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MLB - Ways to Improve the Game (Pt. 1)

By Gary Cozine
Sunday, April 21st, 2002

Salary Gaps

Bud Selig is full of crap - you know it and I know it. Baseball was in the red last year? Maybe you should get someone besides Arthur Anderson to keep the books, Bud. The commissioner's argument is weak, but that's not to say that baseball doesn't have its problems when it comes to money.

Although I take a certain underdog satisfaction when the A's beat up on the Yankees, I know that if the A's did it consistently, the Yanks would just whip out the checkbook and buy Oakland (they're already part way there by signing Jason Giambi). A system needs to be developed whereby large city teams are still rewarded for drawing fans, but not allowed to use their population advantage to crush small market franchises.

The Texas Rangers have some outstanding players - foremost among which is Alex Rodriguez, the highest-paid player in the game. I don't really have a problem with A-Rod making $22 million this year - what I do have a problem with is that Texas can afford anyone else. After A-Rod, Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez round out the top three spots in Texas' salary hierarchy.

A number of franchises might like to have these guys in their lineups. Teams such as the Pirates, Marlins, Padres, Twins, Athletics, Expos, and Devil Rays would certainly benefit from their talents. Although there are probably plenty of reasons why the three Rangers wouldn't want to play for the Expos - or any of the other six teams I've listed - I imagine the main reason is that A-Rod can't throw a decent curve ball.

A-Rod would have to be on the mound because there would be no money left over for pitching. The three amigos' cumulative paychecks exceed the entire team salaries of the aforementioned seven Major League teams. It's time to level the field.

The Designated Hitter

I know there are a number of players out there (Edgar Martinez, I'm looking in your general direction) who have no desire to get rid of the designated hitter rule, but this stems more from self-interest than any compelling argument that the game is better off because of it. Those who say that the difference between the American and National leagues is simply that in one the pitcher bats and in the other he doesn't suffer from a central misinterpretation of the effect that the DH rule has on the strategy of the game.

I've actually heard people - players and commentators (people who ostensibly know what they're talking about) - say that baseball shouldn't eliminate the DH because no one wants to see a pitcher at the plate. This is a little like saying you shouldn't set yourself on fire because burnt hair smells bad.

While you could make an argument that the statement is factually true, it neglects more important consequences. I happen to disagree with the statement literally (I'm a Giants fan and I do want to see pitchers hit), but let me provide a partial inventory of how the DH changes baseball at a fundamental level:

Pitchers Hitting: You're the manager for a National League team and the bases are loaded in the seventh inning. Your team is batting in a 2-1 game and your pitcher is due up. Do you bring in a pinch hitter to try to get some badly needed runs? If you do, you have to pull your pitcher, who has yielded only one unearned run and three hits - not to mention that your bullpen is wiped out after an extra inning game the night before. If you don't hit for him, you may lose your last chance at a big inning. This is a difficult decision for a National league manager. If you're an American League manager, you go get a cup of coffee.

Pitchers Being Hit: You want to cut down on Roger Clemens treating Mike Piazza like the eponymous furry creature in the Whack-A-Mole game or Pedro Martinez dominating the inside portion of the plate? Make those guys get in the batter's box. Sure, if Clemens beans someone, the opposing pitcher is going to go after one of the Yankees, but this lacks the immediacy of putting Clemens sunny side down. Joe Torre had a rolodex of excuses for not starting Clemens at Shea last year - anyone who was paying attention knew that he didn't want his ace playing grown-up dodge ball.

Sacrifice Bunt: Don't get me wrong, I like to watch Barry Bonds knock them out of the park as much as the next guy, but I think small ball is the heart and soul of the game. Get 'em on, get 'em over, get 'em in. It requires teamwork, selflessness, and strategy. You see players bunt in the American league, but it's not an innate part of a manager's approach.

Stolen Bases: See above. A crucial component of the game. If you're in the American League, what's the incentive to steal second base when you're counting on the guy at the plate knocking it over the fence? Either way, you score - wouldn't you rather jog to second than sprint?

The Double Switch: This is similar to the pinch hitter quandary, but it's even more complex. Let's use the above example, but this time, you're the manager of the opposing team and your pitcher has just loaded the bases in the 2-1 game. The pinch hitter coming to the plate has absolutely murdered your guy on the mound in the past.

The problem is your pitcher is due to leadoff the following inning. If you bring in someone from the bullpen, he's going to have to bat right away. You want to start off with a speedy base runner so you decide to do a double switch. This means you remove the guy who made the last out in the previous inning (your defensively strong shortstop) and put the reliever in his position in the batting order - this way, he won't be due up until after eight other hitters have batted.

Then, you bring in your bench shortstop (who is defensively inferior to the one you just removed) and place him in the pitcher's spot in the batting order. Now you've changed your defensive strength up the middle and your batting order all because you don't have the DH. It's a little more complicated than "no one wants to see a pitcher bat."

Next time - the Wave and soggy hot dog buns.

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