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101 years (and counting) of futility

And thus another baseball season has come to pass and the Cubs of Chicago are sent home with thoughts of next year.

And what might have been.

The thing about being a Cubs fan is you're haunted by the suspicion that "what might have been" resembled what actually happened.

Which was that your team played hard (at times), suffered some unfortunate injuries (same as every other team) and simply failed to live up to its billing as a World Series contender.

For the record, I never believed this group had what it took to make the first Series run in 101 years.

Sure, we've made the playoffs three consecutive years, a first in my lifetime, but even when we were winning, we never looked comfortable.

At this point it has to be a chemistry issue, as in we have none.

Adding a man whom I believe to be certifiably insane probably didn't help. I hope Milton Bradley someday loses that demon attached to his back, for his own emotional health, if anything.

Having suffered though another lackluster Cubs season, I have come to a strange crossroads with the game of baseball.

It will remain my favorite sport. Forever, probably.

But I believe the time has come for some sweeping changes to our national sport, otherwise I fear it will shrink out of our consciousness and disappear from our cultural radar and end up bookended with the WNBA and Major League Soccer.

For what it's worth, I will suggest a few changes that I would hope could bring a few more young fans into the fold.

Shorten the season

If I were God, after ensuring a Cubs World Series victory, I would hack at least 20 games off the current Major League schedule.

Even I have come to feel the season simply drags on toward the stretch run.

By ending at 142 games, we would see the playoffs begin in mid-September, with the World Series featured in early October.

It is madness to push baseball as far into November as we've seen this past decade. Sooner or later, games are going to be canceled because of snow. Also, cold weather affects the quality of play, skewering the most important portion of the season for many teams.

And it's just weird to see people decked out in scarves and down-filled coats at a baseball game.

By November, the football playoff picture is beginning to shape up. I have no illusions anymore: Football is king in America. That's just the way it is, folks.

I love it. But I love baseball more, which is why I want MLB to get as far out of the gridiron's way as possible.

Enforce time rules

If I see another batter take a swing and then take a 50-foot walk around the plate between pitches, during which he feels it necessary to make microscopic adjustments to every piece of clothing from his gloves to his jock strap, I am going to break something valuable. With my face.

Same goes for pitchers. When did it become acceptable for a hurler to take a 15-minute break between pitches and then spend another four minutes staring into the catcher's glove before...throwing...the...ball?

The league plays lip-service to efforts to speed up the game, but damned if I can see any difference.

You get eight to 10 seconds between pitches. That's it.

If the hitter feels it imperative between pitches to call his buddies back in New Orleans who are watching the game, I believe he should be punished for it. If you break the time rule you are awarded with a strike.

Pitchers, your dalliances shall cost you a called ball.

There's no excuse for a game between the Kansas City Royals and the Boston Red Sox to push the four-hour mark.

I don't want to watch anything for four hours. Neither does the rest of America.

Cut teams

Sorry, Florida, but no teams for you.

I know, I know, the Tampa Bay Rays were everyone's darlings last year when they made their glorious run to the Series.

The fans showed for a few weeks and then fled like hungover frat boys after a spring break weekend at Palm Beach.

If you can't generate a fan base then get out of the game. That means good-bye Rays and Florida Marlins. And the Marlins have a couple of World Series rings. Doesn't matter. Too many empty seats drags down the rest of the league.

By cutting teams, and I'm looking at you, too, Toronto Blue Jays. It would make for better baseball. Trust me.

The talent has become watered down. Amputating two teams from the AL and NL would hike up the level of pitching that would benefit the remaining teams.

Should these small-market teams actually be able to field competitive clubs, people would come and the league would rake in revenue.

To make this successful, you'd also have to make sure teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates spend their increased revenue on player development and not on lining the pockets of the owner.

The Rays and Jays are the AL teams to jettison, so I have to find another victim to go along with the Marlins in the NL. But who?

The Cubs?

But then what would I have to complain about between the months of April and September?

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.