If MLB wants even more change after instituting pace-of-play tweaks for the 2017 season, perhaps it’s time for Manfred & Co. to give the sport a more complete makeover
1. Allow players to re-enter games after they come out, just like most other sports. This isn’t as drastic as it sounds, I promise. Baseball is the only sport of the four major American team sports in which a player is unable to return to the field if he’s removed from the game. But if a guy gets hit by a pitch in the first inning or takes a hard dive on a catch and needs a short time to recover, why not let him sit out for a couple of innings and re-enter later if he’s able? Yes, this would be a truly radical change to the game, but one that probably wouldn’t be as bad as fans might think. There could be limits, such as requiring re-entry within two innings, limiting use of the re-entry rule to no more than twice per game, forbidding re-entry as a pinch-hitter, and/or not allowing re-entry after the seventh inning.
2. Change the definition of “balk.” The balk is one of the most vague and subjective things in all of baseball. Truth is, it’s kind of baseball’s version of “what is a catch?” with the added confusion of imaginary 45-degree lines. MLB went decades without regularly enforcing the “must come to a complete stop” rule for pitchers coming set before renewing enforcement during the 1988 season, presumably to be more fair to base runners who might attempt to steal. But strangely enough, there hasn’t been a runner to steal 100 or more bases since the renewed enforcement went into effect (Vince Coleman was the last in 1987). That version of balk aside, the other seemingly mysterious and sometimes confusing balk rules about not “deceiving the runner” don’t add much to the game or preserve any real sense of integrity. Deception in some form has always been part of the game. So, yeah, fake pickoff throws to any base should be OK. It should also be OK to accidentally drop the ball while on the mound. Perhaps the only actions that should be considered balks are fake pitches and stopping the delivery midway through.
3. Put the DH in the National League. I made a longer case for this a while back, but here’s the gist: It’s past time for this to happen. A DH-to-the-NL move would almost certainly boost offense and keep MLB from having to play by two sets of rules. Baseball should stop trying to unnecessarily speed things up, and pull the trigger on the one change that could actually make games more entertaining. OK, purists, maybe a fibbed a bit about these proposals not being so bad.
4. Amend the sacrifice fly rule to include fly balls that advance runners to second or third. I suppose the argument is that sac flies aren’t intentional the way sac bunts are, so a batter only gets credit for a sac fly when he advances a runner to home, which is at least somewhat seen as an intentional act — or at least on the batter’s mind in a more urgent way than it would be with runners on first and/or second. But any ball fly ball that advances a runner should count as a sacrifice fly. Sure, there’s always the question of whether the fly ball was an intentional act, but we already give official scorers the flexibility to decide this on sac bunts, so the logic should be extended to fly balls.
5. Speaking of sac flies, don’t let this affect on-base percentage. My SN colleague Ryan Spaeder has written extensively on why this rule needs to change. But if you don’t feel like clicking and reading, here’s his basic argument: Unlike sac bunts, which don’t affect a player’s batting average or on-base percentage, sac flies hurt on-base percentage while leaving average unaffected. This is silly and should change. Current and former players, including Hall of Famer Wade Boggs, agree.