Major League Baseball has named a new commissioner to replace Bud Selig, who will step down in five months after a 22-year tenure.
In the end, Rob Manfred has some serious work to do, including keeping peace with the players' union.
But here are the (first) five things the new commissioner needs to do.
1. Get rid of steroids
Is the problem of PEDs in baseball better than the Wild West days when players such as Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were hitting moon shots at the rate of 70 homers a season? Yes. But let's not kid ourselves. The game has not totally rid itself of the problem. As recently as last season, star players such as Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and Nelson Cruz were linked to steroids.
Years of cheating has left the public doubting everything they see. No one would be shocked if any player in baseball — yes, any player — was busted for steroids.
The only way to rid the game once and for all is to make the punishment so severe that no player would dare risk getting busted. Right now, a first offense is a 50-game suspension. Forget that. If you're busted, you should be gone. For good. That probably won't fly. So how about this? First offense: a year. Second offense: banned for life. That should get the message out there.
2. Shorten the length of games
Games have become mind-numbingly long. Back in the 1970s, it wasn't unusual to see a game played in two hours. Time of games gradually increased and part of that was due to longer commercial breaks.
But the biggest problem? Hitters step out after practically every pitch. Pitchers take 25 or 30 seconds to throw their next pitch. As a result, games have gone from about 2 hours, 55 minutes in 2010 to about 3 hours, 8 minutes now.
So, let's start here: Once a batter gets in the batter's box, he must stay there. No stepping out unless he's about to be stung by a wasp. He can step out with one foot to get a sign, but no more getting out to adjust batting gloves and so forth. Meantime, a pitcher will be on the clock to throw. Somewhere around 10 to 12 seconds seems about right.
These days, the average time between pitches is around 23 seconds. Cut that in half and over the course of a game that features 300 pitches, you probably can shave 30 minutes off games.
3. Target a younger audience
The average age of a typical fan continues to get older and older. According to Sports Media Watch, the median age for viewers of nationally televised baseball games is more than 54 years old, older than NFL, NBA and NHL fans.
A big issue is starting times of the biggest games — the World Series. How do you expect to get youngsters to watch the games, and become future lifelong fans, when games are ending well after their bedtimes?
Baseball has done a poor job recruiting younger fans. It needs to find a way to make the game cooler, more hip. It can start by making it more available.
4. Balance the schedule
One of the good things Selig did was increase the number of playoff teams to 10. More teams are staying in the playoff chase later in the season and that has created extra interest. Right now, 21 of MLB's 30 teams are either in the playoffs or still have hope.
But here's the problem: The current schedule has created an unfair advantage for some teams. Each team plays division opponents 19 times but other division opponents only six times. That's not fair for teams from tough divisions, such as the American League East.
Make it fair. Have teams play every other team the same number of times.
5. Take care of smaller markets
The gap between big-market teams and small-market teams has become ridiculous. The Dodgers and Yankees both have payrolls this season of more than $220 million, while the small-market teams such as the Astros and the Marlins are around $50 million.
There are those who will argue that size of payroll doesn't equal success. This season, some teams that are spending loads of dough (Phillies, Red Sox and Rangers) are lousy, while teams near the bottom in payroll (A's and Royals) are really good.
But over the long haul, teams that spend the most money are consistently the most competitive, while small-market teams such as the Rays must get creative to keep stars and find unorthodox methods to remain in contention for more than just a year or two. Put it this way: Fans in Tampa Bay should never have to say goodbye to great players such as David Price simply because of finances. That's the type of thing that can ruin a fan's appetite for baseball and that's bad for the sport.
MLB has a luxury tax, but a better route to help small-market teams would be to have greater revenue sharing or even a salary cap. Hey, that formula seems to work just fine in the NFL, which only happens to be the most successful sports league there is.
Oh, one last thing ...
How 'bout fixing the Rays' stadium situation? Sure would be nice to know that the Rays will be in Tampa Bay for the next several commissioners of baseball.
Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] or (727) 893-8544. He can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620.