June 06, 2008
BLS contributor Nick Friedell attended Thursday's MLB draft in Florida and is filing a few reports on what he saw.
I walked into the Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex with an open mind.
I wanted to give the MLB Draft a chance.
I knew that Major League Baseball was trying to make the draft an "event," much like the NFL has done with its yearly extravaganza. This is only the second year that baseball has tried such a format — Bud Selig walking to the podium to announce selections, ESPN analysts providing live coverage and fans in the stands cheering the picks.
It's a great path for baseball to follow, but there's still a lot of room for improvement as MLB still lags behind the other three sports in terms of the amount of attention its draft receives.
Here, then, are a few easy ways for Bud Selig and his MLB minions to continue building interest in what they hope will be an annual hallmark event:
Move the draft to a night-time start: Who is going to watch this thing, if it starts at 2 pm ET on a random Thursday in June? If MLB is serious about making the draft a popular, annual event, it has to move the start time back, even if that means that the draft runs up against some games. It's already running against some day games, so why not just move it back a few hours?
Make the draft a baseball holiday: The ideal time to hold this draft would be the day after the All-Star game, when nothing else is going on, but since that probably won't happen, why not give all of baseball a day off, and let everybody watch the draft? It's a radical idea to be sure, but that's the beauty of the NFL, NBA and NHL Drafts ... there is nothing else going on and the leagues make it into a media event. It's a time when fans of those leagues can watch and learn about the new players entering those leagues.
Make the Top 10 players, who are still not playing, come to the draft: I can't tell you how anti-climatic it was to watch Bud Selig announce the fist pick, and then not see him shake the player's hand (in this case, it was Tim Beckham, who was back in Georgia), and take pictures while the player smiles, and holds up his new team's jersey. Every other league does it like that, so why can't the MLB pick up the cost of a couple of airline tickets if the prospects don't have any prior playing commitments?
Find a different location for the draft: Disney World is a nice place, and the people there do a good job setting up all kinds of different events, but there has to be a better place for the draft. As I've mentioned before on the Stew, Orlando is not really a hotbed for baseball fans. In fact, it's the largest media market in the country (19) without a minor or major league baseball team. A simple solution would be to rotate the draft between Major League cities. First up, New York and the glare of the nation's biggest media corps.
Find the Mel Kiper, Jr. of baseball: The popularity of the NFL Draft can be traced in many ways to the rise of Mel Kiper, Jr. on ESPN. Whether people love him or hate him, they watch him throughout the year to see what he has to say about prospects in the draft. ESPN needs to go out and find somebody with a made-for-tv personality (preferably a Kiper-style 'do as well) whose only job is to break down the draft all season, and talk about it on the air. If they find somebody like Kiper, and give him a platform throughout the year, it might actually get people excited — not to mention knowledgeable about the players involved — when baseball draft day approaches.
Allow teams to trade draft picks: This has been discussed for several years, by many different people in baseball circles. But why not let teams trade their draft picks? It would not only give teams another way to make roster moves, but it would make the draft itself much more interesting.
Baseball fans would be glued to their television sets to see whether or not their favorite team was going to make a draft-day deal. Drafting a player no one has heard of, who won't be ready for the majors for a few years, if ever, doesn't excite the average fan. Trading that pick for a veteran player who can make an immediate impact would.