I’d started writing this up last night when word of the Alec Mills trade broke, so I had to set it aside. But the violent repulsion I felt in my body when I first read about this proposal has not subsided with sleep:
A runner starting on 2B in extra innings? It's happening in the minors and could in MLB, too. News at Yahoo Sports: https://t.co/zHhCzD4afi
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) February 8, 2017
From Jeff Passan’s report: “Major League Baseball plans on testing a rule change in the lowest levels of the minor leagues this season that automatically would place a runner on second base at the start of extra innings, a distinct break from the game’s orthodoxy that nonetheless has wide-ranging support at the highest levels of the league, sources familiar with the plan told Yahoo Sports.”
Passan goes on to note that a rule like this will be tried out in the World Baseball Classic this year in addition to the rookie ball levels of MiLB, and quotes MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre as offering some strong endorsements for this kind of rule. The idea, apparently, is that it would increase action in extra innings and also make games end more quickly, not only to preserve player health, but also because, in Torre’s very mistaken words, “It’s not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing a utility infielder in to pitch. As much as it’s nice to talk about being at an 18-inning game, it takes time.”
Even if I set aside the fact that long extra–inning games are among the *MOST* fun baseball experiences, it’s not as if casual fans are tuning in for 11 innings and then deciding they hate baseball in the 12th. Casual fans are hooked on baseball in small, digestible doses, and by very exciting games that they invest in and experience until the end. Frankly, I can’t think of better games to fit that bill than ones that go into extra innings and resolve themselves organically.
Which brings me to what I really, really, really hate about this proposal: rather than adding artificial drama to extra innings, it completely saps the drama. Most of the excitement about extra innings is that the game could end at any time, and it could end in so many ways. If you add a runner to second base with nobody out to start every extra inning, suddenly the pool of ways the game could end shrinks by about 95%. Each team will bunt virtually every time to start that inning. And let me tell you something that does not produce drama and excitement: sacrifice bunts.
This is ridiculous. I am officially riled up at how asinine this proposal is. Because what? All fans are sitting there when the 10th inning starts, thinking “boy I just hope this game ends with a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly! PLEASE BABY BUNT AND HIT A FLY BALL OF MEDIUM DEPTH!”
OK. I’ll take a breath now.
Read Passan’s report, which does offer some counterarguments, and then take some comfort in knowing that it would take an extremely long time for a rule like this to actually be implemented at the big league level.
I’m not alone, though, right? This sounds like a terrible idea, even for the progressives among us who want to see baseball continue to challenge its institutions, and think about ways to combat the very real issue of its aging fan base. I’m glad MLB continues to consider pace of play, and I’m glad they are considering the impact of the strike zone.
But this? This idea goes way, way too far.
I’m not even sure it’s better than the end-it-with-a-home-run-derby idea that one un-affiliated league is trying out.