Commissioner for a Day

We recently caught up with former major league slugger Gary Sheffield to ask him what he would do if he were MLB commissioner for a day. His thoughts and suggestions appear below.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t watch as much baseball as I used to. Now, don’t get me wrong: I still love the game — no other sport combines the level of strategy and pure skill the way baseball does. And I really enjoy breaking it down for the TBS show. But during the dog days of the season, I just can’t. It gets to be too much. There are so many stoppages during games, and all these new rules that don’t make a ton of sense to me. I’m a guy who loves baseball with all his heart, so when I watch games it can be tough to keep noticing things that don’t allow the sport to reach its full potential in terms of excitement and energy.

You hear people asking all the time: How can we make the game of baseball better? What adjustments can we implement to improve the sport? Look, you want a better game? Well, here’s what you do: Make me the damn commissioner! Things would get better in a hurry.

This is what I’m thinking. My big fixes for the sport of baseball. Let’s do this, people.

Issue: Throwing at Batters

Quick Take:
The way things are now makes no sense.

Because: Pitchers can do whatever they want, and hitters can’t. That’s wrong. Anytime you want to throw at me — whether you’re looking to send a message, or end my career — you can do that. As a hitter, though, I can’t do something similar. I can’t run out to the mound with a bat and knock a guy out.

So that’s the first problem I’d address in baseball. If the pitcher is bold enough to throw at you, he should have to deal with the repercussions in terms of what the hitter may do to him. You want to throw at me? O.K. man, here I come. You’re trying to hurt me, well now you’re going to have to deal with me trying to hurt you. And the punishments should not be disproportionate. If you throw at me, and I charge the mound and knock you out, you should get at least as much of a penalty as I do. If I get suspended for three games automatically, the pitcher should automatically have to miss two starts. He can throw an inning of relief during that time to allow his arm to stay sharp, but that’s it. You lose two starts.

Issue: Telling Guys How They Can Slide

Quick Take:
The game has gotten soft.

Because: We’re now coming up with rules to remove things that have been part of baseball from the beginning. You mean to tell me if I’m sliding into second base, and I’m trying to win a big game, I can’t take that guy out because I have to worry about his knee getting hurt? Come on. That’s almost like telling a guy in the NBA he can’t contest a jump shot.

Part of the beauty of baseball is being able to turn a double play when a team is trying to stop you from doing it. If they’re just gonna let you turn two, well that’s easy. Anyone can do that. The real skill is in turning a double play when it’s hard.

And look, a major league shortstop understands that he can’t put himself in a situation where his knee can get blown out. I played shortstop back in the day. I realized that it was my responsibility to not be in a position where a guy could do that to me. I knew what I had signed up for. If you’re at short, and you see that you’re not going to be able to make a play at first because there’s a runner right up under you, then you better eat that ball. Don’t try to make that throw.

There’s a similar issue with catcher collisions. Now I have to think about how to cross the plate according to some new rule, rather than just relying on my instincts. I’m telling you right now, if I were playing the game today, my baseball instincts would be telling me to break every single one of these stupid sliding rules. Every one of them. Because my gut is always going to tell me to try and help my team win. I’d take out the middle infielder on a slide to break up the double play, and I’d crash into the catcher to jar the ball loose on a play at the plate. Those guys would probably be out of the game, and I’d have accomplished what I wanted to accomplish. Then I’d deal with the consequences later. I’d rather do that than go against something that my baseball instincts are telling me to do.

Issue: Extra Innings

Quick Take:
Let’s save pitchers’ arms and make extra innings fun.

Because: Those games go on too long, and that’s bad for pitchers. It’s also bad for fans. A game that goes 16 innings is just plain boring. So here’s what we do: Each inning after the ninth, the manager of the team that’s batting gets to pick which hitters he wants to send to the plate. So you’d only have the very best hitters up there in extras. That would really speed things up, and when a manager knows he’s going to have to face the three, four and five hitters if a game goes to extras, you know he’s going to do everything he can to win the game before that point. It would also raise the excitement level for fans. All of a sudden, we come to a point in the game when both teams’ top hitters are up to bat every inning. That would be incredible. Can you imagine? Nobody’s leaving extra inning games early anymore, I’ll tell you that much.

