- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Amid calls for expanded use of instant replay, faster pace of play and alterations to baseball’s postseason schedule, commissioner Bud Selig on Tuesday announced the formation of a 14-member “special committee for on-field matters” that could lead to several significant alterations to a sport often reluctant to change.

The committee features current and former managers, general managers and team executives, plus Hall of Famer Frank Robinson and syndicated columnist George Will. It will convene for the first time next month during the owners’ meetings in Phoenix.

During a conference call, Selig said all on-field topics will be up for discussion.

“There are no sacred cows,” he said. “Whatever they want to talk about, they will.”

Among the subjects sure to be addressed are the expansion of the limited instant replay system installed in late 2008, a push to speed up ballgames and the possibility of expanding the division series from five to seven games while eliminating excess off-days from the postseason schedule.

Selig mentioned “pace of play” several times during his conference call. The average time of game during the 2009 regular season was 2 hours, 52 minutes. During the postseason, the average skyrocketed to 3:38, with only one of 30 playoff games completed in less than three hours.

Selig also received numerous complaints about the extra off-days built into the postseason at the request of television networks. Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who was appointed to the committee, was particularly upset his club played only nine games in 18 days.

“This is not a reaction to some of the things that happened during the playoffs,” Selig said. “I’m not saying it didn’t keep moving me along in this direction - because it did. But frankly, I had this in my mind for a long time.”

Along with Scioscia, other managers appointed to the committee were the Cardinals’ Tony La Russa, the Tigers’ Jim Leyland and the Dodgers’ Joe Torre. Current GMs Andy MacPhail (Orioles) and Mark Shapiro (Indians) and former GMs John Schuerholz (Braves) and Terry Ryan (Twins) will participate, as will executives Chuck Armstrong (Mariners), Paul Beeston (Blue Jays), Bill DeWitt (Cardinals) and Dave Montgomery (Phillies).

No current players or union executives and no members of the umpiring community were included, though both factions likely would have to approve any changes proposed by the consortium.

“We can’t have every constituency involved at first,” Selig said. “With the experience we have in this group, we’ve touched on everything. There needs to be a genesis to this process, and this is it.”

Committee members will be free to propose discussion on any subject relating to on-field operations, and that could include all sorts of issues - from the size of the strike zone to altering interleague play to shortening the regular season. During the conference call, La Russa and Schuerholz mentioned elimination of the designated hitter as an issue they would like to see discussed.

Though no timetable was given for implementation of any changes, the committee plans to meet either in person or over the phone throughout the season, with a concerted effort to make concrete recommendations in an expedited manner.

“It’s a matter of priorities,” La Russa said. “And what bigger priority for any of us than what benefits the game?”