Note: The following story is a FICTIONAL account. You may have heard of The Onion. Now take a look at what we find when we take the newspaper out from under The Birdhouse and see what's been piling up.
For the past couple weeks, the untiring mob of telephoto lenses known as the Major League Baseball paparazzi have spotted numerous times Commissioner Bud Selig with an unlikely counterpart, MLB Players Association executive director Donald Fehr.
The two have been meeting under unknown circumstances, and the rumors have been flying. Some have floated the idea that Selig might be grooming Fehr to follow in his footsteps when he ultimately decides to step down. Others have speculated that the two are about to unveil some new drastic drug-testing plan to include human growth hormone, also known as HGH.
All rumors and speculation aside, thanks to a statement released to the press this morning, we now know what the two masterminds have been up to. And we call these two "masterminds" only because the proposal they plan to describe in detail this afternoon at a press conference is so crazy it just might make sense... and actually work.
It is without coincidence that the announcement comes the day following last night's events, during which Barry Bonds set a brand new career home run record, perhaps breaking what was once the biggest record in all of sports. Selig received much criticism for not being present at the game for Bonds' achievement, but it is clear that he was busy at work finalizing the details for this release.
The proposal that Selig and Fehr will pitch this afternoon will change baseball forever if approved. The owners and players will vote to decide if this is the future for baseball, but ultimately it'll be the fans, which will determine with their pocketbooks and spending habits if the economics will play out as envisioned.
It's no secret that the unspoken steroid scandal has turned baseball upside down. Everyone has been guilty of the "Speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil" steroid philosophy. Players, owners, league officers, managers, coaches, media, fans, EVERYONE! The blame is shared across the gamut. Whether it's because "money is the root of all evil," or if it's as they say that "chicks dig the long ball," steroids and other drugs have ruined what was seemingly once a pure American pastime.
For far too long it wasn't even against the rules to take enhancing drugs in professional baseball. And now that we do have rules and penalties in place to curb such behavior, the test makers can't even keep up with drug makers. Testing seems almost pointless, and, quite frankly, only the true idiots and major cheapskates are going to get caught now.
But why do we care?
We care because, in baseball, statistics are the name of the game. We love the historical trends. We love the endless analysis. We love hearing what Albert Pujols' batting average is during day games on Thursdays in the middle of April with a full count. We love the countless different stats, categories, and splits that all those little numbers fall into. From the WHIP to the OPS to the LOBs, we love it all.
And yes, above all else, we love those baseball records. And we really love seeing records broken. We absolutely love the idea of seeing history take place. And as a testament to that, just think about what you were doing last week Wednesday night. Now think about what you were doing when Mark McGwire hit number 62.
We have just begun to realize the impact on our beloved game of baseball caused by these chemicals, poor judgment, and need to look the other way. And we are now forced to deal with a huge dilemma. We have no idea what records are the products of pure, hard work and what records are the by-products of an empty era filled with cheating. Sure the argument can be made that it's not really cheating if everyone was doing it, but we're still cheating the past. And that's where Bud Selig and Don Fehr have decided to step in with their proposal.
Put it simply, Selig and Fehr have proposed to give baseball a new start. To leave the past in the history books and start from scratch. The baseball-scheduling format will move to one similar to that of the National Football League. The whole time Selig and Fehr were meeting, a remote participant called-in via a secure line to crunch numbers and discuss strategy.
This individual was none other than former football commissioner Paul Tagliabue. The NFL was transformed under his watch to the most lucrative, exciting, sports entertainment juggernaut that it is. And now Tagliabue has his hand in shaping baseball's future.
So, what are the details behind this proposal?
Well, the regular season will run from April until September as it does today, but there is one major twist that will knock you off your feet: Teams will play just one game each week.
Yes, the 162-game season will be reduced to a 26-game season with a continued Midsummer Classic All-Star game in July. Like Sundays during the NFL season, Saturdays will be the days we are glued to the TV to catch our baseball. The hoopla surrounding Saturdays will be as intense as it is in the NFL. And you better believe that the excitement will build each week as teams prepare, and yes actually practice, throughout the week.
Selig states that the television stations are already competing for the big money contracts to host Saturday baseball, which is expected to generate more revenue than the current baseball contracts do. It's a guaranteed weekly audience, and it's a guaranteed advertising gold mine. Baseball will be on TV, radio, and the Internet Saturdays throughout the season from until approximately when those West Coast night games come to a close.
And to add to the revenue and give you more baseball to watch, you better believe that Saturdays won't just be the only days that games will be scheduled. Some teams each week will play on alternate days in lieu of Saturday, just like the NFL does with their Thursday games and Monday Night Football. Plans currently include keeping the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball schedule and introducing Thursday Night Baseball and Friday Night Baseball (networks to be determined). That being said, baseball will be televised each night of the week except Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
Team rosters will be cut to 20 players. This is likely to be the source of the biggest hurdle in getting this proposal approved. With MLBPA executive director Donald Fehr involved and a co-author of the proposal, one might think getting the players to approve the deal should be a slam-dunk. But this plan means pay cuts and lost jobs for many. That won't be an easy pill to swallow.
There are already discussions of a possible coup within the Players Association, including a split between position players and pitchers. After all, the pitchers, particularly the starting variety, stand to lose the most. With this format, teams will carry only one monster-contract starting pitcher, just like NFL teams do quarterbacks.
The backups might get a decent contract, but those guys who are barely making it in the league as number three, four, or five rotation men will be done - unless they can somehow find a way to be a reliable source as a bullpen man. And remember, those bullpen pitchers won't need to be able to pitch every day or every other day any more. They'll now be expected to last maybe an inning or two a week.
Current player contracts will be the trickiest dealing. Owners will be forced to honor those longer-term contracts until they run out. This means they'll have to pay out a good chunk of change to the guys that won't make it in the new league. But that's a cost that Fehr and Selig claim will pay for itself inside of five years.
Details concerning how to handle rainouts and the like are still up in the air, but early indications are that postponed games will be played the very next day, typically Sunday afternoon.
As for ticket prices, well, you guessed it. Prices will undoubtedly increase. Estimated percentages are not clear, but 100+% increases aren't out of the question. It is expected that the new television and advertising contracts coupled with lower team salaries will help reduce the burden placed on fans through ticket prices. But it is expected that all MLB stadiums will adopt the Personal Seat License (PSL) structure, where season ticket holders will have a one-time cost to purchase their seats in addition to their tickets each year.
The same number of teams will make the playoffs each season as they do now, but there won't be "series" anymore. It's one game for the Wild Card, Division, and League Championships. Each team's best on the field showcasing their talents in a one-game playoff for each round. The World Series will be no more. It'll be called the World Championship, and it could very well be as big a single extravaganza as the Super Bowl.
If the plan is approved, this new format will start in 2009. The baseball records we now know, including whatever Bonds career home run record ends up being, will become a thing of the past. Just a part of baseball history. And from April 1, 2009 going forward, new records will be set each day, each year, for generations to come.
The concept is hard to grasp, but if the television contracts come through, the corporate advertising dollars stack up, the owners determine the economic models work, and a majority of the players find it in themselves to follow Don Fehr's leadership, this plan might just give baseball a rebirth and make it America's most popular sport once again.
More details will follow in the weeks and months ahead. The discussion that ensues will lead to enhancements to the format as the powers that be re-write the rulebooks.