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Things wrong with baseball
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
One thing the National Football League does much better than Major League Baseball is address conventional thinking and tradition and make annual changes to better the sport, and the business. Baseball has had trouble differentiating between tradition and traditional thinking.
For instance, fraternity hazing is a tradition. Is it right? So roundabouts are a British driving tradition. Does it make American rotaries anything less than suicide traps? Do we have to eat ham on Easter? Or Brats and lite beer outside Miller Park? Politicians use "traditional values," reminiscent of that old J.D. Souther song, "Living for Jesus and making it pay."
In this the week that most embodies this country's traditions, here are 25 traditional things that bother a lot of people who care about baseball:
1. Teams that allow public relations to dictate personnel and organizational decisions.
"I cannot believe what the Phillies have done this offseason," says one general manager. "But I almost hope they do end up signing Jim Thome for six years and $90 million, Tom Glavine for four years, David Bell for four years, then wonder what happened three years from now.
"They put all this pressure on themselves by jumping out and tying their credibility to how much money they can spend, without any concern about Thome's back or playing the field in a couple of years.
"Too often, teams are spun by talk shows and newspapers. Look at the Mets last winter. They were the heroes of the talk shows and the tabloids, and now they're the Osbournes, and not only that, but they may be willing to give Glavine four years."
This also carries to hiring managers or general managers.
"When I heard the Red Sox were a little afraid of the public reaction to (assistant GM) Theo Epstein's age," says Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi of the Red Sox possibly promoting Epstein to GM, "I wanted to remind them of what Bobby Knight used to say -- 'If you listen to the guys up in the stands, pretty soon you'll be up there sitting with them.' "
2. The notion that a team absolutely has to have a closer, which gives a manager a crutch in the late innings. Save totals are selfish, individual stats. If a reliever gets the side in the eighth inning on 11 pitches, use him in the ninth. Jim Leyland in 1990-92 won three straight divisional titles and never had a 22-save guy, because he had six relievers and each one knew that he could be called on in the sixth or the ninth, and the outs in the ninth inning become mere outs, not some mythical Mount Kilimanjaro.
"There are about three closers who really make a difference in the game," says one GM. "Otherwise, the notion of paying an Armando Benitez or Robb Nen $6.7 million to $8.8 million is outdated and silly." As (A's GM) Billy Beane always says, "Everyone has a closer, but sometimes it takes until mid-May to figure out who he is."
See: Orioles closer Jorge Julio.
3. No-trade clauses. See: Arizona-Colorado mess.
"When we figure out that they are extortion licenses," says one NL GM, "we'll stop giving out so many."
4. American League teams that bunt before the seventh inning.
"How about automatically bunting in the National League with a runner on first and no out," says one NL exec. "Statistically, it does not increase your chances of scoring. You trade an out and have a lesser chance of scoring."
That's why Earl Weaver kicked old timey baseball behinds.
5. That baseball allows pennants to be decided by minor leaguers. How in the world can the tradition of September callups decide pennants? There should be no time during the season when the 25-man roster should be more strictly enforced than September. This, far more than wild cards and schedule, come under the heading of "the integrity of the pennant race."
6. "While we're at it," adds one AL executive, "how about enforcing the rules on transactions? How does Francisco Rodriguez, who wasn't even on the (Angels') 40-man roster on Sept. 15, manage to get on the playoff roster?"
And help win the World Series? Because the rules are a sham.
7. Players who slide into first base. Dumb and dumber.
8. "The entire Montreal situation continues to embarrass baseball," offers one executive. "If the Expos do some deal to fit the Commissioner's Office's payroll guidelines and to get to Bud Selig's figure they give a contender Bartolo Colon to take Fernando Tatis' salary, (it) would be an affront to the integrity of the sport."
As if integrity has ever played a major role in such thinking.
9. Meaningless steals of third base. (The great thing about stolen-base totals is that they're easiest to achieve on losing teams, hence the Jose Offerman, Roger Cedeno numbers).
10. Empty dugouts during close games.
11. One NL GM asks why have a tie game when rain is an issue? Pick it up to conclusion the next game, and avoid a possible scenario such as this season involving the Giants and Braves.
12. The best-of-five Division Series. The time has come to end that experiment.
13. The stigma against right-handed pitchers under 6-foot-1. Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Roy Oswalt, Tim Hudson, David Cone, Francisco Rodriguez ...
14. Traditionalist baseball thinking that continues to draft and sign far more high school than college players.
MLB should help colleges pay for wooden bats, which in the end would save millions in time and money wasted on signing 18-year-olds who never make it (check the percentages, especially with high school pitchers). Baseball clubs are not trained to administer the social development programs required for 18-to-20 year olds. Minor-league costs would be reduced by greater emphasis on college and summer leagues.
15. Speaking of scouting: Why do so many teams hire friends or enthusiasts based on how little they can pay them, to determine whom they draft and sign and build their organizations?
"The fact is," says an NL GM, "that too few owners have any respect for scouting and development because they don't understand either. And they think the way to run a business is to slash costs where they don't understand."
16. The fact that the Gold Gloves Awards are handed to three outfielders, not a left fielder, center fielder and right fielder. Then why not give the infield Gold Gloves to four shortstops?
17. Teams not taking infield practice, at least four times a week.
18. Lack of change in the arbitration process.
Several club officials weighed in on this, both from the standpoint of artificially inflated salaries and the fact that it promotes selfishness. "That this wasn't addressed in this labor agreement is distressing," says one AL executive.
19. Armor on hitters.
"Pitchers," says Angels shortstop David Eckstein, who led the AL in being hit by pitches but refuses to walk up to the plate looking like Neil Armstrong, "should have the right to pitch inside."
20. The notion that a leadoff hitter has to be fast. It's all about on-base percentage and pitch counts and situations.
"What we have learned," says one AL GM, "is that low on-base leadoff hitters from the '80s like Omar Moreno and Vince Coleman were vastly overrated."
21. National League managers who intentionally walk the eighth hitter. As former pitcher John Tudor used to say, "If you can't bury the eighth hitter, you shouldn't be out there. It's all about the pitcher and the four-hitter leading off as many innings as possible."
22. Radar-gun readings determining a pitcher's worth. The Texas Rangers did not sign Barry Zito out of the Cape League because their area scout said he didn't throw hard enough, when, in fact, Zito was by far the best pitcher in the league and had more swings and misses than anyone, including Mark Mulder. Hitters and results count, not radar-gun readings. And every time you see some young pitcher looking up at the board to see how hard he threw, you know you've got a guy in trouble.
23. "Uniforms," says one AL executive, "that aren't uniform. What's the definition of 'uniform?' "
24. One National League GM insists "we need stricter consequences for an intentional walk. Should an intentional walk advance all baserunners? Fans should be allowed to enjoy Barry Bonds more, even if it beats us."
25. The notion that shortstops must be plus runners with guns for arms. See: Cal Ripken, one of the best defensive shortstops of the last 25 years. Positioning, release and an internal clock with Greenwich mean precision can make up for the tools. Omar Vizquel, Eckstein, Mike Bordick and Rich Aurilia are proof of this.Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories