No matter what form the 2020 season takes that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and the players’ union agree to, we can be sure of one thing: None of these real innovations currently about to be implemented is even remotely interesting or fun.
If we’re going to have a season of asterisks, let’s go all in or stay at home.
Here are eight short season innovations that can rescue our interest in the game in 2020. Certainly offbeat - okay, in spots crazy - but I ask you: read these and tell me that more of the designated hitter (zzz) sparks more interest in you than any of what I propose, modestly.
Today’s Game Rules: Coin Flip
Baseball’s dead wrong in how to go about changing the designated hitter rule. Instead of imposing the designated hitter on both leagues, why not impose the uncertainty of what today’s game might bring all the way to a new style of lineup card exchange? Managers could meet for a coin flip, with the winner to decide whether to play the game with or without a DH, and in turn inform the home plate umpire of that game’s starting pitcher. After that, each team would then have exactly two minutes to return to home plate with that game’s lineup. Stadium organists would be encouraged, if not required, to play the theme to The Benny Hill Show during this time. What better way to hook an audience to a 3-hour affair early.
Playoffs: Let’s Do It for the Kids
If baseball is bent on having an asterisk year, let’s consider a radical altering of the playoff formula that we all know and love from our days playing recreation league or kid baseball: The double-elimination tournament. We all know each team only has 1-2 solid starters anyway, so let’skeep it short and sweet and eliminate the torpor of games 1-3 of a best-of-seven format entirely. Let everybody in, and seed them based on regular season records. Let’s do it for the kids, and even raise money for the youth leagues - from Little League to colleges - that have been really disrupted this spring.
Virtual Fans: Being There*
While the German Bundesliga has been mixing in crowd noises over their broadcasts, and Korea has been experimenting with cardboad cutouts and stuffed animals, why not harness today’s technology to bring us, the fans, back to the stadium, in a socially distant yet effective way? Imagine instead cameras and speakers installed throughout 2020’s empty stadiums, which you could in turn buy a “ticket” for - watch the game, zoom and pan the camera around and - even better - speak and yell your mind as the game goes on? The mind reels at the variable pricing schemes that could result - from being close to the players or far away, or even an Unfettered Profanity zone in the far upper decks?
Virtual Fans 2.0: A Shocking New Development to Speed Up the Game
Everyone wants to shorten the time between pitches, but nobody can agree on how much, or when, and because situations and context always changes, a set time doesn’t work. Given that players are already wearing buzzers, and fans are all looking at smart phones while watching games anyway, the time has come to put this to a fan-sourced test: Batter and pitcher shock collars. Registered fans of each team, watching virtually, could use an app to select which player they’d want to deliver a mild shock to move things along. When the meter swung to, say, 90% agreement, zzzap! And don’t assume that we’d be in the tank for our own players all the time. We all remember Jonathan Papelbon. Move it along, pal, my ass is losing what little roundness it ever had: Zzzap!
The Daily News Foul Ball Payoff
It’s simultaneously intensely surreal and dull watching sports played in nearly empty venues, so why not spice it up? Add sensors to those empty seat backs throughout the stadium that, when hit by a foul ball, generate some lottery-style interest? Let’s exploit baseball’s dullest play with some genuine interest, and no fear of anyone getting hit, finally (you could even take down most of the netting this year). With tiered pricing for high-and low-frequency foul ball seats, take a chance that you could “catch” a foul ball and win some dough! Sensors could generate automated texts that you’ve won, that you could post to social media just like you caught a foul ball. Also, why wait for a single inning? Why not make it all game? (Also: 5X multiplier for bats)
The Daily News Home Run Payoff, Pandemic Edition
Using the similar framework as foul balls, but with much bigger money for home runs. For these, in all seriousness, I’d also hope to see some creative fundraising for charities. The recent Yuengling-Aaron Nola combo for out-of-work bartenders and waitstaff is a good model for this, but needs to be extended to these weird games. With the economy still reeling, there are any number of worthy charities - one could change each game. And like the All-Star Weekend’s Home Run Derby, play one inning per night with a specially marked ball that simply doubles everything.
Extra Innings: Into the Cornfield
Shortening the game once again looks like it will borrow from a dull idea that hasn’t shown itself to be terribly effective, namely: Having a runner start at second. YAWN. While I’m no fan of hockey, my favorite part is the 3v3 overtime: Plenty of open ice, lots of scoring chances, incredible athleticism, intriguing lineup strategy. Why can’t baseball do something similar? Because once again, they’re thinking about it all wrong. Why not, from the 11th inning on, require each team to remove one defensive player per inning to the minimum of four (batter, pitcher, first baseman, shortstop), like ghostly ballplayers in Field of Dreams vanishing into the cornfield. When there are fewer than three infielders, no basestealing can occur. (Maybe. I haven’t decided.) But consider the strategy! The second-guessing! The 45-foot leads from third! The utter reliance on high-strikeout pitchers and good defensive catchers!
Let’s End Extra Inning Games The Way We All Want to See Them Ended
If the last idea is too radical, consider a wholly reasonable modification to the runner on second rule. Think there’s nothing better than seeing a Phillies player jump joyously into a socially-distanced home plate celebration? Well, how about - now hear me out - the Phanatic? Yes, I’m suggesting, especially with no fans in the stadiums anyway, that the mascots of all teams become magically rostered participants in the extra innings, and that they be the runners on second. Possibly third. Again, haven’t decided. (I’m also hopeful that the Phillies would tie up whoever’s actually in the real Phanatic costume and make Roman Quinn wear it.)
I confess that I have not the least personal interest in promoting these necessary changes, having no other motive than the good of the sport, by advancing these innovations, providing for mascots, relieving the poor, and giving some pleasure to idle workers from home. I have no ballplayers by which I can propose to get a single long-term contract; my oldest being an avowed Ultimate Frisbee player, and my wife with no interest in surrendering me to watching baseball again.