Letter to the new commissioner
Posted August 18, 2014
Dear Mr. Manfred
First, let me congratulate you on your appointment to the Commissioner's office. Only nine men before you have had this position, and while the NFL -- and to a certain extent, the NBA -- has moved ahead of Major League Baseball in the hearts and minds of more American sports fans, you have now been trusted with the greatest game ever invented. As someone who grew up in love with the sounds and smells of the sport, I may be somewhat biased, as not everyone shares my feelings about the National Pastime. However, it is undeniable that our game is more woven into our nation's history, it's trials and triumphs, than any of the other major sports.
It is your job to oversee it's continued growth and prosperity and, most importantly, to once again make it a game that our children will embrace. Hopefully, they'll pass it along to their children as we move into the middle of the 21st century.
I'm sure you know how big the shoes are that you are being asked to fill. Allan "Bud" Selig was arguably baseball's greatest ever commissioner. He wasn't tasked with wrestling the game back from gamblers and restoring its honor for the nation, as Kennesaw Mountain Landis was in the wake of the 1919 Black Sox scandal. But then again, Landis was instrumental in keeping intact baseball's color line, blocking several attempts to integrate the game before his death in 1944.
I know Selig was in charge when the 1994 players strike robbed us of the World Series, the first autumn without a Fall Classic in 90 years. But that's not as bad as keeping out an entire race of people, and robbing us of witnessing the likes of Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard and Satchel Paige in his prime. Bud made a mistake, he listened to the wrong people, and he was a bit of a hard-line owner back in the day as well. They thought they could strong-arm the Players Association into accepting a series of financial conditions, but in the end it left a hole in the sport, and his legacy, that can never be repaired.
Over the next two decades, under Selig's leadership -- and with your help, I should point out -- the game has enjoyed labor peace. On the field we've seen expansion, division and league realignment and the advent of the Wild Card. The latter being one of the best moves to the game's structure in almost a half century. Almost every change to the game was met with resistance, from the media and public alike, but there is no arguing that almost every alteration to the sport has been instrumental in helping to grow the game into a $9 billion industry.
That's not to mean the job is done. Selig did well to clean up the game off the field, exposing the dirty, steroid culture that had engulfed the sport since…since, well, we really don't know when it actually began. But, we know it was there. The data is in regarding performance enhancing drugs, both factual and anecdotal. And, we also know that the game was complicit at the highest level, as the players weren't the only ones to enjoy the benefits of exploding home run totals and offensive output. Baseball got rich, too, thanks to the dozens of heads conveniently turned in the opposite direction as players and their cousins were rubbing, shooting and dropping every -ine, -one and designer -oid they could find.
Thanks to the single toughest performance enhancing drug policy in major team sports, Bud helped to salvage his own legacy even as he was taking steel wool to the games.
Now, it's up to you. To continue the work of the last 20 years, but more so to take the game forward. To unify the leagues under one set of on-field rules, we either have the designated hitter or we don't. We can't continue to allow one team to be at a disadvantage in every single World Series game as we've seen since the inception of the DH in the mid-1970s. National League teams aren't constructed to have them and American League teams who rely on them are forced to hand them a glove in the most critical of games. It doesn't make sense. Fundamentally, I'm a National League guy, but today the game probably needs the extra bat that the designated hitter provides.
Also, Mr. Manfred, if you could, let's pick up the pace of play. I could argue that the sport doesn't need, and hasn't benefited from the use of instant replay at all. I could argue that the game more mirrors our own personal, day-to-day reality than any other sport and thus was never intended to be perfect. I could argue that dealing with life's inherent unfairness builds character. I could argue that the game has simply moved its arguments from safe or out, ball or strike, fair or foul, to "clear" or "inconclusive" and "he was" or "he wasn't" blocking the plate. And, we've all but eliminated a good, on-field, Earl Weaver, hat-turned-backwards, nose-to-nose, spittle-flying, dirt-kicking, expletive-hurling argument.
But I won't. Replay is here, it isn't going away. So, let's get it quicker, take the decision upstairs in each ballpark to a designated replay official and let them simply inform on-field umpires of the mistake as quickly as possible. No challenges, no conferences, no disappearing under the stands or going to headsets. Right or wrong, safe or out, fair or foul. Let's play ball.
