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Here's free advice on how to put new life in baseball

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Rochester Business Journal
August 22, 2014

My candidacy to become the next commissioner of Major League Baseball was a big swing and a miss. In retrospect, I likely fanned because I wanted to be a commissioner for the fans, not the owners.

Though disappointed, I am happy to report that the guy who got the job—Rob Manfred—grew up about a block from me in Rome, N.Y., just an hour’s drive northwest of Cooperstown. Although I don’t know Rob, I’ve followed his career and admired his behind-the-scenes work in bringing labor peace to a sport once notorious for work stoppages. Rob also instituted the policies that finally addressed baseball’s performance-enhancing drug epidemic.

I’ve always supported my fellow Romans, so I’m happy to offer Rob some free advice on how to fix the sport I love. Since there are nine innings in a regulation baseball game, here are nine solutions in inverse order of importance:

9. Reinstitute in-season exhibition games between parent clubs and their minor-league affiliates. As someone who witnessed huge crowds in Syracuse when the New York Yankees came to town and in Rochester when the Baltimore Orioles visited, I realize the importance of taking your game to the hinterlands. It gives fans in minor-league burgs an opportunity to see the Mickey Mantles and Cal Ripkens up close. And while we’re at it, revive the Hall of Fame Game at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, too. Yes, the players’ union will squawk because they’ll lose a day off. Too bad. They get three to four months off each year.

8. Bring back doubleheaders. If you had regularly scheduled twin bills, you could end the regular season in September and prevent your post-season from creeping into November, when snowballs occasionally compete with fastballs.

7. End the ridiculous policy of the All-Star Game determining home-field advantage in the World Series. Something this important should not be decided by an exhibition game. Teams with the best regular-season records deserve home-field advantage.

6. Banish the designated hitter. There’s much more strategy involved without the DH. It’s absurd that one league has it and the other doesn’t. It’s as if the NFC has a rule allowing 12 players on offense while the AFC allows 11.

5. Put Pete Rose on the Hall of Fame ballot and let the writers and veterans committees decide whether he deserves enshrinement. Also put Shoeless Joe Jackson in the Hall. The sweet swinger with the .356 career batting average was banned for life after he and seven Chicago White Sox teammates allegedly threw the 1919 World Series. Jackson has been dead since 1951, so he has served his lifetime ban—and then some. It’s time to forgive his transgressions. Charles Comiskey, the ChiSox owner whose draconian behavior planted the seed for this scandal, is in Cooperstown. Shoeless Joe should be there, too.

4. Do a better job of marketing your superstars. California Angels super-duper star Mike Trout may be the most gifted athlete in American sports, but he’s light-years behind LeBron James, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and others in name recognition. Baseball needs to employ some Madison Avenue wizards to get the word out that Trout is this generation’s Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.

3. Put more teeth into your PED suspensions. At least a year without pay for a first-time violation. Two years without pay for a second positive test. Three strikes and you’re out—forever.

2. Grow a new generation of fans. Regularly offer free tickets as well as food and souvenir vouchers to kids under 12. Start playoff and World Series games at 1, 4 or 7 o’clock, so kids (and adults, too) can actually stay up and watch them. Pump more money into youth programs, especially in the inner cities, where current and former major-league players and managers should conduct weekly clinics and mingle with the kids.

1. Pick up the pace. Today’s games slog along like glaciers. It takes more than three hours to complete an average contest—30 minutes longer than in 1981. This problem can be addressed simply by enforcing the rules on the books, which state that a pitcher must deliver the ball 20 seconds after receiving it back from the catcher. So make hurlers do that, and prohibit batters from stepping out of the box to adjust their gloves, their helmets, their cups. If a pitcher doesn’t throw the pitch in the allotted time, call a ball. If the batter is stalling, call a strike. Also, enforce the strike zone (yes, Mr. Umpire, you can call strikes above the belt) and restrict catcher-pitcher conferences to one 30-second visit per inning. Do these things and you’ll have crisply played games that are 30 to 40 minutes shorter.

Extra points from the sports world


 It appears that Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula and his wife, Kim, are the front-runners in the Bills ownership sweepstakes. Unlike most of the bidders that have come to light, the Pegulas apparently have done everything the right way throughout the process, including keeping their mouths shut. Their ownership certainly would be good news for Bills fans, because they would be committed to keeping the team in Western New York. They also may have the financial wherewithal to foot the lion’s share of the bill for a new stadium, thereby easing what could to be a huge burden on the taxpayers.

 I could see the PGA Women’s Championship being played at Oak Hill Country Club several years from now with the proviso that another men’s PGA Championship would come to the Pittsford golf course a few years later. There’s also been talk of Rochester hosting the 2021 Solheim Cup, the women’s version of the Ryder Cup competition between U.S. and European golfers.

You can listen to award-winning columnist and best-selling author Scott Pitoniak from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on 95.7 FM, AM 950 or online at espnrochester.com.

8/22/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


What You're Saying 

Frank Cicha at 5:39:53 AM on 8/23/2014
Great ideas. Great article. You would have made a great Commissioner.

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