The World Series: It's broken. Fix it!
Yes, it can be better. In fact, it needs to be better. Here's how we'd do it.
The World Series is broken. OK, not completely broken, but sucking more air than Jello-jiggly Miguel Cabrera trying to stretch a double into a triple.
MLB commish Bud Selig will give his usual Kevin Bacon/Chip Diller speech from "Animal House" ("Remain calm. All is well. All is well!"), but we know better.
Yes, despite a comatose economy, regular-season attendance was up slightly from a year ago. Yes, MLB gross revenues are healthy. And yes, as Selig reminded everyone in a recent MLB news release, baseball is "more popular today than it has ever been in its long, storied history."
Fair enough. But meanwhile, the World Series is as popular as Frank McCourt in L.A. The third week of October arrives and the World Series usually sits ignored on the TV buffet table like an ear wax and cheese sandwich.
You know how many people, on average, watched the World Series in 1973, when there were fewer people and television sets in the country? Nearly 35 million per game.
You know how many people watched the World Series last year? An average of 14.3 million per game, bad enough for an 8.4 rating and 14 share -- tied for the lowest World Series TV numbers in its long, storied history.
And it wasn't small-market Milwaukee versus Kansas City playing in 2010. It was the Texas Rangers, in the country's fifth-ranked TV market, versus the San Francisco Giants, in the sixth-ranked market. It was The Freak, The Beard, the Claw and the Antlers. The Series had characters and character.
And, relatively speaking, the Super Bowl of baseball drew green flies.
I'm not here to bash the World Series but to help fix it. I've always had a crush on the game and its championship. But when USA Today reported earlier this month that an NFL pregame show had a higher overnight rating than any of the MLB playoff games on TBS that weekend, it showed that postseason baseball has a problem.
Why? Because regular-season baseball lasts longer than a Ken Burns documentary. So shorten it. A 154- or even a 148-game regular season would work just fine. The integrity of the season wouldn't be compromised, and it would allow the postseason to start before we gas up the snow blowers.
Think about it. If the Rangers-St. Louis Cardinals World Series goes a full seven games, then, weather permitting, it won't be finished until Oct. 27. That's not the Fall Classic, it's the Winter Classic.
The owners would howl about a reduced schedule, but what's the point of a 162-game season if people quit watching during the postseason? Especially during the World Series? It's like leaving the movie theater after the previews.
Yes, I know: Without a 162-game season, the Cardinals could not have made this amazing playoff run. No Albert Pujols. No Tony La Russa brilliance. No Rally Squirrel.
Tough. Remember, there's no crying in baseball.
Selig always says he's worried about preserving the tradition and history of the sport. Then he would know that MLB had a 154-game schedule for more than 40 years. So the concept isn't unprecedented.
While we're at it, let's shrink the league championship series and World Series from best-of-seven series to best-of-five.
Wait? What? We can't do that! It will desecrate the postseason! It will ruin the World Series!
Actually, it won't. A long time ago, there used to be best-of-nine World Series. Then it was reduced to seven, and the world survived.
Baseball can handle change. If it couldn't, there'd be no designated hitter, wild-card teams, league realignment, expansion, instant replay or talk of a one-game wild-card playoff tiebreaker.
Anyway, do you know how many World Series have gone to seven games in the past 13 years? Exactly two. Meanwhile, in nine of those 13 seasons, the Series lasted four or five games.
A best-of-five World Series makes each game that much more important. The margin for error tightens. So does the potential for drama.
You could include one travel day and still start the Series on a Monday and finish it on a Saturday. Or you could do what teams often do during the regular season: play five in a row, but this time using a 2-2-1 format.
And nothing against La Russa, the master of situational pitching changes, but let's ixnay the roster rule that lets teams put 11, even 12 pitchers on their postseason 25-man roster. Instead, make it 10, tops.
This way you speed up the middle-to-late innings of a game. Plus you reward a team for having quality relievers who can get right- and left-handed hitters out. And if they can't, you have the added possibility of a late-inning rally and comeback. Nothing wrong with that.
While we're at it, why not flip-flop the DH rule? From now on, use the DH in the National League ballpark and no DH in the American League park. The home fans would get to see a different style of baseball.
It's also time to introduce the World Series to 21st century expanded instant replay. It won't hurt, I swear.
We already have instant replay for home runs. Why not expand it to include everything except balls-and-strikes calls?
Bang-bang plays. A trap versus a catch. Fan interference. We could do what my ESPN.com buddy Jayson Stark suggests -- one challenge per game for each manager.
All you have to do is put two of the six assigned playoff umpires into a replay booth with, say, MLB umpire supervisor Steve Palermo. If there's a challenge, they rule on it. Simple.
At the very least, implement it on a clearly blown call.
And speaking of the 21st century, would it kill MLB to man up and spring for a hellacious pregame concert, followed by a national anthem gig? It works for halftime of the Super Bowl.
I nominate Pearl Jam for Game 1. Lead singer Eddie Vedder is a huge baseball fan. (The band has its own bubblegum cards.) I even know the first song Pearl Jam should play. It's the theme of this column.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.
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