Trietley: Baseball needs to change

By Greg Trietley

So how about that World Series?

For another year in a row, Americans have turned away from… So how about that World Series?

For another year in a row, Americans have turned away from baseball’s postseason in favor of football — both professional and college — and even hockey.

Game 1 between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers drew an 8.7 Nielsen television audience rating last Wednesday. Compare that to the 1995 World Series between the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians, which received a 16.4 rating, and the 1984 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and the San Diego Padres, which received a 27.7.

Baseball is trending downward, but it can be saved.

The National Hockey League saw its popularity bottom out during the 2004-05 lockout, but it came back with a salary cap, a shootout and a new philosophy — and now it’s thriving.

While Major League Baseball doesn’t yet have the impetus to make the drastic alterations that the NHL made, it would be wise to plan now for changes that absolutely must happen down the road.

Change #1: Yes, the league needs a salary cap, but it also needs a cap floor.

Baseball needs a salary cap, and people have clamored for one for years now. Just as importantly, though, it needs a cap floor.

The Florida Marlins turn a healthy profit by spending next to no money on players, having next to no one show up to games and collecting money because of revenue sharing from big-market teams. A cap floor tied to revenue would force every franchise to field a competitive team.

In the NHL’s salary-capped world, proactive teams lock up young stars early, and the difference between Cup contention and missing the playoffs is one good or bad offseason. Baseball should emulate that formula.

Change #2: Push the fences back.

The home run grew tiresome by 2002. An emphasis on the long ball led to an influx of one-dimensional power hitters that struggled to shag fly balls and couldn’t steal second base even if the pitcher fell asleep. Players didn’t need speed to be great.

Every time 5-foot-10, 195-pound second baseman Skip Schumaker steps to the plate for St. Louis, he stands out because he looks like an actual person — not some bloated monster that requires a custom hat size.

If the league mandated that franchises push back their stadiums’ outfield walls, complete players would reign once more. Outfielders with range would have more value than the chubby power hitter batting .240. Franchises will bemoan the potential loss of some bleacher seats, but on most nights those are empty anyway.

For stadiums that can’t reconfigure to new dimensions, high walls like Fenway Park’s work, too. Make the home run a true feat again. Fans don’t ask each other, “Has anybody ever hit it over the short porch in right?”

Change #3: Enforce Rule 8.04.

Rule 8.04 states, “When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call Ball.”

Stadiums shouldn’t have to play musical interludes between pitches. Rule 8.04 speeds the game up. Enforce it, and add additional time limits that encompass all pitches — not just ones with the bases empty. Introduce rules that prevent hitters from tediously stepping out of the batter’s box between every delivery, too.

Change #4: Design a shorter, player-friendly schedule.

Fewer regular-season games encourage a smaller, four-man pitching rotation that concentrates talent. Will anyone mind if Ross Ohlendorf doesn’t have to make a spot start next season?

Owners will lament the loss of revenue, but consider it a trade-off to the salary cap and de-emphasis of the home run already forced on the players in this column. Players stay healthier — no more dog days of summer — and the quality of each game improves.

Currently, the 162-game schedule wears on both the players and the fans. By the time the postseason rolls around, everybody is ready to move on to football. With a redesigned schedule and a reinvigorated sport, maybe someone will pay attention.