League Assembles Team To Assess Baseball's Future

This week Bud Selig, the Major League Baseball commissioner, announced that a committee will be formed to study baseball and make suggestions on how it might be improved. Robert Siegel talks with sportswriter Stefan Fatsis about the makeup of the committee and what it might discuss.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Here in Washington, D.C., a winter storm is apparently on the way. So, what better sports topic for the cold weather than baseball? At least, that's what our regular commentator Stefan Fatsis has been thinking about. Stefan, good to talk with you once again.

STEFAN FATSIS: Hello, Robert.

SIEGEL: And Bud Selig, commissioner of baseball, this week announced the formation of a committee to examine just about anything it wants to examine about baseball. Stefan, what do you think of that committee?

FATSIS: Well, I think it's a good idea to do something like this, and he put 14 people on this committee, several centuries of baseball knowledge and some really smart, open-minded people: Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, some good front- office executives. Having said that, of this group, 13 are over the age of 50, all of them are men, 13 of them are white. The only non-baseball official is 68-year-old conservative political columnist George Will: no players, no umpires, no union officials.

BLOCK: Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Tony Gwynn? How about a smart, under-40 executive? How about Kim Ng of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the odds-on choice to become the first female general manager in baseball. And if you're going to include a writer, how about one of these quantitatively minded guys who are rationally dissecting every facet of the sport?

You know, there's nobody here who came of age in the Internet era. This is Eisenhower-era people.

SIEGEL: All right, well, that's your thoughts on who's on the committee. What about what the committee's going to talk about? What do you think they'll actually do?

FATSIS: How much they can accomplish is questionable because of the factors of other outside forces like the players union, which we'll have to approve most changes to the game on the field, like the television networks, which will have to approve any changes in the schedule, particularly in the post-season.

But a couple of things are obvious here. One is the length of games, about two hours and 50 minutes now. There's a belief that you could really get back to a point where games didn't last more than two and a half hours, maybe limit conferences between the pitchers and the catchers and the managers on the mound, force hitters not to step out of the batter's box constantly.

Another big issue is instant replay. This was big news after a series of blown calls by umpires in the playoffs. I hope baseball takes a step forward here.

SIEGEL: Would they consider making the designated hitter uniform, either in both leagues or none?

FATSIS: If they move to go that directly, it's going to have to be uniform in both leagues. The players union will never allow the reduction of a roster spot.

SIEGEL: One other subject: golf. The PGA commissioner, Finchem, put a brave face on the news that Tiger Woods would be taking a break from playing. How much trouble is the PGA tour in right now?

FATSIS: You know, Finchem said that he was more concerned with the recession than with Tiger leaving, but it's a double whammy for golf. The sport has 11 tournaments who have sponsors that are due to expire after the 2010 season. Three tournaments on the schedule had no sponsors right now.

Last year, when Tiger was out with that knee injury, the TV audience for tournaments that he had played in the previous year fell from 4.6 million, on average, to 2.4 million, almost 50 percent. That means advertising buyers argue for lower rates. That hurts the networks, and the networks are going to be negotiating new TV contracts with golf in two years. Attendance, Internet traffic all drop when Tiger doesn't play.

I think this is going to be a giant story of course, when Tiger does return to the golf course, the multi-multi-million-dollar question is whether fans are going to care about him in the same way as a golfer as they did before all of this happened.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Stefan. Have a great weekend and a good holiday season.

FATSIS: Thanks, Robert, you too.

SIEGEL: That's Stefan Fatsis, author of "A Few Seconds of Panic: A Sportswriter Plays in the NFL." He joins us most Fridays.

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