Yearn for the Cup

Perhaps it’s simply a byproduct of baseball commissioner Rob Manfred’s approach, where each and every hairbrained idea for the game is given a public test drive, but there has been a significant number of “what to change about baseball” pieces being written lately. I advanced my own idea a few days ago, reducing the distance between the bases, to change the offensive approach so prevalent now. But even though I think that plan might be the only way to restore offensive balance, it’s not something I’d jump into until other less drastic measures were taken and proved inadequate.

Moreover, for the most part, there’s really nothing about the game that couldn’t simply be fixed by just putting serious, effective pace-quickening measures in place. That isn’t reducing commercial time or changing the intentional walk rule. It comes down to three things: throw the damn ball, stay in the damn box, and quit congregating on the damn mound. MLB announced half-assed steps to address the third, but without any concerted effort at the first two, the games will continue to creep along at the snail’s rate they’re at now.

Other than that, the on-field product mostly doesn’t need serious fixing. But there are other ways to deliver the game that could generate new interest from both the casual and hardcore fan alike.

My idea would be to borrow from the boys across the pond. During the various soccer seasons in the UK, Germany, Spain and Italy, the campaigns are also broken up by the occasional tournament. The Champions League. The Euros, the World Cup, etc., are often played midseason. These don’t detract from the Premier League or La Liga chases. It’s just bonus football.

Why can’t baseball do something similar? Why not introduce the North American Cup, a season-long tournament for professional baseball throughout organized ball here.

Here’s how I see it playing out: The High A season starts with two 15-team tournaments, with the two events broken down by parent-club affiliation. The games could be played over the course of a weekend at two sites (with the host clubs getting the bye each year). And if you can find a way to pull the Rookie League and low-A teams into the mix, more’s the better.

The champions of each Single A tournament then advance to the Double A tournament a month later, to be played under the same format (though now there will be no need for byes, as each field will have 16 teams). The winners, naturally, advance to play in the Triple A tournament in July.

Finally, over the course of five Mondays in late July, early August (when many MLB teams are just playing out the string), the tournament is resumed at the major league level. The league will schedule no regular season games on those Mondays (the schedule can be reduced to 154 games as part of the plan), allowing attention to be focused entirely on the Cup. Games can be played at home fields or a single site.

The NA Cup would provide more than a few benefits, besides just additional baseball with something on the line. First, it would give the many out-of-the-running teams a second chance at doing something meaningful during the season. And the inclusion of two minor league teams, who would on occasion knock off a big-league opponent to advance to the second round (since this is baseball), would deliver the Cinderellas that make the NCAA basketball tournament so exciting. And if you provide a nice financial incentive along the way, you’ll get some buy-in from the players.

We don’t need to gimmick up the game by putting a runner on second to start the 11th, or allow any three players to hit in the ninth, two cockamamie plans that have been tossed out recently. A single-elimination tournament is a dramatic change from the 162-game grind, but it would remain the same great game at its core.

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