Tweaking the postseason schedule. Eliminating the link between the All-Star game and World Series. Adding replay for fair-or-foul calls down the lines.
Oh, and a message to the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers: Hurry up!
Baseball is looking to make adjustments. Some soon, others later. Some significant, others subtle.
One change already is in effect. Pitchers now can touch their mouths or lips on the mound at any time to get a better grip. No need to step off or ask the umpire's permission, provided they're not standing on the rubber and then wipe their fingers.
The Official Playing Rules Committee made that shift in December, the same month commissioner Bud Selig convened a special, 14-member panel to examine all facets of the game. He repeatedly said “there are no sacred cows.”
The group will look at scheduling, pace of game, realignment, umpiring and other areas. Selig promises to seriously study the panel's suggestions.
Major League Baseball made one recommendation without waiting. It's directly calling the Yankees, the Dodgers and Boston slow pokes, and telling them to speed up.
The Yankees (3:08), Red Sox (3:04) and Dodgers (3:02) played the longest nine-inning games last year, STATS LLC said; the MLB average was 2 hours, 52 minutes. Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon was fined $5,000 for slow play and the champion Yanks drew the eye — and ire — of baseball for holding incessant mound meetings in the postseason.
“We have hitters that see a lot of pitches. The Red Sox have hitters that see a lot of pitches. We haven't played the Dodgers so I don't really know. But that's going to be a part of it,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
“We do whatever we can. We tell the players what to do, but if you're going to score runs and see lots of pitches and there's pitching changes, the game's going to be longer. But we're doing everything we can to adhere to the rules,” he said.
There aren't any threats about what will happen if they don't comply. Will the prompts help? “We told those three the same thing last year,” MLB vice president of on-field operations Bob Watson said.
Talks have started, meanwhile, between management and the players' union on altering the postseason schedule this year. Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia loudly complained last October when his team went through a stretch of playing eight games in 20 days.
MLB and the union are discussing whether an extra off-day during the AL championship series can be pulled. Scioscia, a member of Selig's blue-ribbon panel, made that a point of emphasis during a meeting of committee members and conference calls.
Any chance of expanding the opening round to a best-of-seven, however, will have to wait until the current labor contract expires after the 2011 season.
“The commissioner paid attention to everything that was on the table, put a lot of thought into it. I think he appreciated all the input,” Scioscia said. “What I was really adamant about was the structure of the postseason as far as how many games you play and how the postseason needs to keep a flow. I know that he paid a lot of attention to it and I'm sure he'll address it at the proper time.”
Selig has said he anticipates making some announcements before the season starts April 4.
The panel is expected to look hard at whether the league that wins the All-Star game should be awarded home-field advantage in the World Series. The American League has won seven in a row since the innovation began and the issue has constantly drawn debate, with many fans and players saying there are other ways to determine who hosts Game 1.
Among other topics the committee has explored: realignment to better group teams of similar economic situations and changes to the amateur draft. The union generally would be OK on making all players subject to an international draft, but would oppose attaching fixed signing bonuses to each slot.
Replay also drew interest following a postseason of missed calls. At some point, the committee is expected to present its view on using replay to review balls that land in play near the foul lines. That change would require approval from the umpires.
Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro said announcements from Selig's office were on the way.
“The commissioner has set a definite agenda on a variety of topics and I'm excited on the progress that was made,” he said.