you don't deserve to compete for access to the World Series.

Sixth, I'd shorten the season slightly, to 156 games for each team. This could be done-and here comes the mathematical moment in this essay-by allocating to each team twelve games for interleague play (six with a special nearby rival, three each with two other clubs on a rotating basis), thirty-six games against the teams in its own division (twelve with each divisional rival), and 108 games (nine with each club) against the remaining twelve teams in the league.

Seventh, I'd restore the happy convention of my childhood of having every club play a doubleheader on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day. The combined effect of the last two changes would be to allow postseason play to begin around September 20 and to reduce the likelihood that the World Series might become a snow bowl.

Eighth, I'd impose a financial penalty on all teams whose salary commitments exceeded a specified payroll limit, the funds to be distributed among the teams with the poorest records. Moreover, after first giving every team the right to "protect" twelve of its players, I'd institute a midseason draft, allowing weak teams to pick one unprotected player from strong teams; and if the drafted player then chose not to accept the draft, I'd oblige the team he stayed with to pay a sum equal to his salary to the drafting club. The point of all of this is, of course, to try to level the financial playing field a bit.

Ninth, to complement the Hall of Fame I'd create a new Temple of Immortality. (Okay, I know the name is hokey. At least I had the sense to reject Valhalla. You suggest a better term.) It would serve the purpose that the hall was designed to fulfill before the induction of players like George Kell, Jesse Haines, and Phil Rizzuto hopelessly compromised the notion of diamond greatness. The temple would be limited to fifty members (giants on the order of, say, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, and Walter Johnson), and-here's the kicker-if the selection committee wanted to add a new member but the temple already had its full complement of fifty immortals, it would be obliged to dislodge someone, relegating that casualty to the less honorific status of mere Hall of Fame membership. This would mean, for example, that when Greg Maddux inevitably comes up for consideration, the committee will be required to determine not simply that he is worthy of inclusion among the ranks of Christy Mathewson, Lefty Grove, and Tom Seaver (and he clearly is), but that he is actually superior to at least one of the members of the temple-and then to identify and demote the exile.

Tenth, I'd end the de facto ban on women umpires. The Pam Postemas of the world deserve better treatment from organized baseball than they've received.

Were these reforms to be put in place, major-league baseball would be a livelier and more exciting game, fan interest in the pennant races and the achievements of the players would be intensified, and everyone could feel reasonably confident that the game would continue to thrive.

Oh, yes. Just in case I haven't irritated enough readers, I'll throw in an eleventh thought. I wouldn't let Pete Rose near the Hall of Fame-much less the Temple of Immortality-until he showed some contrition for his ethical lapses.

How's this for a game of fantasy baseball?

Reed Browning, a long-time professor of history at Kenyon and a former provost and acting president of the College, is the author most recently of Cy Young: A Baseball Life.

Back to Top