Baseball in THE YEAR 3000

Allison Joyce

Caught your attention with that headline, didn't I?

It was a trick. I don't expect humanity to exist in any recognizable form in THE YEAR 3000, so it's pointless to guess what professional human sports will look like then.

Rather, I'm intrigued by what baseball's going to look like in, say, a dozen or so years from now. First, though, a few words about Commissioner Bud's latest press availability:

Selig said he expects the owners to name a successor “well in advance” of the end of his term, though he has not discussed the matter with them yet. When he retires, Selig said he wants to write a book and continue teaching. Selig has been an adjunct professor of sports law and policy at Marquette University Law School since 2010.

When asked about his legacy as commissioner, Selig he wanted to be judged on the growth in franchise values since he took over. He mentioned the $2.15 billion sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012. “The Dodgers sale was stunning,” he said. “Every franchise is worth a lot more today, and that’s because the game is healthy.”

Just a few things about this before I get on with it ...

If you're willing to bet good money on Selig retiring at the end of the next year, then I've got a ballpark in Miami I would like you to build for me. Because we've heard this before, and I believe there's at least a 50/50 chance that Commissioner Bud will keep on keeping on for as long as his health allows. And we've seen nothing to suggest that he's anything but hale and hearty.

On the other hand, it's possible that some of the job's joys have faded, because at this point Selig seems to be playing defense rather than offense, and defense usually isn't as much fun. More on that in a moment.

I do find it somewhat disheartening that, when asked about his legacy, Selig's mind turned immediately to money. Maybe this shouldn't surprise us, since Selig used to own a franchise. And maybe franchise values are just a useful proxy for the general health of the sport. But I suppose the truth is simply that Bud Selig is paid huge amounts of money by the owners of the baseball franchises, and so it's natural that he's been doing his best to carry out the wishes of those owners, whose wishes generally are focused on making money (since they can't all win the World Series ever year).

Now, about playing defense ... Selig answered questions on a lot of topics, and his answers essentially boiled down to a bunch of no's:

- no change when it comes to Designated Hitters in just one league

- no change in Pete Rose's status

- no change for the Oakland A's and their perpetual desire for a new home

- no change in Miami, where Hurricane Jeffrey continues to batter the local fan base

- no prospects for Major League Baseballers participating in the Olympics

Now, I'm not necessarily criticizing Selig for any of these things; I agree with him on some, and some others are perhaps beyond his ken at this point. But I will note also that Selig seems to have little interest in expanding the use of video review -- oh, and remember when that seemed imminent? -- or somehow protecting our tender sensibilities from the scourge of home-plate violence. Let alone the daily scourge of strikeouts.

With one exception -- large international signing bonuses -- the Commissioner seems to be fairly content with what he and the Players' Association have wrought. And so he's "hopeful" about an agreement with the union about an international draft. But otherwise he seems to hope for almost nothing else, except (of course) that franchise values continue to rise. As they almost certainly will.

Still, if we know nothing else, we should assume that changes will come to the game, if only because they always have. Or for as long as most of us can remember, anyway. A short list from memory:

1947 - Integration
1950s - FIVE teams moved
1961 - Expansion
1962 - Expansion
1965 - Amateur Draft
1966 - Braves moved (again)
1969 - Expansion
1973 - Designated Hitters
1977 - Expansion
1981 - Big Strike
1993 - Expansion
1994 - Big Strike World Series
1998 - Expansion
2005 - Expos moved

I'm just trying to hit the high points here, and I'm sure you might add some items of your own. Maybe there's room in there for the Brewers and the Astros switching leagues; I left out modern free agency because the owners were dragged into that one, kicking and screaming.

My point is that Major League Baseball since World War II has never gone too long without significant changes, especially when it comes to the number and location of franchises. I will be absolutely shocked if I look at the standings exactly 10 years from now and see the same 30 teams in the same six divisions that I see today. It's just very difficult to know what's going to happen, because nothing can really happen without the Commissioner, and today's Commissioner seems utterly uninterested in making anything happen. Or maybe he's unable. Either way, I don't expect anything significant while Selig's in charge, and I expect him to be in charge indefinitely.

But I also believe that once there's a new Commissioner, the big change-clock starts a-ticking. Now, this obviously presumes that the owners who hire the new Commissioner have at least some interest in change. But if they do hire someone with his own ideas and ambitions and political skills, I expect at least some of the following issues to finally be seriously addressed:

- nobody will pay to see the Athletics in Oakland

- nobody will pay to see the Rays in St. Petersburg

- Jeffrey Loria has poisoned the well in Miami

- there are large markets -- especially Portland and Charlotte -- without Major League Baseball

- there's an obvious "need" for a third team in the Tri-State Area

- the rapidly growing inequities tied to local TV revenues

- strikeouts are rising rapidly, with no end in sight

- technology is improving much faster than umpiring

These are just a few things that an energetic Commissioner with some latitude might tackle; I'm sure you can think of more. But energetic or not, I do believe the next Commissioner will be forced to preside over some changes that will be considered historic. All of these things probably won't be addressed by 2013. But some of them will, along with others that we've not yet imagined.

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