Last Thursday marked what would have been opening day for Major League Baseball 2020.

Obviously, baseball season is on hold just like every other thing in our lives right now. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, baseball was my first love and it fills those warm summer days with the smell of peanuts, popcorn, and hot dogs, plus leather, bubble gum, and freshly cut grass, and of course the sounds of mitts popping, bats cracking, and ballpark organs(OK, so that was so 1979 of me).

Since there are no games for the foreseeable future, I’ll take a different route for my 2020 MLB preview. With all this downtime it’s a chance to examine baseball and present changes that would better the game. Most of these ideas would be laughed off by the powers that be, but that surely doesn’t mean they are bad suggestions. Unlike those powers that be, with my process I don’t put money first.

Let me throw out my first pitch.

⚾️Contraction⚾️

Baseball has numerous problems, but the biggest one is a lack of major league talent. Even the best teams have one or two pitchers that aren’t major league caliber. The worst teams have five or six, plus a position player or two that aren’t ready to be in the big leagues. All this does is reduce the quality of play across baseball. Less poor players would make for better competition, more excitement, and quicker games.

The last time a team was dropped from a major sports league was the NHL’s Cleveland Barons in 1978. The original Baltimore Bullets of the NBA fell by the wayside in 1954, and the NFL’s Dallas Texans did the same in 1952. None of these teams, however, were actually contracted. They just went belly up financially and ceased to exist. No league is interested in contracting teams. The saying goes something like more teams means more fans, which means more money.

Maybe Rob Manfred, baseball’s commissioner, should take a good look at Tampa or Miami. Many nights you can literally count the fans in each team’s home stadium. The Rays, a playoff participant last year, averaged 14,552 fans per game. This placed them next to last with only the miserable Marlins averaging less(10,016). The bottom line is Florida is for spring training. Nobody in Florida cares about either team.

Because the players’ union would never go for this, an addendum could be added. Each of the remaining rosters could be increased by two players. This would actually add a couple more major league jobs. Contraction would still maintain its value, by limiting less talented players from seeing the field too much.

Contraction is never going to happen. Tampa will probably move to Montreal eventually. Miami, too, may move to another city at some point. Moving teams does nothing to improve the quality of the game. Contraction would, but unfortunately we all know money talks.

⚾️Increase minor league pay⚾️

This idea would work hand in hand with the contraction idea. More players would be playing at the higher levels of minor league baseball, and with this idea instituted, they would make more money. Minor league players barely make enough to survive. Some live with families in their team’s city. Many need other jobs just to make ends meet. It really is amazing how many hang on for years in the minor leagues, considering the lack of pay.

I know this isn’t the prevailing feeling around the game, but I would be okay with contracting minor league teams as has been proposed. When you get to these short season single A leagues, you are watching players who have little chance of advancing through the minor league system. It would put more of a premium on talent evaluation, especially at the lower levels. I know it would be a blow to the cities and towns where these teams reside, but it would be better for the game to reduce the number of minor league players while increasing the pay of those that remain.

⚾️Schedule changes⚾️

The baseball season is long, too long in fact. So why not do something about that problem? Teams may lose a dollar or two so don’t hold your breath on this idea either.

First, baseball wasn’t meant to be played in March. Go back through the annals of baseball and you will see that baseball’s traditional start is April. Must we change all traditions? They aren’t all bad you know. Plus, why not give yourself the best chance for decent weather, which is necessary because you can’t play all early games in domes and warm weather locales.

Next, the playoffs should not extend beyond the middle of October. That means a few more changes need to be made in scheduling.

Let’s reduce the number of off days during the season, keeping it even for each team. I realize the player’s union won’t be thrilled, but if roster size is increased that should allow for guys to still get a rest when needed. Dare I mention guys like Cal Ripken, Pete Rose, Dave Parker, Steve Garvey, and Dale Murphy didn’t need days off, and I would hazard a guess that many modern guys would be okay with it, too. Just don’t tell their union boss.

Additionally, have each team schedule five double headers per season, two of which should be traditional doubleheaders. When I went to a major league game as a kid, my family always picked a doubleheader day. Fans love them, and always swarm to the ballpark those days. What a team loses in revenue for those doubleheader days they make up for in goodwill with the fans.

Finally, I’ve long thought the one game wildcard was silly. However, if you insist on having two wildcard teams then a one game playoff is suitable. I would prefer one wildcard team, and launching straight into the divisional round of the playoffs. Alas, we all know baseball isn’t going back to less teams. Manfred Mann was blinded by the light, and Rob Manfred is blinded by dollar signs. He is pushing for more playoff teams, and completely idiotic rules for choosing opponents in the playoffs. I’ll let Trevor Bauer deal with that one.

Make these schedule changes and baseball begins when it should, ends when it should, and has less downtime in between.

⚾️Ditch inter league play⚾️

American League vs National League was always reserved for the World Series. It added mystique to the grand finale of the season. That was taken away with the addition of inter league play.