Let's also put an end to batters stepping out of the batters box after every pitch. Batting gloves don't loosen that much simply due to the breeze as a 92 MPH fastball hits the catcher's mitt.
There are too many pitching changes. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too many pitching changes. Let's limit teams to 11 pitchers on the active roster, most teams are carrying a dozen, many have 13! Eight relievers available every day invites more pitching changes. That slows the game down and gives people another reason to change the channel.
However, while all of the above is important to the on-field product, the most critical move for you just might be more ceremonial in nature. You see, while baseball worships it's past accomplishments -- to a fault if you ask me -- it uses a system of selective reverence that doesn't serve the game well.
I implore you to use the bully pulpit available to the Office of the Commissioner to force the Hall of Fame to admit aloud what we all have known for more than a decade. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and eventually Alex Rodriguez are among the greatest players of all time. They're not all on equal footing among the game's elite, but they all belong in Cooperstown. Those players, and hundreds more like them, contributed to an era of the sport that saw unprecedented popularity and excitement.
Yet the stodgy, rigid and holier than thou attitude of the Hall of Fame and it's voting body continue to ignore the game's history. Whether they realize it or not, they're doing the sport a disservice even as -- in their minds -- they are protecting the game's integrity.
There is no question that performance enhancing agents are a scar on baseball, an embarrassing chapter some would obviously like to skip. But, we don't get to ignore the parts of our history we're uncomfortable with. I think you, as commissioner, have a unique opportunity to remind those that are currently pretending to be the stewards of the sport that the official title is The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
It's time the voters and the Hall got off their very high horse and recognize that the walls of Cooperstown are lined with various scoundrels, cheaters and known racists. While I'm not absolving the steroid users, many of which probably would not have been under consideration for enshrinement without their aid, the game was laden with chemical cheaters over the last 25 years. However, players still need to be judged in relation to their peers as well as history.
As an example, Frank "Home Run" Baker hit 96 home runs in a 13-year career, never hitting more than 12 in a single season. Those are hardly gaudy numbers for a player with the nickname "Home Run," but from 1911-14 Baker led the American League in that category each time, with totals of 11, 10, 12 and nine. If Baker was on the ballot today there's little chance of him getting elected, but when judged against the players of his era (he was elected in the mid-1950s), it's a lot easier to make the case for a .307 lifetime hitter who led the league in runs batted in twice and also added a .363 average in almost 100 World Series plate appearances.
Mr. Commissioner, use your skills as a negotiator to convince the Hall that the greats of this era, unquestionably the most popular and profitable in the nearly 150 year history of the game, belong in the Hall. Allow the 'Museum' to note the entire story, on individual plaques if needed. Let the museum-goers know that Bonds was indicted by a federal grand jury on perjury charges in the BALCO designer steroid scandal, the same for Clemens, who was accused of lying to a congressional committee about his own past steroid use. And, while they're at it, let's put Pete Rose in the Hall. Simply add the fact that he agreed to a lifetime banishment from Major League Baseball for his involvement with gambling on games, including those involving the Cincinnati Reds, the team for which he was the manager.
It's time Major League Baseball stood up for its fans. The fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, uncles and grandparents who passed their love of the game on to future generations. They care about the game's integrity, but they care more about the memories great players contributed to their lives. Personally, I'll always be disappointed in McGwire and Sosa for cheating their way past Roger Maris in 1998, but I'll never forget watching it happen. No amount of steroids can erase the feeling I had when McGwire belted that line drive down the line off Chicago's Steve Trachsel on Sept. 8, 1998. That was the home run that moved him past Maris and it will be etched in my mind forever.
To pretend those moments didn't exist is equally dishonest and probably worse than anything McGwire, or Sosa, or Bonds may have done. At least they had the added pressure of knowing their peers were cheating as well.
Baseball is in great shape thanks in part to your efforts negotiating the last two labor agreements. But, we still need to see the sport move forward. You've already proven your acumen in the boardroom, now it will be your leadership and your ability to rally support for your agenda that will determine your success as the tenth commissioner of Major League Baseball.
I wish you lots of luck.