December 16, 2009
You Say You Want a Revolution?
As I write this, it's becoming just a little bit suspicious that nearly two days after they presumably "happened," neither of the two huge trades the Phillies made have actually come to fruition. The Phillies have apparently negotiated an extension with Roy Halladay, and physicals are being taken, but there have been no actual announcements, and as I write this on Wednesday afternoon, with a piece on the trade burning a hole in my hard drive, it's just starting to feel a little weird. The deal has been "imminent" for about 48 hours now, but there's been no movement since yesterday afternoon, when word that Halladay and the Phillies had agreed on a contract leaked out.
I'm not saying the deal will or will not happen, just that I'm still not convinced I have enough information to write about it. The details on the prospects coming to Philadelphia from Seattle remain unclear, as do the specifics of Halladay's contract extension. Once a domino falls, I'll post my breakdown of all the moves, but until we get something more solid than "sources" holding forth, I'm going to hold back.
Bud Selig to the rescue. Earlier this week, Selig formed a 14-man committee to look at ways to improve baseball games on the field. As Barry Bloom reported at MLB.com, the committee's charge is to consider everything that goes into the play of the game, such as "pace of game, umpiring, further extension of the use of instant replay, and various rule changes, among others." It's always a good idea to keep an open mind to changes, and while one of baseball's best qualities is that the rules don't change from year to year the way they do for the NFL and NBA, there are definitely elements of the game that can be addressed.
Where it goes wrong is in the construct of the committee, which includes no one under 40 and just one person, Indians general manager Mark Shapiro, under 50. There are four managers, four current or former GMs, four owners, Selig's version of Tony Phillips in Frank Robinson, and the desiccated remnants of George Will. It is an even more transparently useless version of the Blue Ribbon Committee, which also featured Will, a panel that handed down some of the most innumerate, economically illiterate advice on baseball in the history of the game.
That's not even what bothers me the most. No, what bothers me the most is that there are no players on the committee. You have more effete, past-prime political writers than players. You have more 70-year-olds than players. You have more DUI arrests than players. During every labor negotiation, the standard line of management is that they want a partnership with the players, a line that is usually code for an agreement to cap labor costs and guarantee profits for ownership. Every time that line is trotted out, I think of moments like this, far from the muck of negotiations, when management-and I specifically mean Selig here-shows exactly what kind of partnership he wants with the players.
There are 14 spots on this committee to discuss how to make baseball better, and not a single spot for a player? Just four spots for uniformed personnel? How can you possibly have a cogent discussion about how to make baseball better for the 2010s when you don't have a single committee member who's been in a game since the 1970s? There are 1200 or so players on MLB rosters, and you couldn't find a half-dozen of them for this task? You don't think player input on pace of game would be helpful? The opinions of current players on the state of umpiring wouldn't be germane? The eight teams that played in the postseason repeatedly encountered situations where instant replay would have been a useful tool, but you don't want to know what the players on those teams think about using it, whether the increased accuracy is worth the tradeoff of time?
I don't know how players would answer these questions, but I know their answers would mean a whole hell of a lot more than would George Will's, or for that matter, Chuck Armstrong's. Mind you, this is coming from the guy who thinks players do a terrible job of evaluating themselves and each other, and are far too prominent in the coverage of the game. But the issues that this committee is charged with require player input, player evaluation, player opinion. The lack of players on this committee renders it impotent from the start, a good idea gone bad halfway through the introductory press release.
The problems with the assembly of the committee go deeper than that. By my count, more than half the committee will be above retirement age. What kind of advice for the future are you trying to get from a group of people who collectively have nothing but a past? Populism aside, is there really no place in this for an outsider's perspective, a fan's slot? I'm not talking about bringing in someone to ask for $20 box seats and two-dollar beers and banning of all steroid users he's heard of, but surely someone involved in this process, someone on Park Avenue, knows a bright young person who loves the game and has real ideas on how to make it better. MLB likes to talk about how important the fans are to the game while making the fan experience steadily more expensive and difficult; maybe some feedback would be useful.
Where can I sign up for George Will's gig, where you write one fawning book and become branded as some kind of baseball guru for decades to come? The idea that George Will has something useful to say about the play of baseball games in 2010 is ludicrous, and even if you disagree with that statement, you have to agree with me that he wouldn't be one of the first thousand writers you'd ask to be on a committee about modern baseball. I look around and I see writers with credibility among current audiences and a deep love of the game grounded in knowledge of its history, people such as Steven Goldman and Rob Neyer and Joe Posnanski. Having them on the committee, rather than a ghost from the 1980s, would give the group a validity it simply does not have, while also showing two generations of fans who don't give a rip about George Will that MLB has been paying attention to what's happening around it.
Finally, what about someone who doesn't neatly fit into any of these categories, but who is clearly a thinker about baseball? Bill James is a facile answer, but what about Nate Silver, who has a baseball background, non-baseball gravitas, and more raw intelligence than the rest of the committee combined? What about Sean Forman, a non-writer who has contributed as much to the enjoyment of fans as anyone outside the game's structure in the internet era? Where is the committee going to get the next great idea, as opposed to the ones that have been repeated over and over and shown to get no one excited?
This committee isn't designed for that, of course. Most of its value has already passed, in the press release and the conference call, designed so that Selig could say he was doing something. That's how you end up with George Will and Frank Robinson and Bill DeWitt, rather than a committee with a chance to actually make a difference to the game.