Replay, rosters and the nine rules that baseball needs to change
It's time for baseball to use tennis' Hawkeye system for boundary calls
Teams should have to use a fixed roster limit of 25 for all regular season games
The League Championship Series should go back to being best-of-five
Baseball is the greatest of games because it is the most democratic and is played at its basic core the same way it was one hundred and fifty years ago. You can't get a Jack Taylor of Grinnell in baseball. Everybody in the lineup must take his turn in proper order.
That said, the game continues to evolve in many ways. The baseball itself is dead and then livened. You could throw a ball with tobacco juice slathered on it until you couldn't. An entire game between St. Louis and Brooklyn in 1908 was played with one baseball; today a typical game requires about 70 baseballs, all with nary a scuff or mark. You couldn't have an instant replay 20 years ago because some games were not even televised, or crudely so; today every game is produced in riveting high definition.
Think of baseball as a living thing, an organic garden. It still needs care and weeding and pruning to flourish. Baseball is overdue for some pruning -- nothing too major, but changes to the rules of how the game is played to keep it going strong while still honoring its heritage.
When it comes to areas of improvement, I've come up with a starting nine: nine rules changes baseball should implement immediately. I have named each of the proposed rules in honor of the person most associated with the need for change.
1. The Phil Cuzzi Rule. Remember when Cuzzi, the umpire working the leftfield line in 2009 ALDS Game 2, ruled a ball hit by Joe Mauer of the Twins as a foul ball? Everyone with the benefit of one quick replay knew the ball was fair and Mauer should have been awarded a ground rule double. It makes no sense that baseball uses replay for fair/foul calls on potential home run balls but not on anything from home plate to the foul pole.
Why is it that Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle, can install the Hawkeye replay system on all of his courts at his non-major tennis tournament in California and baseball doesn't want to install a similar system in all of its 30 parks? We keep hearing about how financially healthy the game is, but nobody wants to lay out the cash for the hardware for a proven and simple system. And so Johan Santana gets a no-hitter with an invisible asterisk because of a blown call on a fair ball called foul off the bat of Carlos Beltran. And baseball lags behind tennis in adapting to technology and viewers' expectations.
While we're at it, replay also should be expanded immediately to trapped balls, and even further expansion of replay should be considered in earnest. (The messy stuff is about avoiding a rinky dink system of bean bags, challenges and gamesmanship -- just ask Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz.) At the heart of any replay system should be a fifth umpire to serve off field as the video review umpire -- ready to correct any call that needs correcting as quickly as possible. Just think of it as umpires getting together to get a call right, just as they do now, only with a fifth umpire joining them via wireless microphone and the help of an HD monitor. Umpires would become part of five-man crews in which the guy who works home plate one night gets the video review assignment the next night. In that manner we still get umpires making all on-field calls and we can keep the game moving as quickly as possible.
2. The Doug Melvin Rule. For years the Brewers general manager has been instigating conversation among general managers about a uniform roster size in September. As it stands now, teams can increase their roster from 25 to as many as 40 players with the addition of September call-ups. That leads to teams playing with different roster sizes -- say, 33 against 29 -- and too many available options for managers (five lefties in the bullpen, four catchers, multiple pinch-running specialists, etc.). It means pennant races are decided under rules otherwise not in place all season, and some games are decided because one team has more available players than the other. The Brewers are still smarting about how St. Louis even qualified for the 2011 postseason: The Cardinals won several close and long games down the stretch because manager Tony La Russa squeezed the most out of expanded rosters. Hello, Adron Chambers.
It's time for general managers to stop talking about it and do something about it. It's a quick and logical fix. Teams should play all games with the same number of players. I advocate using a 25-man roster all year long. The difference is that in September you can call up as many players as you want but you must designate a game roster each day of 25 players. A manager, for instance, might leave off his other four starting pitchers, for instance, to include four September call-ups. Some GMs have advocated a standard but expanded roster for September games -- say, a daily roster of 28. Twenty-five is plenty, and brings uniformity to the season.
3. The Barry Bonds Rule. You want to wear body armor to gain an advantage over the pitcher? Fine, go ahead and wear a huge elbow guard that enables you to hang over the plate and disrespect inside fastballs that otherwise would move your feet. But you cannot take your base when a pitch hits a piece of your emboldening equipment, no more than if a pitch hit your bat. Any pitch that strikes a piece of body armor equipment simply is ruled a ball and the at-bat continues. No hit batter.
4. The J.C. Martin Rule. Get rid of the 45-foot running lane to first base. It creates unnecessary arguments, requires a runner to establish an indirect path to first base and affords fielders a clean look at throwing to first base that does not apply to any other base. As it stands now, a runner must veer into the running lane, which is in foul territory, then veer back to his left at the last moment to touch the base. According to Rule 6.05(k), he can be called out if he is not in the running lane even if the throw doesn't hit him -- all that is required for interference is an umpire's judgment that he inhibited the fielder's ability to catch the ball. At second, third and home, a runner, within reason of his established baseline, can intentionally adjust his running path specifically to inhibit the fielder's ability to catch the ball. Why does first base get this Most Favored Nation treatment?
The Mets won Game 4 of the 1969 World Series when Martin was struck by a throw from Orioles pitcher Pete Richert while not in the running lane. (The Orioles did not argue; their manager, Earl Weaver, was ejected earlier in the game for arguing balls and strikes.) Shea Stadium, the site of Game 4, did not have the chalk lines of the running lane, even though Rule 6.05(k) was in the rule book. After the Martin episode, major league baseball ordered all parks to show the 45-foot running lane.