“I hope you’re happy, everyone. You’ve used up all the baseball. Like Social Security and gasoline, baseball will be dried up and gone before you retire, before your kids graduate high school.”

Keith Olbermann glowers at you from the television in your darkened living room, his words falling like hard-driven hammers. Your Mountain Dew can falls from your right hand as the news sinks in; your left hand pauses on its well-worn path to your pants. Everything stops for a moment. In fact, the room swims just a little, and as it comes back into focus, you make several realizations at once.

Your 23-inch Broksonic TV set has been replaced by a plasma screen several times that size. At first, it looks wall-mounted, but no: Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds, clearly chained in place on the other side of the wall, are holding it at either end.

The Mountain Dew can is a shattered goblet, and Fay Vincent’s blood stains the deep plush of carpet. Startled, you stand up quickly, jerking your hand out of your crotch. That draws a furious hiss from your pet boa constrictor, who’s sent flying. Wait. You don’t have a pet snake. Slowly, it dawns on you: Through some synchronous loop created by shared reactions, you’ve switched bodies with Bud Selig.

Oh no! You’re not cut out to be Bud Selig. You have no taste for torture, no stomach for sadism, no penchant for new playoff rounds.

But wait! If you’re Selig now, you have the power to decide how the precious remaining baseball will be rationed, how it can be made to last longer, or to bring us all greater joy. It may not be what Selig would do, but you have a chance to aim higher than Selig.

A report on Selig’s nightstand (would you believe, Montreal Expos bed sheets) tells you we have just 200,000 outs or so left before baseball runs out.

Under normal Major League rules, that’s about 33,000 innings, or slightly fewer than 4,000 games, or a season and a half.

But.

There are ways you could modify the game. You could make systemic changes that draw out the story arcs and game situations you think offer the most bang for the buck of those who invest their time, emotion and intellect in baseball, and that prolong the final phase of the life of the erstwhile national pastime. Here are some options:

  • Six-Inning Games: It wouldn’t change all that much, really. Every game would just start, effectively, in the fourth inning. The intensity of each contest would ratchet up, and since each one would be shorter, there would be more games before the well dried up. The integrity of the sport of the long season would stand intact, but the rhythm of games would change drastically.
  • 100-Game Seasons: This keeps the nine-inning game intact, but the age-old structure of the baseball season gets a streamline treatment. You’d also need to decide whether to spread the games over a full six months, or condense it to a little over half that.
  • Two-Out Innings: Imagine the fragility of any offensive rally. Still, this would shorten games, save precious outs (the same number as six-inning games would save) and apply catalytic pressure to the stagnant discipline of offensive innovation in the game.
  • A 12-Inch Home Plate: Baseball will run out after 100.000 or so more outs, right? So we make outs much harder to get. Not only should the plate be smaller, but the fences could come in, or the ball could get both bigger and lighter. This is the desperate, denial approach. Did you ever read The Monster at the End of This Book? This is a lot like Grover’s strategy in that book.
  • Sunday Baseball Forever: Baseball is running out, you say? Well, let’s make it count, then. Destination games. Nationally-televised tripleheaders. Play once a week, like the NFL. Teams play just 26 games each year. Spread games out, so that each is an event, preceded not only by tailgating and on-site ESPN desk shows, but by days of careful game-planning by each side. Baseball could take on the air of more rigorous planning and choreography that football already exudes.

It’s a shame that the world has come to this. But something must be done. You get up from Selig’s bed (your robe falling open slightly; yikes. Right after you save baseball, or at least make it as comfortable as possible in its dying days, you really have to get your body back), and pick up the phone on the nightstand.

“What do we do?!?!?” hollers Joe Torre from the other end of the line, clearly at the end of his wits.

How do you answer him?

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