You don't need to be Abner Doubleday to know that baseball is sinking lower than Mike Cameron's cap bill. Ken Caminiti is going True Confessions on us. Jose Canseco is pawnshopping his closet full of skeletons and steroid needles. Attendance is down. Strike rhetoric is up.
All in all, baseball could use some help. Better yet, it could use a Carnie Wilson makeover. Otherwise, Karl Ravech and the fellas will be doing Soccer Tonight in a year or two.
It isn't too late ... yet. And, at the risk of getting all Field of Dreams gooey on you, baseball is worth the effort. Problem is, the players keep forgetting the average salary is about $2.4 million and the owners (are you listening, Tom Hicks?) keep misplacing their manual on fiscal responsibility.
1. Bite the Contraction Bullet
Sure, it's going to leave a bruise. And the players union is going to throw a hissy fit. And the affected cities are going to sue the stirrups off Major League Baseball. But the Montreal Expos' attendance is a daily punchline, and have you been inside the cement mausoleum that houses the Tampa Bay Devil Rays?
Something has to give, so it might as well be those two deadbeats. Montreal treats the Expos like a foot fungus, and the Devil Rays are already 20 games out -- and we're still in June. So I say make like umpire Greg Gibson and toss 'em. Hold an expansion draft, work out a deal with the union boys (increase the active roster by one or two?), then watch what happens when the quality of the 28 other teams improves.
2. Send the Umpires Back to School
Someone needs to remind the umpires that nobody buys Brian Runge jerseys, or makes Hunter Wendelstedt bobbleheads, or purchases a ticket to watch John Shulock work the plate.
Example: A few weeks ago, Rangers All-Star shortstop Alex Rodriguez was ejected by Gibson after a bang-bang play at second base. Rodriguez thought the Minnesota Twins runner was out, Gibson didn't. A-Rod didn't get ejected for arguing, but for looking at Gibson in an "intimidating" manner.
That's great -- not only for owner Hicks, who pays Rodriguez $25 mil a year, but also for, say, the dad who brought his three kids to the game, took out a second mortgage for the $55-per premium third-base-side seats, the food and drinks, the caps, T-shirts and A-Rod jerseys ... and then watched in numb amazement as their guy got booted because some overly sensitive ump with a macho trigger finger doesn't like the way Rodriguez ran off the field?
Good thing Gibson wasn't working the NBA Western Conference finals between the LA Lakers and Sacramento Kings. By the time he got done with drama queens Vlade Divac and Chris Webber, and staredown masters Shaq and Phil Jackson, there wouldn't have been anybody left on the floor. It would have been Billy Crystal in Forget Paris.
3. Steroid and Drug Testing -- Now
There's something wrong when Canseco and New York publishers know who's dirty before Major League Baseball does. And please, I don't want to hear a peep from the union on this one. Pete Rose is in baseball hell because MLB said he bet on games. Fair enough. But what about the guys who cheapened the game and diluted its precious numbers because they were 'roided up?
4. To DH or Not To DH, That's the Frickin' Question
Will people just make up their minds? Only in baseball do half of the teams get to play by different rules. It's like giving the New York Jets five downs, and the Green Bay Packers only four.
If anybody's asking, I say keep the designated hitter. It will make the union happy. It will add more offense, to say nothing of more years to some very deserving hitters' careers.
5. Instant Replay
The umpires won't like it, but what's more important: getting the play right, or making Joe Brinkman happy?
Look, these guys generally do a wonderful job. But what's wrong with one challenge per game? Not balls and strikes, but bang-bang plays, foul-pole home runs, trapped balls on a diving "catch" in the outfield ... that sort of thing. Better than getting shown up that night on SportsCenter, isn't it?
6. Rally Monkeys
If you cheer loud enough, they will come.
7. New Leadership
Nothing against commissioner Bud Selig, but he isn't exactly Colin Powell. Selig is earnest and passionate about the game -- and that would be fine if baseball needed a disheveled caretaker.
What baseball needs is an outsider, someone who isn't afraid to talk some common sense into the knucklehead owners and the Escalade-loving millionaires in the dugout. Can you say, commissioner Jesse Ventura?
And if not Ventura, we'll settle for Bob Costas or Mr. Honest himself, Ben Affleck. After all, Affleck has dealt with prima donnas, big money, and agents. Plus, he's great in the booth.
8. It's the Hype, Stupid
The NBA and NFL have their drafts on TV. MLB has its draft over speakerphone. I'm not saying roll out Boomer and Mel Kiper Jr. for the big day, but do something. Anything.
9. Speed Up The Game
You can still mow your yard, split the atom, and listen to "Freebird" between innings.
10. Ron Santo in the Hall of Fame
Because he earned it. Because it's the right thing to do.
11. Remember The Little People
In 2003, institute a MLB-wide freeze on ticket prices. Because the fans have earned it. Because it's the right thing to do.
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