Here are changes I would make if I were MLB commissioner. I started writing this in 2020 and realized it was doing no good sitting there as an unpublished draft!
Lift All Blackout Restrictions
The dumbest, most archaic rule in MLB is making it really hard and/or expensive for fans to watch their favorite teams. As a Texas resident, I can watch my favorite team, the Twins, whenever I want. But my friends in Minnesota can’t. Likewise, I am unable to watch Astros or Rangers games unless I subscribe to a premium cable package. I understand cable channels are paying a ton of money for the rights to broadcast games and they need local fans to watch their networks’ advertisements to recoup those steep fees, but there must be some sort of compromise. Baseball fans in Iowa, I believe, have the Twins, Royals, Cardinals, Brewers, Cubs, and White Sox games all blacked out. Imagine if they were all playing other teams on a given night, an Iowa fan would have access to only half the games on MLB.TV. Just kill it. If you want to grow the game and appeal to younger fans, the local blackout restrictions must be lifted.
Here’s my most radical idea I’ve been pitching for years, and now it sounds like it’s actually being tested in an independent league. I really honestly wonder if someone got the idea from one of my many tweets on the subject. Both leagues should have a DH, but it must be tied directly to the starting pitcher. The two act as one entity. If the starting pitcher leaves the game, the DH must also leave the game. A new DH can enter the game for each reliever, if desired. Otherwise the relievers would need to bat for themselves. This allows a little bit of NL-type strategy to remain, and makes games more interesting strategy-wise as the game progresses. Don’t want to lose your fearsome DH for his next at-bat in the 7th inning? Then you’d better keep the starter out there. (Likewise if the manager chooses to pinch-hit for the DH, the starter must leave the game, for they are adjoined at the hip.)
Replays are great, but it seems like they still get an absurd number of easy calls wrong. Stuff we can see on TV plain as day still isn’t overturned because umpires in New York think the umpire in person must have seen something in person that cameras didn’t capture. No, that’s stupid. If you don’t want to show up a fellow ump by overturning his call, get some impartial party involved in the replay booth. A former player, manager, etc. Sure, there are actually times where video doesn’t clearly capture anything conclusive. But most of the time in my experience watching baseball, it’s pretty easy to come away with a conclusion.
Mic the Home Plate Ump
The NFL does things right with the referee announcing penalties to the crowd. Why can’t baseball do something similar and let us know exactly what they’re reviewing, rather than leaving everyone to guess? Usually it’s fairly obvious, but about 5% of the time it’s something really unusual and no one knows what’s going on. Just turn on a mic and tell everyone what you’re reviewing! And then announce where the runners are placed, etc.
Robot Home Plate Ump
I bet if the technology to digitally call balls and strikes existed in the 1860s, baseball founders would have used it. It seems the only reason a real human is still calling balls and strikes despite accuracy well below 100% is for the sake of tradition and not removing the human element. But now the technology exists, and would get close to 100% of calls right. So use it!
The rule to start a runner on second in every extra inning was fine for a pandemic-shortened season where we were literally concerned with life and death, but it feels ridiculous now. At the very least, continue playing extra inning under the normal rules for 3 more innings. Maybe in the 12th inning, do the runner at second rule. For me personally, I would leave it to the home team’s discretion. The home team manager can decide beginning in the 12th inning whether or not to start the runner at second, and continue on every inning after that whether or not to employ the rule.
Same deal for doubleheaders. In 2020, sure, we had to make some adjustments. But in a 162-game season, things need to go back to the old way. 9 innings each.
26 players is a good number, with teams able to carry along a few extras at all times in the event of untimely injury or something like COVID exposure. But the thing I hate about that current taxi squad is they still cancel games when a player tests positive instead of just replacing him with a taxi squad player who is traveling along for that sole purpose!
Pitching Changes and Bullpen Carts
The new rule where a pitcher must face at least three batters feels a little forced, but in 2020 it didn’t seem to make a huge difference. If you’re worried about games running long when mid-inning pitching changes take place, the first place to start is by cutting down the amount of time it takes for a reliever to make his way out to the mound! Why does the manager need to laboriously meander out to the mound and physically take the ball? Just call the reliever and have him ride in on a bullpen cart, with a 90-second timer going. Get his ass on the mound, throw 3 or 4 warm-ups, and resume play.
Starting Pitchers Qualifying for Wins
If a starting pitcher can take a loss by pitching 0.0 innings, why can’t they qualify for a win by leaving the game at any point with a lead, especially with the new “opener” role being employed occasionally? Having to pitch a minimum of five innings to qualify for a win is arbitrary and archaic. Strike down the rule completely. If a pitcher leaves the game in the bottom of the first with one out and his team is up 1-0, he can qualify for a win.
My initial thought on this is that you should be able to put nine players on the field in any way you like as long as there is a pitcher and catcher. The other seven fielders should be able to play anywhere they want. However, with the steep offensive decline in baseball, with all the advantages going towards pitchers and defense, I am hesitant about this now. I don’t really know where you draw the line or how you suddenly and arbitrarily determine what is legal and illegal, but maybe a team is limited to an extreme defensive shift only after the first out is recorded, or something. Tough one.
There are too many off-days, allowing teams to get by with only 3 starting pitchers in the playoffs (i.e. Madison Bumgarner carrying the Giants in 2014). That’s an entirely different game than was played for 162 games in the regular season. If they play games basically every day during the regular season, it should remain the same in the playoffs. Take a day off in between series, but no days off within a postseason series.
2 More Teams
32 is a nicer, rounder number of teams. That could easily be divided out to 16 teams per league, 4 divisions of 4 teams each per league. Oakland should lose its team to Portland, and expansion teams should be awarded to two of the following cities: Montreal, Austin, Memphis, Charlotte, San Juan, and Indianapolis.