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December 16, 2009

On the Beat

Midweek Update

by John Perrotto

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Bud Selig is usually so quick to remind everyone that such concepts as the wild card and interleague play were added to Major League Baseball during his commissionership that one fears he might blow out a rotator cuff while vigorously patting himself on the back. However, with attendance falling and television ratings down, Selig is admitting that the grand old game has some problems. On Tuesday, he announced the formation of a 14-person special committee for on-field matters that includes field managers, general managers, and club owners, among others. Glaring in their omission were players and umpires.

The committee's charge is to review and examine all on-field issues related to MLB. It is tentatively scheduled to meet for the first time January 13-14 during the quarterly owners meetings in Phoenix, and the pace of the game will top the initial agenda. Selig also expects to get input on the possibility of extending the use of instant replay, ways to improve umpiring, and ideas on making both the regular-season and post-season schedules more manageable.

"There will be no sacred cows," Selig said. "We're open to talk about anything. I've had this in mind for a long time. This is a very blunt group. They are opinionated people and they are not afraid to give their opinions, which is good. I want to sit there and listen. If there's anything we can do to improve this game, I want to hear about it and discuss it. I will be guided by what this committee comes up with. I have that much respect for this group."

Managers Tony La Russa of the Cardinals, Jim Leyland of the Tigers, Mike Scioscia of the Angels, and Joe Torre of the Dodgers headline a committee that includes Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, Twins senior advisor Terry Ryan, Braves club president John Schuerholz, Indians GM Mark Shapiro, Mariners COO Chuck Armstrong, Blue Jays president Paul Beeston, Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., Phillies CEO Dave Montgomery, Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, and the ubiquitous columnist/broadcaster George Will, who, along with Bob Costas, was appointed the co-conscience of baseball at some point, albeit without an official announcement.

"This is an exceptional group of people who have devoted their lives to the game of baseball and its central mission, which is to act in the best interest of the game," Selig said.

Major League Baseball got its share of bad publicity during the postseason this year. Seemingly every game included a blown call by umpires, and that caused an outcry from people inside and outside baseball to broaden the use of instant replay, which was instituted in 2008 and is used only to determine boundary calls on potential home runs.

Scioscia was at the forefront of a wave of criticism about the postseason dragging too long as MLB bows to the wishes of Fox and Turner Broadcasting System by building extra days off into the schedule. The Yankees played 15 post-season games on their way to the World Series title this year. However, those 15 games were played over the span of 31 days after the end of the regular season.

"This is not a reaction to some of the things that happened during the playoffs," Selig nevertheless insisted. "I'm not saying that it didn't keep moving me along in this direction because it did, but frankly I had this in mind for a long time. I don't know how these issues are going to be addressed, but I know I want to hear from the committee. It's up to me once we decide what we want to do. I'll listen to the recommendations of the group and take it from there."

It seems certain the designated hitter rule will be a topic of discussion. La Russa and Schuerholz joined Selig on a conference call with the media, and when asked what rule they would change if they could be commissioner for a day, both answered the DH. The DH has been used in American League games since 1973 while pitchers bat for themselves in the National League.

"I think the game is more complete without the DH," La Russa said. Added Schuerholz, "It's the issue that's been around the longest and has been the most profound topic. It's a great topic of conversation for the fans. When I was in the American League with the Royals (as GM), I was in favor of it. Since I've been over in the National League, I may have taken a different position on it. I've come to the conclusion that the DH can flourish by using it in its different ways."

The DH and other rule changes have to be collectively bargained with the players, which makes it surprising that no one from the Major League Baseball Players Association was appointed to the committee. "We can't have every constituency involved at first," Selig noted. "I like the group we have as it is currently constituted and feel that a year of two from now we'll look back and realize how important this was."

---

The group led by Pittsburgh lawyer Chuck Greenberg did not make the highest bid to purchase majority ownership of the Rangers from Tom Hicks, a source familiar with the process said. However, Greenberg did have Nolan Ryan on his side, and that is why he was chosen late Tuesday night to negotiate exclusively with Hicks.

