After major-league baseball's annual pause for the All-Star game - as managers, coaches, and front offices try to figure out how to do better in the second half of the season - it's a good time to consider some changes to help the game regain the lead after a couple of rough innings:
1. Start calling strikes. American League umpires have reduced the strike zone to "the size of a toaster," to quote broadcaster Sean McDonough. With all those expansion teams, great pitching is spread more and more thinly, and many pitchers just aren't accurate enough to consistently hit a zone that small. This year's high-scoring games reminiscent of football point totals ought to be enough to sound the alarm. The National League strike zone is bigger; with interleague play coming next year, the American League should move in that direction for consistency's sake, at least.
2. Get rid of the designated hitter. Purists have never liked this American League rule, in which a player who does not play defense bats instead of the pitcher. The NL never adopted it. Here again, interleague play will demand consistency, rather than alternate rules, depending on who is the home team, as now planned. Besides, pitching isn't what it was when the rule was brought in (see the point about high-scoring games above). And some say making pitchers bat cuts down on beanballs.
3. Get a real commissioner. Fed up with independent commissioners who were doing their jobs well, the owners were quick to pat themselves on the back when they effectively abolished the job a few years back. But an owner filling in on a part-time basis is not equipped or disposed or empowered to deal with issues like the baseball strike, racist comments by Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott, or the boorishness of Cleveland Indians slugger Albert Belle. Going back to the old system would do more for the game in the long run than any number of television ads featuring Aretha Franklin or Mary Chapin Carpenter.
4. Shorten the schedule. With the new wild-card playoff format, the season just drags on too long. Cutting about 10 games a year would ease the strain on players and avoid play in late October and early November, when the weather conditions in too many major-league cities aren't baseball friendly.
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