Passionate baseball fans view the national pastime as the perfect game.
There’s a beauty about the fact that there is just enough time for an infielder to scoop up a ground ball and throw an accurate peg to first base before a speedy runner can cover 90 feet; there is just enough time to decide to swing or let a fastball go by from 60 feet, six inches and there is sometimes a 32nd of an inch between a home run and lazy fly ball.
Baseball is beautiful because everyone gets the same chance. You can’t run out the clock without letting the other team have a last opportunity to try to score. Every team gets 27 outs, every batter gets three strikes.
So why is it the powers that be can’t leave well enough alone? This week it was reported that Major League Baseball has authorized a tweaking of the rules in minor league games as a test for potentially changing the way the game is played all the way up to the big leagues. The idea? If a game goes into extra innings, teams start the additional frames with a runner on second base.
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The plan is to prevent games from lingering for several extra innings by making it easier to score.
I admit that the main reason I don’t like the idea is because I think it’s stupid and arrogant to change the rules of a nearly two-centuries old game on a whim. One of the great things about the Grand Old Game is that it’s consistent through the years. If you went back in time and watched a baseball game, you’d recognize what you saw on the field. Football and basketball might have the same basic concepts. But there was no play clock in either sport, which changed the entire nature of basketball and greatly affected football. There were no slam dunks in basketball and there was no three-point line until relatively recently. In football, you probably wouldn’t see a forward pass. And you certainly wouldn’t see a celebration dance after every play. But in baseball, you’d see fastballs, stolen bases, bunts…
Those sports changed to try to artificially make them more interesting. Baseball never needed gimmicks to get people to pay attention.
But a secondary reason I don’t like the change is because I believe it would be counter-intuitive.
Baseball games RARELY go more than 10 or 11 innings because managers get into their bullpen by the sixth inning on most occasions. And, once the relievers make it into the game, they don’t stick around long. So, by the time the ninth inning is over, skippers are lucky if they have two or three guys left who probably aren’t prepared to pitch more than an inning each. After that, if he plans to continue to battle, he has to start tearing up the starting rotation.
How many times have we seen Redbirds skippers Tony La Russa and Mike Matheny send their pitcher to the plate with the winning run at second base and two outs in extra innings because he can’t afford to take out the hurler and have to replace him? Plenty.
If managers know that they’re not likely to have to play more than one or two extra innings, they are freed up to go nuts, using all their bullpenners during the nine regulation innings. Pitching changes cause delays that make games go longer -- which seems to be the biggest fear of the powers that be.
We’ve already seen a pitch clock interfere with what was previously a timeless game. After the extra innings rules come into play, to offset the damage that’s done, they’ll change the game fundamentally by limiting the number of times a manager can switch pitchers.
The simple answer is to just leave baseball alone. Just let them play. No designated hitters, no time clocks, no instant replay. Just pure baseball.