The Washington Times - September 1, 2008, 09:53PM

By SEAN RAPOSA
September 2, 2008

It happens every year. August rolls around and those guys start tossing the pigskin. The Dancing with the Stars, Real World, Lost, Pilates, The Office and green tea crazes all packed into one and multiplied by a thousand that is the Fantasy Football craze begins. Baseball is right in the heart of the dog days of summer, with the playoff picture fairly well set but still enough time left for anything to happen, which removes most of the drama. We have come to understand and expect this, and in some sense, the calm before the storm of September baseball gets me excited. On the other hand, it gives me time to contemplate those things that are. I was planning on filling this page with the top minor league call-ups this week, but it became very apparent that the topic would yielded pretty dull results.

It appears that Tampa Bay top gun David Price, future Baltimore bomber Matt Wieters and the vast majority of baseball’s other elite prospects very well could be left off the expanded rosters this September, so I had to adapt. Around the media, there has been a lot of talk dissing this big league season. There is no dominant team to gun for and no compelling storyline, the pundits say. Open your eyes, I say, and enjoy a brand of baseball that would make guys like Ted Williams, Willie Mays and my pops, Big T, proud. Look at the teams doing damage around the league: the Angels, Rays, Twins, Cubs and Brewers. It’s all about the fundamentals, as good pitching, defense, intensity and confidence have taken some unheralded teams a long way in 2008. While Fox’s fat pigs may drop a few slices with smaller-market teams and lesser-known stars playing in October, do we really care about the girth of these guys’ wallets, and should that negatively affect our collective perspective on the year in baseball? I think not.

This is not to say the league is perfect. Football’s annual stealing of baseball’s thunder has inspired me to search for a higher calling. It is no secret that the NFL is the most prominent sports league in this county, and it is due in large part to its adaptation abilities. The NFL constantly tinkers with its rules to adapt to the times. Major League Baseball, in contrast, took 500 years to institute a drug-testing policy and always seems behind the curve. Thank goodness for the rash of controversial home run calls this season, for it finally prompted baseball’s suits to embrace modern technology and institute instant replay, though they were last in line, as always. With that improvement, however small, in the books, here are my five ways to improve MLB. Bon appetit.

No. 5: The 10-second pitch clock

“Hey, while we’re young!” the late, great Rodney Dangerfield exclaimed in Caddyshack. These same words inevitably burst from my mouth every time human rain delays like Daisuke Matsuzaka take the hill. Even with a picturesque 16-2 record, I find it hard to get excited for his outings. He has plenty of company in his pitching-mound procrastination, and the batters are just as much to blame. The endless trips to the rosin bag, the wiping of the brow, the adjusting of batting gloves, Nomar, and the constant stepping out of the box - ugh. The current state of affairs is painful and fans just don’t have four hours to donate to baseball on a nightly basis. Speeding up the game should be a top priority and, of course, I have a solution.

As is usually the case when MLB begrudgingly agrees to change something, they’ve had a guinea pig to lead the way. Football has long used a play clock to prevent stalling, and the shot clock was instituted in the NBA so long ago that few remember the game any other way. Now it’s baseball’s turn. A 10-second pitch clock should take effect, timed by the home plate umpire and with violations resulting in a balk. Pitchers would be allowed one trip to the rosin bag to start each at-bat, and then for each subsequent pitch, the clock starts when the pitcher gets the ball back from the catcher or umpire. The other piece to this rule will remove the batters’ right to call time out. Get the sign, get in the box and in five seconds or less, that pitch is coming. Games would move much quicker and the integrity of the game would not be compromised - done deal. Sign it, Bud.

No. 4: Revenue Sharing and the Franchise Player

I touched on this subject last week in reference to the Minnesota Twins and what might be if their payroll was nine digits. Today I’m expanding it to the entire league. To date, no official report or analysis has been produced on the effectiveness of revenue sharing, but one cannot argue with its principles. More teams with more money should result in a greater number of competitive teams and, as a result, more competitive games. The effects are starting to show and if teams like Florida, Cincinnati and Kansas City could score a few more bucks things would really start to get interesting. All one has to do is glance at the A.L. East standings to understand that money doesn’t buy victories, but the impression of fairness alone would improve the competitive nature of the sport.

