MLB experts bat around some ideas on improving the game

USA Today begins a series today on how to improve baseball. It will run all week.

They gathered together a panel to discuss it, including a player, a manager, a scout, an agent, an umpire, and Bob Nightengale, who moderated and represented the media, I guess.

The manager chosen was one Dusty Baker.

Today's article is about instant replay, the speed of the game, and inconsistent application of the strike zone.

Umpiring controversies in last season's American League division and championship series have placed new attention on whether the use of replay reviews should be increased:

It was Commissioner Bud Selig's worst nightmare.

During last season's playoffs, the nation wasn't transfixed only by the New York Yankees' title run but also by umpiring controversies. Blown calls got plenty of headlines. Three veteran umpire supervisors — Marty Springstead, Richie Garcia and Jim McKean — were fired. There will forever be missed calls, but the committee believes it might be time to fully embrace instant replay to avoid, well, a replay of last year's postseason.

There's a photo slideshow, too.  I'd swipe the pic of Dusty, but it's embedded in a Flash animation.

Reds manager Dusty Baker wishes baseball would return to the days when umpires worked in either the National League or American League. Now, he says, he and the players don't know who calls the high strike, who calls the outside pitch or who has a tight strike zone.

"We just don't know these umpires or the games they call," Baker says. "To me, that's slowed the down the game a whole bunch. The hitters don't know the strike zone, and the catchers don't know how to work an umpire a certain way."

I thought Steve Palermo, umpiring supervisor, had some interesting things to say.  He hates the strike box graphic, saying it's inaccurate and makes umpires look terrible.  He thinks young umpires are too afraid to overturn calls by senior umpires.  And he doesn't like the extra umpires for the post-season.  He says they're not used to it, so it actually makes the officiating worse.

The rest of the series:

Today: The on-field product - improving umpiring, pace of play and instant replay.

Tuesday: The schedule - finding a way to avoid overcoats at the World Series.

Wednesday: Acting locally - how baseball should prioritize domestic, rather than global, initiatives.

Thursday: The draft - overhauling the process to create a system that ensures prospects get paid well and small-market teams aren't frozen out.

Friday: Tying up the loose ends - what to do with the World Baseball Classic, how to keep fans and players safer, and making the World Series a true big-time event.

(Maybe this should be a FanShot, but FanShots are too goddamned limited.  You can't even post more than one link, or quote from a link.  Stupid FanShots.)

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