B.A.S....Baseball After Selig
Prayers have been answered. Baseball fans have been saved. The new commissioner countdown has begun.
Bud Selig's tenure atop Major League Baseball has been anything but successful, with the 1994 strike leading the way. While the game itself has brought fans back (with the '97 Great Home Run Race and the 2001 World Series), Bud was the one to first deter them. It us essential for changes to be made, so the Nation's Pastime stops its backward trend and turns bullish.
While I acknowledge the commissioner's job is the hardest in baseball (my resume won't be sent in), there are obvious blemishes in the game. The largest is the economic system, which lags behind that of the NFL and NBA. Restraints on owners must be in place, so that teams both stay in competition and minimize losses.
Another poster child for Selig's ugly career is the current state of Los Expos. I've stayed away in the past from writing on this, but have deep feelings on the subject. Moving unsuccessful teams to new locations isn't a bad idea, but split schedules are horrendous.
Finally, nothing demands more change than the draft. Baseball America and Mark Prior have popularized the amateur draft to its highest interest level yet. But baseball's lack of self-promotion (and a formidable marketing department) has delayed its emergence upon your TV screen.
CHANGING THE ECONOMIC SYSTEM
$150 million. That immense number is the rough estimate of the difference in payroll between the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. While the Rays are making significant strides, its virtually impossible for a $20 million payroll to reach one of $170M. The Commissioner's office must amend this problem, as nothing would help promote the game more than 30 competitive teams.
I tend to understand the hesitance to create a hard salary cap, there are more ways than luxury tax to help competitive balance. In my mind, there is nothing that would help more than a minimum payroll. While restricting the Yankees to one day have a $200M payroll will be difficult, telling Devil Rays' ownership to add $20M or be sold isn't. Here's the numbers that should be made if it were done today:
In other words, give teams one year to create an economic plan, then make them spend. Giving the Devil Rays $20M to go after players like Mike Cameron and Matt Clement would not only help competitive balance, but likely increase Tampa Bay attendance. These are obvious rough estimates, but wouldn't be difficult. Then, as the average payroll increases, as would the minimum.
What happens if owners fail to comply? The first time the team should get a warning, a slap on the wrist. The second time the ownership is fined, and Baseball looks into selling the team. The third year the team is sold with profits going to Major League Baseball, and not the former owners. Harsh, but necessary.
LOS EXPOS AND REALIGNMENT
News Item: The Players Association has rejected Major League Baseball's ploy for another split schedule during the 2004 season.
For a team to properly compete, basic things must be given to them. Among those include September call-ups and 81 home games. These rights were taken away from the 2003 Expos, and likely cost them a playoff berth. That fact is disgraceful to baseball, and precautions must be made so that never happens again.
In doing so, the Expos should be moved to the right home, as should other failing teams. Here's what I would do, in order:
1. Move the Expos to Washington D.C. There have been groups in D.C. investigating bringing a team to the nation's capital for years. Its one of the country's largest cities, and one of its most important. The team could play in RFK during 2004 and 2005, and a new stadium could likely be completed by 2006. Peter Angelos shouldn't scare Major League Baseball away, he's just a greedy owner looking for another dollar.
2. Move Tampa Bay to Mexico City. When talks of contraction were happening, the Devil Rays were eliminated because of an ugly 30-year lease. While this problem would likely stand in the way of relocation, 2 teams can't survive in Florida. Yes, the Florida Marlins can, but not a team in Tampa. The commissioner's office should look into the richest people in Mexico, and hope to put a team in the largest city in North America. After a trip to Mexico, I have never doubted a team could sell 30,000 tickets per game (at least).
3. Realign. This notion seems to scare Major League Baseball, but it shouldn't. The NFL's successful transition to 8 divisions is proof that it works. I think it's important that every division has five teams. Here's how the affected divisions work out (changes capitalized):
AL EAST: Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, SENATORS
AL WEST: Mariners, A's, Rangers, Angels, MEXICO CITY
NL EAST: Braves, Phillies, Marlins, Mets, PIRATES
NL CENTRAL: Astros, Cubs, Cardinals, Reds, Brewers
The present-day Expos would have to become an American League team, but I don't think that's a problem. Mexico City is only 929 miles from Arlington, which is shorter than the distance between New York and Tampa (1025 miles). The realignment would allow the Pirates and Phillies to start a Pennsylvania rivalry, and would give NL Central rivals (Cubs and Cardinals) more games against each other.
4. Future Expansion- If baseball was to start succeeding again, there are four places I would expand to. I don't see this happening any time in the future, but it is something baseball should always have off-hand. Here's my top 4:
1- Las Vegas (Pete Rose as owner?)
3- San Juan
4- New Jersey (3rd NY team=East Coast Bias)
And that, my friends, is how baseball realigns and relocates itself for success. I can guarantee ownership groups could be had in the matter of hours for both D.C. and M.C.
JUNE AMATEUR DRAFT
I may see this as more of a flaw than other people, but I despise the way baseball runs its draft. There are three things that must change: who sees it, who gets drafted, and who does the drafting.
First, baseball must televise this event. Baseball America's website had a busy server in June, due to excessive visitors. The Baseball Primer discussion list was the largest I had ever seen. There is legit interest in this event, and ESPN (or at least ESPN 2) is better off showing this than the World Billiards Championships. Its insane to believe that people would watch every round, but to show the first five would be smart. It's probably wrong to start glorifying high schoolers, but the NBA already does it, and it would probably help interest in college baseball as well.
Next, if the event was to be televised, it would also need to be dramatized. The drama of draft-day trades in both the NFL and NBA keeps me glued to my TV screen every year. One could argue that those two leagues can see the results of these trades immediately, as football draft picks play right away. But while baseball's picks don't play right away, it would likely increase interest in minor league baseball, as people would want to see how their last trade acquisition is performing in the Southern League.
Is there anything that perplexes you more than international signings? I mean, was it big news to any of you when Sammy Sosa signed with the Rangers, or when the Expos inked Vlad? It wasn't to me. But what would happen if Sosa had been the first pick in the Major League draft? I'll answer that: then you would have known about Guerrero and Sammy long before they hit the minors. For this reason, a worldwide draft should happen. My belief is that the Japanese professional players should be the only ones not included. That means the Yankees could still sign the next Hideki Matsui, but the next Jose Contreras would have to be drafted.
In conclusion, there aren't many things I look forward to more than B.A.S. Let's hope the next commissioner realizes the most basic fact in this business: the fans come first. There will always be bickering between rich players and richer owners, but its us fans that pay their bills.