The trade deadline TV spectacular

Baseball, for all its traditions, is lacking in the showmanship that the NBA and NFL have for non-game-related television specials.

This week the NBA had one of those: The draft lottery. Essentially it is a dozen or so men sitting behind what looks like the NBA version of Match Game to find out how ping pong balls bounced in an off screen room. We don’t even get to see the balls bounce like a local lottery drawing. All but one of the men will remain silent the entire show. Presumably they all came with a makeshift uniform featuring the most coveted college or high school star’s name on it that will never be seen.

It is silly but riveting television. It gets people talking about basketball and its future. The NBA and NFL also share the crazy spectacle of their respective drafts. Fans actually attend the event where a giant clock counts down to the next pick. People in the crowd go crazy or boo based on their take on a college player that chances are they have never seen play live. And, incredibly, analysts break down the draft as it happens, as if anyone can know for sure which players are going to pan out and which players will be Greg Oden.

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They are gigantic events in the NBA and NFL calendar year. And baseball does not have an equivalent. The winter meetings are covered on MLB Network and ESPN, but how compelling is that to watch? Basically you see a panel of experts talking while Ken Rosenthal runs around a hotel lobby like Charlton Heston at the end of Soylent Green trying to get a scoop.

Recently the amateur draft has been televised, but that is a monumental snore even for a baseball fan like me. Bud Selig walks up to the podium and announces a player’s name. If he’s are a high school player, there is no way to know what kind of competition he had to face. “He batted .750 with an OPS of 1.993 for his high school team.” Great. Who was pitching? Someone with a 50 mile per hour fastball?

College hitters put up gaudy numbers but will they adjust to a wood bat? And college pitchers will get people excited, but will be put on a regimen where they can throw only three pitches a month until they are 32.

Part of the reason the NBA and NFL drafts work is that fans have at least a passing knowledge of some of the big stars. The NCAA Tournament and the BCS bowls act as makeshift coming-out parties for the drafts’ stars. And chances are the first-round picks will not only make the team but will be contributing the next season. In baseball the top picks will not see the majors for a few years, if at all.

Familiarity mixed with the spectacle is the key for any such sports special. Which is why the trade deadline has the best potential for a TV special.

As the trade deadline goes now, it is spread throughout the league with a ticker scrolling beneath an ESPN or MLB Network broadcast. Players are playing games, not knowing if they are going to be yanked out of a game. (Remember Jose Canseco being pulled from the on deck circle in the middle of a game to be told he was shipped off to Texas in 1992?)

Instead of the loose bits of information floating baseball, concentrate it. Rent out Radio City Music Hall or the theater at Madison Square Garden. Better yet, have it rotate from city to city each year. And have the teams have a day off. (In my previous post, I suggested having the All-Star Game at the start of the season, so perhaps this could be the needed respite for players midseason.)

On the Monday after the last weekend of July, all the general managers (and agents, scouts, managers and ubiquitous former players like Rollie Fingers) arrive at the city. There are autograph seekers, players honored and lots of rumors floating around. And in the middle of the venue there is a gigantic clock, counting down to the absolute trade deadline.

Cameras show GMs on their cell phones and going over to their respective “War Room” tables. Twitter rumors run rampant and the crowd buzzes as each rumor sounds more and more factual.

And when each trade is official, Bud Selig comes to the podium to announce the deal. Everyone hushes, Peter Gammons stops giving his commentary to hear what the deal is.

“The Seattle Mariners trade Cliff Lee to the Texas Rangers for Justin Smoak and a bunch of other people you’ve never heard of.”

The crowd cheers. The Yankee fans boo. Bobby Valentine can’t believe it. And each general manager is whisked into an interview room to talk about the trade.

A gigantic board keeps track of the trades and the rumors fly around. Teams wanting the big fish scramble to make a counter move. All the while the gigantic clock ticks down. As it gets into the final 15 minutes, a flurry of trades are made that are instantly broken down by the experts. Players reactions are heard on the phone. No doubt Curt Schilling will have something to say.

The crowd counts down the final 30 seconds and maybe a final deal or two are announced, but they have to be delivered to the commissioner before the clock strikes zero. Essentially it can create a flurry of activity that would be a combination of fantasy baseball and the finale of Trading Places.

The clock ticks down and that is it. And here is the newest wrinkle. That would not only be the waiver wire deadline for trades, but also the deadline to have players on the roster for the postseason.

As it is set up now, the confusing waiver wire deadline takes place in July. But teams have until the end of August to add players who are eligible for postseason play. But the trade deadline special would combine the two. Any outside help to patch holes on a roster must be made with two months to spare. That means picking up added depth. That means anticipating which players on the roster could break down.

And teams on the fence of contention would have to make a choice. Do they cut bait and build for the next year or realize that they can pull a 2007 Colorado Rockies and make a run for the pennant?

It would add a sense of urgency to the trades made and make the players on a postseason roster to have spent at least a third of the season with the club. Afterwards, players can still be traded and moved, but would not be able to play with the club in October.

Is that harsh? Perhaps. Would it give the deadline more pressure? Of course it would and make it more dramatic.

Think nobody would watch such an event? Remember when ESPN first offered to televise the NFL draft, the idea was considered nuts. Now it is considered to be one of the highlights of the sports calendar.

The trading deadline special would create a new celebration for baseball and its fans and would involve familiar players and the pressure of a pennant race.

It’s worth a shot. It could be a heck of a show.

