- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Bud Selig announced recently that he will step down as commissioner when his contract ends in 2006. Which is a little like hearing Michael Jordan say he's planning to settle into retirement again. You can believe it when there is a different signature on the baseball.
Many people are weighing in with suggestions for a new commissioner -- Frank Robinson is my top choice -- and what changes he should make to improve baseball. But I'll let you in on a little secret. Baseball doesn't need many changes. The game is doing just fine. What it needs is simply a commissioner who spends more time reminding people about all that is good with baseball and less time as a voice of doom complaining about why the Brewers can't win.
Let's look at the game's perceived "problems."
Competitive imbalance: Selig has spent his tenure complaining about competitive imbalance 24/7, but the fact of the matter is there isn't any more competitive imbalance than there usually is in sports. The Twins, Cardinals, Athletics and Mariners are ample proof of that. Have the Yankees dominated the game in recent years? Sure, just as they have in almost every decade since the 1920s. Have the Pirates struggled in recent years? Certainly, just as they have in almost every decade Willie Stargell didn't play.
Face it. No matter the economic system, you can count on certain things. The Yankees are going to win, the Cubs are going to lose and everyone else will have their periodic seasons in the sun and their years in the cellar. That's just the way baseball is.
And it's the way other sports are, as well. The NBA? It's been dominated by a couple of large market teams practically since the Lakers moved to Los Angeles. The NFL? If it's so balanced, how come so many teams -- including the Vikings, Seahawks, Saints and Chiefs -- haven't been to the Super Bowl in the past quarter century? Face it, the only reasons fans think those leagues are so balanced are because the leagues let so many teams into the playoffs and because their commissioners aren't constantly pointing out that the Lions and the Clippers don't have a chance to reach the championship.
You want every team to feel like it has a chance every year? Don't blame the Yankees, just expand the playoffs until about 40 percent of the teams qualify for the postseason, the same as the other leagues. Then even Milwaukee fans would feel they have a chance.
Length of games: Yes, ballgames can last a long time. But they're shorter, on average, than NFL games. Oakland's Mark Mulder just pitched a complete game in under two hours. When was the last time a Raiders game ended that quickly?
You want a simple way to end the complaining about how long games last? Just stop printing the time of game in the boxscores. Really. NFL games all last three hours, which is slightly longer than the major-league average, but do you ever hear anyone moan about the time of their games? No. Because the NFL doesn't print the time of game in the boxscore. Baseball could do the same thing. No more three hour and 27 minutes games. They're all just nine innings.
"Gee, that game seemed to take a long time, how long was it?
"Really? I guess it wasn't that long after all.''
Steroids: Do a lot of ballplayers use steroids? Of course they do. Is it a worse problem in baseball than it is in the NFL where players are getting so big and musclebound that they look like Jack Kirby drew them? Of course not. The only difference is football "tests'' for steroids and even though those tests clearly haven't stopped the use of performance-enhancers (in large part because there is no test available for human growth hormone), fans have been fooled into thinking the league is doing something concrete.
In other words, what matters is not the actual effectiveness of a testing policy, but merely the appearance of a testing policy. So baseball should simply institute a "mandatory'' policy of scheduled offseason tests that players can easily cheat on. It won't change anything, but people will think it does, which is all that really matters.
Late postseason games: Do postseason games end too late? Occasionally. But what's the solution? Play them during the day when no one can watch them -- including when the precious children we worry so much about are in school? Start them a couple hours earlier when West Coast fans are still at work? Neither works. The basic problem is that in a country with four time zones, there is no perfect time to play postseason games. You just have to deal with it.
And I want to know why it's so bad for World Series games to occasionally push midnight on the East Coast when Monday Night Football often pushes 1 a.m. without anyone objecting. Or when the NFL playoff games ended near midnight last January. Is it possibly because Paul Tagliabue isn't constantly whining about it?
The All-Star Game: Actually, I like the new plan to make the All-Star Game more meaningful by having it determine home-field advantage for the World Series. Is it unfair to determine home-field advantage by the result of an exhibition game? Sure it is. But is it fair to determine it by whether the World Series is played in an odd or even year? At least the All-Star plan has the benefit of being interesting.
Look, I would love baseball if all the games took two and a half hours, if every team reached the postseason, if every game was played in 78-degree sunshine and if every ticket cost $5, plus a free beverage. But that's not possible.
The commissioner's job is clear. Address the problems that can be solved and avoid focusing on the ones that cannot be solved. Or do not exist in the first place.
Boxscore line of the week
Bizarre day in Detroit last Thursday. In the second game of a doubleheader, Mike Maroth lost his seventh game in as many starts despite taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning. But that was nothing compared to the first game when Baltimore reliever B.J. Ryan picked up the win despite not throwing a single pitch.
Ryan took over with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and the Orioles trailing 2-1. Before throwing a pitch, he picked off baserunner Omar Infante to end the inning. Baltimore scored three runs in the top of the eighth and went on to win, making Ryan the pitcher of record. His line:
.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 0 pitches, one W.
He is the first pitcher to get a win without throwing a pitch since Stats, Inc. began keeping track of pitches in 1987.
And to think that Randy Johnson needed to throw 150 pitches to beat the Expos last July 31.
Lies, damn lies and statistics
Does 500 home runs mean what it once did? Of course not. When Rafael Palmeiro began his career in 1986, the 500 Home Run Club included 13 members. By the end of this season, it could include 21. ... Interesting day for Milwaukee pitcher/outfielder Brooks Kieschnick last Wednesday. He began the day at Triple-A Indianapolis where he pitched two innings in an afternoon game, allowing two runs on two hits and three walks. He ended it in Milwaukee by striking out as a pinch-hitter during a night game after the Brewers called him up. ... Mark Mulder has pitched two consecutive complete games under two hours and the combined time of his three consecutive complete games is five hours and 49 minutes, or 18 minutes less than the Marlins-Cardinals game April 27. ... Is there a reason why anyone pays any attention to Jose Canseco's ludicrous ramblings about being blacklisted? The man hit .258 with 49 RBI his final season, he missed 288 games over his final six seasons and he's UNDER HOUSE ARREST FOR TWO YEARS!!! The only man who blacklisted him was Jose himself. ... Aaron Boone has more career three-homer games (three) than Hank Aaron did (two).
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Baseball needs fixing is what Bud Selig would have us believe. What it really needs is some positive reinforcement.