Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard K. Rein was prepared for the August 28, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Baseball Solution: Create a New League
I‘m not much of a sports fan, but I am a more or less
typical American male with access to a television set, radio, and
daily newspaper. I figure that in the course of my lifetime I have
probably spent 15,000 hours or so watching and listening to sports
events, another 5,000 hours reading about sports events, and 1,000
hours or so as a journalist interviewing athletes and coaches.
In all that time over all those years I — like my typical American
male counterparts — have pondered thousands of tough questions
(should they bring in a right-handed pitcher to face this right-handed
batter?) and perplexing issues (is football safer on natural or artificial
turf?). But in all that time over all those years, I have had only
two original thoughts, which come back to mind now thanks to the looming
baseball players’ strike.
The first bright idea is about football. It’s for colleges — maybe
Ivy League colleges, for example — that refer to their players
as "student-athlete-leaders" but in fact treat them on the
field like mindless puppets of a string-pulling coach. The idea is
that coaches work with the players up until the time of the game.
At that point they leave the field, become spectators, and allow the
players to call the plays and set the defenses for themselves. The
only professional on the field is the team physician, empowered to
remove injured players from the game.
The quarterback or the team captain or some skinny kid with thick
glasses might end up calling the plays on the field or from the sidelines.
An injured player might become valuable as a spotter in the press
box. The players figure it out for themselves and one or more of them
— not the coach — faces the terrible question of settling
for a tie or going for a win in a close game.
I present this idea to fans and coaches and they sneer: It would ruin
the chance of recruiting top players and it would diminish the on-the-field
execution of plays. On the other hand, I go to Ivy League games in
largely empty stadiums and I see some pretty sloppy football.
Now a thought about baseball. As everyone who has been reading about
the threatened players strike knows, the problem in baseball is that
the teams in the major markets have been able to purchase the highest
priced players. And even though high priced players may not always
be better players, these major market teams are winning most of the
pennants. Overall attendance is down, and several cities may lose
their major league teams. So what can you do?
Nothing. But maybe now is the time to consider a new baseball league,
one in which players are paid set amounts based on their years of
service and productivity (runs driven in, strikeouts, etc.). Excess
profits, if any, would go into a pool from which bonuses for league
leading averages and so on would be paid. Another pool would fund
retirement plans. There would be no free agents.
Players would be drafted based on geographical regions for each team
— the same statistical wizards who determine congressional districts
could carve up the country into, say, 12 regions for a 12-team league.
And teams would not be able to use cash to pull top players from other
teams — they would have to trade players to get players.
The old baseball hands will sneer: It will be sloppy baseball with
second rate players. How would you get a television contract? What
stadiums would have you? What about a minor league system?
These objections are all based on the thinking that a new baseball
league has to have all the grandeur and scale of the existing major
leagues. Not so. My idea is to start small. In the beginning the league
might be merely an extension of the American Legion baseball program
that currently fields teams of high school players.
In the beginning, players might well play for free. They will be hometown
boys, after all, and while I, a non-athlete, have spent all this time
talking about sports, there are many aging athletes playing in various
In the beginning crowds might be friends and families of the players.
But that could change. And while the quality of play might not be
at major league level, it may still be entertaining. The other night
I watched three or four innings of a scoreless game in the televised
Little League playoffs. Then on Sunday night, August 25, I channel
surfed into the final game, Louisville against Japan, with the same
pitcher going for Louisville. I couldn’t resist, and watched Aaron
Alvey pitch a three-hit shutout and hit a home run to win the game,
1-0. A crowd of 40,000 turned out and the television ratings, I’ll
bet, were decent. And you had to feel sorry for the Japanese boys
— when was the last time you felt sorry for a major league baseball
Even though I’m not much of a fan, my bet is that they stave off a
strike because even the players are beginning to understand that their
act is wearing thin. That’s my thought, not original. My hope, though,
is that they do strike. September is a busy month for me, and I would
love one less reason to turn on the television.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.