So now that we have gotten the small-market teams some extra cash, how do we stop them from wasting it? Having the money is no good if you don’t know how to spend it (see: Pittsburgh Pirates). The key to this is going to be restricting the expenditure of team’s funds received as a result of revenue sharing. It seems that year after year there is a small-market team on the verge of putting things together only to lose their stud(s) to free-agency and start the vicious rebuilding cycle all over again. It happened to Minnesota last year and this year CC Sabathia’s departure will be a double-dip, scarring both Cleveland’s and Milwaukee’s futures. The solution is forced spending and instituting a Franchise Player allotment. The league should withhold funds from teams receiving aid and require that the money be spent in full at least once every five years on one franchise guy. Every fan should be able to look up to at least one “true” All-Star, no matter where they live.

No. 3: Shortened Schedule and Increased Interleague Play

This entry is the start of my suggestions that will sadly never happen. It’s a simple equation: Fewer games = more drama. March Madness, the World Cup, the Olympics and even the NFL regular season provide edge-of-your-seat excitement, in large part because of the do-or-die nature of the action. 162 regular-season baseball games is simply too many. Division rivals play against each other 19 times every year! If you take money out of the equation, what are the benefits to such a brutal schedule? There are none. All you get is more fatigue, more injuries and less excitement.

First off, the league has 30 teams and six divisions. How does that not equal out to five teams per division? Let’s start by sending the Milwaukee Brewers to the A.L. West. Done and done. Now we need to tackle the other major problem - an unbalanced interleague schedule. The new and improved schedule will have balanced interleague play for all, and every fan will have a chance to see every player in their home stadium: Home-and-homes of two games each. Non-division in-league opponents will alternate home vs. away annually for three-game series, and division games will be reduced to 12. The total number of games will be 133, the intensity of division games will be elevated and each team will visit every MLB stadium at least every other year. It almost seems too simple! Let’s move on.
 
No. 2: DHs for all

The 35-year-old designated hitter debate has finally found its way into My Five. So, what, if anything, should be done about the DH rule? Is it time for the National League to give in and adopt it? I say absolutely. There is no value in having pitchers hit anymore. It’s just an added injury risk that contributes nothing other than tradition to the game. You don’t see NFL guys playing both ways just because other people’s grandfathers did. And if you do, they are specialists like Devin Hester, so in theory you could still see the best-hitting pitchers - like Carlos Zambrano and Sabathia - doing their damage in the DH spot on occasion.

The other beauty of proliferating the DH would be the extra jobs created. That many more guys who can hit and do little else will get a look at the bigs even if they were drafted by an N.L. club. What if David Ortiz came up trying to crack a Senior Circuit roster? How would his career have been affected? Drastically, I say, and we might not even know him if that were the case. I have no doubt that there are other one-dimensional mashers out there and with all 30 teams using the DH, their odds of making it in the bigs will be increased. And as an added bonus, both World Series teams will be accustomed to playing by the same rules, which is nice.

No. 1: Suits stay at home

As I’m sure you can gather, I’m all about the fans. It makes sense because I am one. The No. 1 suggestion I have to improve MLB - which will never happen because of the almighty paper chase - is to institute a league-wide “Suits stay at home night.” It should be on Wednesday because every team plays and it’s a low-traffic night. I love the charity tickets that exist, like the Dunkin’ Donuts Club at Fenway, and it gets kids into the ballpark, but do we really need to sit them a mile from home plate on possibly their only visit to the park? Let’s get the kids right up front and sacrifice some suits’ box seats once a week. After all, the children are our future, and nothing sells itself. There is too much competition for those oh-so-precious dollars these days, so we need to have a focused effort to keep kids involved and inspired by our great National Pastime. We cannot rely on tradition alone to carry it.

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Sean Raposa’s My Five column runs every Tuesday here on National Pastime. He can be reached at sraposa33@gmail.com.

Photos by The Associated Press

Be sure to check out our previous My Five columns: Starting rotations, The power alleys, MLB’s best bullpens, The table setters, Young guns, Burgeoning bats, Favorite first-half storylines, X-Factors, Financial blunders, Superbad Awards, Rounders, Contenders, Spoilers, What if?