References & Resources
Baseball Reference, CNNSI.com

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Comments

  1. Scelba said...

    I guess this is article is written in jest?  This idea wouldn’t make any sense in real life – the NFL draft has, I believe, at least 33 * 8 or 264 players chosen.  Plus, at least a couple noteworthy trades are almost guaranteed to take place.

    With the MLB deadline, in many, many years nothing significant happens in the hours prior to the deadline.  Absolutely nothing.  Trades are made earlier that day, the prior day, two days before, or not at all.

    People wouldn’t attend a function when it might well turn out to be absolutely meaningless.

    In addition, let’s say this trade deadline special took place in NY.  With the draft, the Jets and Giants are guaranteed to be involved – the question is simply one of degree.  How many years are the two local teams going to remain completely idle? Wouldn’t make sense for locals to attend (and locals make up the bulk of attendees at NFL and NBA draft functions).

    I guess this is a joke because it doesn’t make any sense at all.

  2. Rafael said...

    If you were able to find this information on the Internet (not sure), I think you would discover that very few important trades in MLB history took place in the hours leading up to the trade deadline – very few.

  3. Ralph C. said...

    Of course what makes this work for the NFL and NBA is the immediacy that the drafter players can play, which garners them more attention at their prior level of competition.  MLB and the NHL have their minor leagues.

    I guess baseball and hockey have to be more like the NFL and NBA, which has their pageantry, pomp and circumstance, etc.  The NFL can’t really be beat because, well, they only play 16 games (for now. Even 18 games will still make every football game an “event”).

    A good NFL season is like a good movie.  A good MLB season is like a good novel.  We know what people like more, don’t we?

  4. Dave Studeman said...

    Eddie is right.  Here’s what you said in your article, Paul:

    the confusing waiver wire deadline takes place in July

    I think you left out the “non.” Doesn’t change what you’re proposing.  Just pointing it out.

  5. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    How was Eddie right?

    The only deadline that is at August 31 is for post season rosters. You can make trades before and after that.

    I will insert the non in front of waiver wire

  6. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    There was tongue in cheek planted in this article but also a little bit of truth

    I feel baseball needs to find ways to put on a better show for TV and their attempt to televise the draft is kind of a Gigli level thud.

    A lot of times huge deals are made at the trade deadline. The Nomar and the Manny trade comes to mind off the top of my head.

    Come on! Tell me you WOULDN’T watch it!

  7. Dave Studeman said...

    Well, okay, he wasn’t totally right, but he was right to point out that you were wrong. wink

  8. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    I was missing a word but the idea that the two deadlines should be combined was still valid… and the idea that the two deadlines were the same day was wrong

    And I will fight Eddie to the death on this issue with swords and knives

  9. Greg Simons said...

    But what if Eddie has a gun?  As someone well versed in film, I’m sure you remember Indiana Jones vs. the guy with the scimitar.

    (And just it case it wasn’t technically a scimitar, you know what I mean.)

  10. Paul G. said...

    If you really wanted to make a draft equivalent event, you could always go completely crazy.  Get rid of the minor league farm systems, except perhaps for AAA since the the major league teams need to store some backups somewhere.  The rest of the minors become unaffiliated.  Those high schoolers and college players go straight into the minors, belonging to no major league team.  The better minor league competition helps sort the really good players from the pretenders.  THEN have the draft.  Basically, this creates a baseball equivalent of the college level for football and basketball.  Of course, a team could draft a player directly out of high school or college if they wanted, but they would have to put him on the major league roster or AAA (perhaps with a minimum play requirement to keep teams from warehousing players), else surrender him back to the minors where the player is eligible for the draft again.

    Crazy?  Yes.  Workable?  I suspect not.  Will it ever happen?  You are a funny guy.  But if you want a draft like atmosphere, that’s one way to do it.

    If you wanted to make the Trade Deadline Spectacular (hosted this year by Billy Crystal!), I suspect the only way to make that work is to ban all trades for a couple of weeks or a month before the trade deadline so everything has to go through on the Major League Baseball Deadline Trade and Variety Show.  Brace yourself for amazing swaps of spare parts intermixed with Peter Gammons and Cher belting out “I Found Someone” and the obligatory John Fogerty appearance.

  11. Eric R said...

    “Remember Jose Canseco being pulled from the on deck circle in the middle of a game to be told he was shipped off to Texas in 1992?”

    Curious—Why wouldn’t the GM finalize the deal just a couple hours later to get one full extra game out of Canseco?  He was their third best hitter by OPS/OPS+ and they were playing a good team that day. 

    Granted, at the time of the trade they had a 6.5 game lead over Minny with two months to play.  And the ultimately it made no difference with them winning the division by 6 games anyways—but in any case, I think it’s odd to not just wait until the game was over or atleast until it appeared that having Canseco or not wouldn’t make any difference.

    I suppose it is possible that the Rangers made their final offer and didn’t want to wait any longer

  12. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    Paul G! Now you are talking!

    Ban all trades from being official until the deadline special!

    Have it REALLY be like the end of Trading Places!!!

  13. Joe said...

    Eric,
    They pulled him because they didn’t want to risk Jose injuring himself, thus having to void the trade.

  14. bucdaddy said...

    Well, I can remember when baseball had a chance to do something like that, and blew it. It was the Marlins-Rockies expansion draft, and IIRC they held it in the afternoon. On a weekday. And I don’t believe it was televised.

    I haven’t seen many signs that baseball has come to its senses since then.

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