This approach would allow the game to shine a spotlight on its superstars. One of the things that is unfortunate about how baseball works is that fans only get to see the game’s best players perform on offense four times a night — and sometimes even less, because if you’re really great they’ll just walk you and not let you hit at all. In the NBA, that’s not the case. LeBron is seeing the ball on every possession. And each time, there’s a chance he might dunk on someone’s head. Same thing with the NFL. Imagine if Tom Brady only got to make four throws over the course of an entire game.

Issue: Instant Replay

Quick Take:
Instant replay is ridiculous.

Because: It just takes too damn long. It’d be one thing if they were ruling on stuff right away. If the umpire says a guy is out, and he’s so obviously wrong that two seconds later he has someone in his ear who has reviewed the thing and says, “No, actually he was safe,” I’d be fine with that. Sure, change the call. But this stuff where reviews take forever and ever? No thanks.

This is about more than just speeding things up, too. Those reviews remove momentum from the game. A guy may make a great play in the outfield and throw a base runner out at the plate, but now if the call is close he can’t really celebrate. Instead of exchanging high fives with teammates and getting pumped up and taking some momentum into the dugout to go and hit, he has to stand around and wait. Momentum is so key to our game. If you remove it through some rule, you’ve really changed something that is fundamental to baseball. You’re taking away human emotion there.

Issue: Pace of Play

Quick Take: Keep it moving!

These games are putting people to sleep. Enough messing around! Stop with these tiny changes and really do something. For starters: No visits to the mound! No catcher visits. No coach visits. No visits period. Those guys go over everything a million times before a game. Everything you said you wanted to do to each hitter, you’ve gone over it a million times. Enough talking. No more meetings. And for hitters: No stepping out of the box constantly. Just go up and hit.

Issue: Infield Shifts

Quick Take: Ban the shift!

This whole thing with people playing out of position is all about the computer geeks. All this shifting comes from computer nerds who don’t play baseball. Teams have hired them because they think these guys understand the game, but they really don’t. They just go by the percentages. They have information on every at bat you’ve ever taken. Every one. Then they have these little printouts and they say, “Go stand over there.”

Get out of here with that.

That’s not baseball. That’s computer-geek ball. You have a position to play. So go play your position. You shouldn’t be allowed to play out of position. There is a reason why we have names for positions: third base, left field, shortstop, and so on. Those positions go way back. Those are real things that have been part of baseball forever.

Issue: The One-Game Wild-Card Format

Quick Take: It should be a series instead.

It’s crazy that after an entire season, whether you advance in the playoffs as a wild-card team usually comes down to which squad has the best starting pitcher to throw out there for a single game. You may be the better overall team, but if the opponent you’re facing has a Cy Young winner … you’re out of luck. You’re done. How is that a good thing?

Issue: Adding the DH in the National League

Quick Take: Yup, it’s time.

Baseball needs more excitement. The way the game is played today, with the lack of hitting, I think you have to make this change immediately. No one wants to see all these 2–1 games. It’s the seventh inning, two hours in, and the score is 1–1? It’s like watching paint dry. Adding the DH in the National League is not going to completely solve that problem, of course. But having another legit hitter in a lineup may at least help some.

Issue: PED Suspensions

Quick Take: MLB is not strict enough.

Everyone knows the rules. And I may not really be a big rules guy, but I’m just sayin’ … if they’re in place, you follow them. That’s what we tell our kids, right: Follow the rules. If you don’t, then you should pay the price. In my view the current penalties are too light. If you break that rule even once, you should lose a full season. If everyone else is following the rules and you’re not, that means you stand alone in what you’re doing. And we can’t have that. If you want certain things to stop, then don’t give people multiple chances. First offense, you’re out for an entire season. That’s it. See you next year, buddy.