Do you hear that? It’s the sound of dozens of baseball writers furiously concocting angry tweets and lengthy missives about Another Dumb Move™ by Rob Manfred and the MLB Commissioner’s office. Tak-tak-tak go the keyboards. If you listen carefully, it’s a cacophony.
Baseball has a pace of play problem. At least, that’s what Manfred thinks. He believes the reason folks aren’t watching games is because three hours is too darned long for anyone to focus on one thing. Every suggestion Manfred has made to “improve” the game seems to be like an artificial intelligence computer randomly generating new rules.
“Ticket prices are too expensive for families!” fans say.
“Pitch clocks,” replies Manfred.
“We can’t watch the games on TV!” fans tell them.
“Fewer mound visits.”
“The balls are juiced,” say the players.
“We’re going to start a runner on second base after the 10th inning in tied games,” says the AI-Manfred.
Oh, yes friends, this is the newest step in Manfred’s great plan to improve baseball. Not by looking at any of the actual problems that could be addressed. Not taking into account that the sport itself has run much the same way for over a century, and perhaps games being 15 minutes longer than they were in 1936 isn’t the worst thing. No, the thing that will save baseball is taking all the fun out of extra innings games.
As it stands now, games go until someone wins. Whether its a walk-off in the 10th inning, or a tense, breath-held bottom of the 17th, when your third string utility man is out on the mound hoping to claim the last out of the game, you play until someone wins.
Here’s the new rule, which is currently only applicable to the minor leagues.
At all levels of Minor League Baseball, extra innings will begin with a runner on second base. The runner at second base will be the player in the batting order position previous to the leadoff batter of the inning (or a substitute for that player). By way of example, if the number five hitter in the batting order is due to lead off the 10th inning, the number four player in the batting order (or a pinch-runner for such player) shall begin the inning on second base. Any runner or batter removed from the game for a substitute shall be ineligible to return to the game, as is the case in all circumstances under the Official Baseball Rules.
The long and the short of it, is that the league hopes to put an end to extra innings games sooner by starting a runner on second base, thus giving the team at bat a better opportunity to score.
Now, just because they’re trying this at a minor league level doesn’t guarantee it will ever find its way into the majors. But things like pitch clocks and reduced mound visits are already being planned for this season at the MLB level. How far behind is this cockamamie nonsense?
Gone are the nights struggling to stay awake while the Tigers, on a Seattle road trip, are in their 14th inning of play. But so too are gone moments like this:
Gone are the 19-inning afternoon games, effectively more than two full games in one, against the Blue Jays. But so too are gone moments like this.
And most importantly, gone are the moments where, 16 innings into a game, the manager must look to his bench, find the only unused player, and give him the nod, saying, “Warm up, kid, the next inning is yours.”
Baseball is a weird and wonderful sport, and taking away something that makes it special sure as hell doesn’t “improve” it.
You can take my mandatory throws for intentional walks, Manfred, but you’ll take my position players pitching over my cold, dead body.