Ryan, the Rangers' club president and Hall of Fame pitcher, said he would not remain with the franchise if Hicks chose groups led by White Sox special assistant and former player-agent Dennis Gilbert or Houston businessman Jim Crane. "There was no way Bud Selig was going to let the sale of the Rangers move forward without Nolan Ryan being part of the franchise," the source said. "Nolan is the Rangers, and Bud knows it."

Greenberg owns two minor-league franchises, Myrtle Beach in the High-A Carolina League, and State College in the short-season New York-Penn League. He also serves on Minor League Baseball's board of directors and has a spot on the board of Baseball Internet Rights, Co. along with Reid Ryan, Nolan's son, who operates Round Rock in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Reid Ryan told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Jeff Wilson that his father and Greenberg immediately hit it off. "They aligned for a lot of the same reasons," Reid Ryan said. "This isn't a deal where they're trying to build up so they can flip or sell to someone else. They want to own a baseball team. They want to win a championship."

Greenberg and Hicks, who would remain part of the ownership group, have a little less than a month to work out details of the sale, which would then be put to a vote of the other 29 MLB owners in Phoenix next month. "There's a lot of work to do, but I'm confident we can get this done soon," Greenberg said.

Greenberg doesn't plan to make many changes if the sale is completed. "I think the franchise has a good plan in place with a lot of good young talent at the major-league level and an outstanding farm system," Greenberg said. "I would just want to add to the stability and keep everything headed in the same direction it is currently going. I really believe the Rangers have a chance to be one of the premier franchises in the game. They play in a great market and have a lot of good people working for them."

Meanwhile, Crane is now expected to make another bid to buy his hometown Astros after nearly striking a deal to purchase a 51 percent stake in the club from Drayton McLane two years ago.

---

The most enduring memories I'll take from the Winter Meetings at Indianapolis last week were trying to keep from freezing to death while walking back and forth from the Courtyard to the Marriott, and watching a head-on BlackBerry/iPhone collision.

The PDA-induced accident summed up modern-day baseball in the final days of the first decade of the new millennium. With the names changed to protect the innocent, I watched as an executive from one club, who was intently tapping away on his iPhone, walked directly into a media member, who was just as enraptured as he thumb-typed on his BlackBerry. No one was hurt, and neither was deterred as they kept staring at their phones.

Now I wasn't there when the first-ever Winter Meetings were held, but I'm guessing the aforementioned collision wasn't quite the same scene as when everyone actually sat around a hot stove in the lobby of a hotel and talked trade. However, with mlbtraderumors.com constantly churning out reports of potential player moves by every news source in the world and nearly every baseball writer having a Twitter account, it seemed everyone was checking their mobile devices around the clock. Tim Dierkes, founder of MLB Trade Rumors, told the Seattle Times' Geoff Baker that his site had 6.1 million separate page views during the four days of the meetings. In a normal month, traffic is about 9 million views.

It is impossible to know how many of the rumors had any basis in fact and how many were false reports floated by agents or club executives to serve their own purposes. Until recently, many club executives got upset when news of trade talks or free agent negotiations leaked. Now, they seem resigned to it.

"It's the information age," Cubs GM Jim Hendry said. "Personally, I think it's good for baseball. The more rumors, the better. I think it generates fan interest. People who follow baseball really care about that kind of stuff. I don't see how it can be bad for the game in any way when it creates so much interest."

Neal Huntington is about as tech-savvy as any GM, but he was not pleased when word got out via the information superhighway that the Pirates were strongly considering not tendering closer Matt Capps a contract by last Saturday's deadline. The Pirates did indeed non-tender Capps, and Huntington claimed clubs quit trying to trade for the right-hander once they read the reports online because they knew they could attempt to sign him as a free agent.

---

MLB Rumors and Rumblings: Free-agent outfielder Jason Bay is conflicted between signing with the Mets for more money or with the Mariners so he can play in his adopted hometown. Capps has received interest from more than half the 30 major-league clubs, and the Cubs and Diamondbacks have reportedly made aggressive offers. The Mets appear to be the frontrunner to sign free agent right-hander Kelvim Escobar, who wants to work in relief to preserve his arm after undergoing shoulder surgery this year. The Red Sox are again pursuing Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in a trade, but they would have to give up right-hander Clay Buchholz and top pitching prospect Casey Kelly to make a deal.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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