The only positive I can ascertain from this concept is giving each city’s fanbase a chance every few years to see great players such as Mike Trout in person. Otherwise it creates imbalance in schedules from team to team, and it places these games at the end of some teams’ schedule when it would be far better to be playing divisional games.

Instead of trying to force rivalries that don’t exist, scrap inter league games and add games between actual league rivals. Replace the inter league games with two extra series between rivals within your own league. When divisions were realigned the Pirates/Phillies rivalry was permanently sunk. This plan would allow an extra series between these teams in each home ballpark. Furthermore, don’t you think ESPN would slobber over some extra Yankees/Red Sox games?

Admittedly, this plan isn’t perfect because some teams don’t have a natural rival. Some square pegs would still need to be forced in round holes.

If nothing else, get rid of the September inter league games. September should be reserved for potential pennant changing divisional games.

Rid the game of inter league play, regain the mystique of the World Series, and improve chances for meaningful series in September.

⚾️No more instant replay⚾️

If you’ve been reading this column for any time you know I hate instant replay. Baseball is no exception.

I don’t think I can stand another five minute delay to determine whether a base runner’s toe slid off the bag for a millisecond while the fielder was holding the tag. That is most definitely not what replay was injected in to the game for. Plus every close play now brings about a delay for managers to consult with video guys on whether to challenge the play.

I could live with replay(maybe) if they would limit it to fair/foul calls and calls at first base. If you watch baseball, you know that isn’t the case. Not to mention, too many calls are still missed even after replay and the five minute delay.

Get rid of replay and accept the human error.

⚾️Salary cap now⚾️

I saved the best for last. Baseball desperately needs to institute a salary cap.

Actually it is way past time.

Every other major sports league has been working successfully with a salary cap for years. Baseball’s owners have always had the reputation of being old, rich guys who aren’t interested in losing their capitalistic approach to the sport. The networks seem perfectly content kowtowing to the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers. Baseball is supposedly the old guard, while the other sports have more progressive ownership.

I’m not sure all of that is true. What is true is that those leagues understood the value of not eliminating two-thirds of their teams, and thus fans, from having a chance right from the start of the season. Look no further than Pittsburgh where you don’t find an “older guard” than the Rooney family. Granted, Pittsburgh is a small market who benefits from a salary cap. Nevertheless, Dan Rooney realized competitive balance was important to the sport. Smart leaders see the big picture, rather than just what benefits them.

Baseball has too many small to mid market owners who seem content to make their money and not buck the system. The result of this attitude is fans in Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Oakland, Tampa, and more know their teams have to do everything exactly right just to be in contention. All of these teams have made the playoffs at one time or another in the last ten years. Again, they all had to be nearly perfect and find a little luck along the way. In most cases, those teams had short stints of contention. In the meantime, the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers are able to buy their way out of bad decisions.

Pittsburgh and Green Bay are two of the best organizations in professional football. In baseball, even though Milwaukee has been on a good run, both teams are after thoughts.

Why can’t baseball owners see the stupidity in this?

⚾️Two Cent Summary⚾️

Don’t look for any of my changes coming to a town near you.

Baseball is trying, I guess.

They are making attempts to shorten times of games by having a pitch clock, instituting a three batter minimum for pitchers, reducing the instant replay challenge time for managers from 30 seconds to 20, and limiting advertisements between innings. That last one is valuable. There is far too much time between innings. Maybe guys will actually have to hustle out of the dugout to their positions like players of yesteryear did.

I am glad they are trying things, but putting a bandaid on a cannonball wound won’t do much. Why not just implement common sense ideas to make the game better? If you have been a fan of baseball as long as I have then you realize the lack of common sense is destroying the game we love.

Regardless of my pessimism of baseball’s powers that be, I sure would like to see the Boys of Summer play. Baseball is still an important part of our country’s fabric.

Two Cent Takes

Baseball

Right now it seems useless to bother previewing a season that may not take place. What I can do is make some general observations.

Philadelphia Phillies

  • With the Phillies the question is always whether they have enough pitching. The addition of Zach Wheeler is a big upgrade to go with ace Aaron Nola. After those two, everything becomes a huge question mark. Ditto that for a bullpen that is similar to a yo-yo.
  • Bryce Harper needs to strike out less. He is still really good, and is a bat other teams are still fearful of.
  • If this were 2013-14, I’d love the fact that Josh Harrison, Neil Walker, and Andrew McCutchen may all be on the roster. In 2020, not so much.
  • The other question I have about this team is whether they will continue to use frying pans to field the ball.

