Sports Illustrated reports that major league baseball is considering a rule change that would apply only to extra-inning games. Under the proposed rule, starting in the 10th inning, every team coming up to bat would begin their inning with a runner already on second base.
If the source were anything other than SI — which is presumptively authoritative on all things involving sports and women’s swimwear — I’d think this proposal was a prank, but apparently it’s legitimate. This year, starting with the World Baseball Classic and then in two of the minor leagues, baseball is going to test the proposed rule. Why? Because it’s another way to “speed up the game” and avoid long extra-inning games where pitching staffs get blown out and a utility infielder ends up pitching the 19th inning.
How often does that happen, really? Isn’t the rule change addressing a pretty rare situation — and in a way that radically alters the game?
Leave aside exactly how this would work. (So, the next guy up doesn’t get to bat, and just trots out to second? Too bad for your team if that’s your power hitter and he’s on a hot streak! And how would this be accounted for in, say, calculating the ERA of the unlucky pitcher who didn’t give up a hit but now has to deal with a guy hugging second?) In baseball, getting a player to second base — in what is called “scoring position” — is a huge part of the strategy of the game. How do you move that guy who worked the pitcher for a walk or hit that sharp single to right field from first to second? Do you have him try to steal, or bunt him over? It’s a key part of the building tension that makes baseball so much fun to watch, and it gives fans endless opportunities to second-guess the manager. But under this proposal, all of that strategery gets thrown out the window, and there’s just a guy at second for no apparent reason. John McGraw must be turning over in his grave.
Can’t they just let baseball be baseball? It’s not as fast-moving as the NFL or the NBA — okay, we get that. But a big part of the joy of baseball is watching the same game that our grandfathers watched (let’s not talk about the designated hitter, okay?), played on the same fields, with the same distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate and the same horsehide and the same kinds of wooden bats. When you start to mess with the basics and not even require a team to do anything to get a guy to second base, you’re striking at the very core of the game.
This isn’t Nintendo, it’s baseball. Let baseball be baseball, I say.