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Where to start? Well, with the limited season(if at all) they won’t lose 100 games.
  • This is the first year with Travis Williams as club president and Ben Cherington as GM. Obviously they need some time to clean up the mess that was left for them by the previous regime. To my eyes, the quicker they realize a rebuild is in order the better. There are pieces to hang your hat on, but I’m not sure many of them throw the ball.
  • One guy who does throw the ball that could turn out to be a real player is Mitch Keller. He didn’t have a very auspicious debut last year, but a new pitching coach and approach may be the answer for Keller.
  • When you have a team that is clearly overmatched, you want to find guys that could be part of a future winner. In addition to Keller, Pirates fans should hope for Bryan Reynolds to keep blossoming. They can also hope for one or both of Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker to prove a worthy two way shortstop. Wish for a full season(whatever that is) of bombs from Josh Bell, not only to help the Pirates but provide them their best trade chip. Finally, hope for young guns Ke’Bryan Hayes and Oneil Cruz to hit Pittsburgh sooner rather than later.
  • The above is a must because watching Colin Moran and Jarrod “I couldn’t find anywhere better to be” Dyson is like a prison sentence.
  • Bob Nutting still owns the team. Enough said.
Others
  • The Astros will be booed a lot.
  • The Dodgers, in the habit of hoarding players in a non salary cap world, may get no usage out of Mookie Betts.
  • The players will get service time regardless of what happens with this season.
  • If this season does take place aren’t the Dodgers bound to finally get to and win a World Series? Yea, I didn’t think so. Take Gerrit Cole and the New York Yankees.

In the meantime, while waiting out this pandemic and continuing to be as safe as possible, enjoy some great calls from guys who love(d) baseball.

Former Pirates announcer Lanny Frattare calling a “No Doubt About It” Brian Giles walk off home run off flamethrower Billy Wagner.

How about an assortment of calls from current Pirates play by play announcer Greg Brown. Let’s call it Brownie’s Best Of…

Kudos to both Greg and Lanny for mustering excitement like that night in and night out with some teams that weren’t very good.

Let’s not forget the guys on the other side of the state, and their iconic play by play man Harry Kalas. Enjoy these two beauties.

“Mitchy Poo”! Tremendous stuff from a legend, and that’s coming from a Pirates fan.

A Penny For My Final Thought…

Well, we are all coping with the virus, #Shutdown2020, no sports, etc. Last week I showed you some images from my old school Atari game system. They were Centipede and Frogger, and it was far too easy. Let’s turn it up a notch this week. Check out the image below and name that old school video game.

So, there’s more to quarantine life than video games. Thankfully Netflix has produced some quality television programming. Take, for instance, the documentary Tiger King, one of the ugliest, horrifyingly stupid, wonderful, glorious pieces of television ever made. The cast of characters that made up this show is…well, just watch the show if you haven’t yet. After considerable thought, I decided that this crew would make the perfect coaching staff for a college football team.

Let me introduce you to my new coaches.

 John Reinke would be the perfect quarterback coach. After losing both legs while landing feet first while bungee jumping, who better to teach a young quarterback the proper footwork.

 Saff is our running backs coach. After losing her lower arm while feeding a tiger, nobody would be better at teaching backs the proper stiff arm technique.

 Tim Stark will be our social media director. These days that’s an important position. Clearly, Tim won’t take any crap from rival teams and will help fuel the fire to keep players(on the other team) motivated.

 Jeff Lowe will coach our wide receivers. He’s clearly gangsta and can handle the diva attitudes that come with a lot of high end wide receivers these days.

 James Garretson will fill the bill as strength and conditioning coach. He has the right stuff to add bulk in all the right places for his players. An added plus is he will take the players out for fun activities. He will also provide the strippers for all team social functions.

 Doc Antle is going to be our recruiting coordinator. He can host players at Myrtle Beach, and gets away with some questionable methods for a long time before getting found out. This last trait is obviously key in today’s world of recruiting.

 Allen Glover is slotted in to be our new linebacker coach. A linebacker needs an assassin’s mentality, and nobody can get that drilled into the players’ heads like Glover.

 John Finlay is going to be our defensive line coach. Finlay can get linemen to understand better than anyone that even though you might like filling the gap, sometimes you have to go with a stick move.

 Rick Kirkham is the new quality control coach. After leading Joe Exotic TV, nobody knows quality quite like Rick.

 Eric Cowie is going to double as equipment manager and the guy who holds the cord to the head coach’s headset. He is taking the second job so he has something to hold on to and not get lost during the game.

 Carole Baskin takes on the task of being the “Get Back” coach. Her job will be to keep players and coaches away from the sideline and avoid penalty. Players and coaches are likely to listen to Carole or risk disappearing.

 Joe Exotic is the first assistant coach. The hat, the earrings, the famous quotes, and his tight relationship with God makes Joe a prime candidate for a head coaching job as soon as he gets freed up. For now he will assist our head coach from afar.

There is only one coach in the country that could possibly handle a crew like this.

Ed Orgeron has the personality to deal with this crazy crew. LSU had quite a bit of coaching turnover after last year, and they are the Tigers after all. It sort of gives a whole new meaning to “Hold That Tiger”.

I can’t imagine there are people that haven’t watched this fine piece of television yet, but if you haven’t give it a look. This crazy Final Thought will make more sense—not much, but a little.

It is only week three of having no sports and being locked down. It is very likely to get much, much wackier as the days and weeks pass.

Please follow the guidelines, be safe, continue to show kindness to others, and keep yourself busy no matter how ridiculous the activity(see example above).

Just my two cents…