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Rob Manfred should never, ever mess with extra innings

Long extra-inning games are rare. That’s exactly why we should keep them.

Al Yellon

ON THE ROAD TO CHICAGO — We are still a couple of days away from the start of the 2018 minor-league season. When that season begins, after a time there will be a game, or several, that’s tied after nine innings. a new rule will be in effect:

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.

Reaction to this change has been swift and negative. A poll here (granted, small sample size) had 81 percent of BCB readers against it. Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk wrote that MLB might have made a huge mistake:

Beyond the jaded types like me, however, I suspect Major League Baseball has stirred up a hornets nest. The fans who are aware of the rule change one day in are pissed about it and the more fans learn about it — maybe on their first trip to a minor league game this year, maybe while hearing about it during a big league broadcast — more will be pissed. In this I think the fallout from this rule, if it is pursued beyond the experimental stage, will be greater than the usual sorts of rules changes that come along every year or two.

Yes, all of this is still in the hunch stage, but my hunches about such matters are usually pretty good. If I had to place a bet, I’d bet that baseball backs off the man-on-second rule pretty quickly because fans utterly hate it. Or will.

I completely agree with Craig. Look, I get why they want to do this in the minor leagues. Minor league baseball is for development and entertainment, not winning. Most fans attending minor-league games don’t care who wins, they are at the ballpark for inexpensive family fun. And you don’t want prospects overextended and possibly injured in long extra-inning games.

But in the major leagues? While there are many fans who simply want to be entertained by major-league baseball, most want their team to win. Badly. And the ultimate purpose of major-league baseball is winning, at least that’s the way I see it.

There were two games Friday that lasted more than five hours. One was the Cubs’ 2-1 loss to the Marlins in 17 innings, a game that ran 5:18 and was discussed at length here Saturday.

The other was the Tigers’ Opening Day game in Detroit, a game that had been postponed a day by bad weather. It went 13 innings, with the Pirates winning 13-10. The game featured four lead changes and for a time it looked like it would end up as the highest-scoring game ever without a home run — until Gregory Polanco hit a three-run homer in the 13th inning to provide the Bucs with their margin of victory.

Beyond that, the Tigers thought they had the game won in a walkoff in the 10th inning, only to have that reversed on review:

Now why would you ever want to mess with that? Even the fans of the losing team in games like these talk about them for a long time. They engage fans on social media, and if MLB really wants to engage young people in the game, social media is the place to go.

Beyond all this, the number of games we are talking about is extremely small.

Since 2010, there have been 25 games that have gone 17 innings or longer. That’s about one-tenth of one percent of all games.

Even games that longer than 12 innings are quite rare. In that same time frame there have been 290 such games, or about 1.4 percent of all games.

That’s not a good enough reason to make a rule change as radical as the one they’re trying in Minor League Baseball.

There are better ways, I think, of addressing the issue of fatigue after long games like this, a genuine issue.

Here are a couple of ideas that would help, without changing the fundamental way the game is played.

First, and this has been discussed in other contexts, MLB could authorize either a 26-man roster or a “taxi squad” of a couple of players who would be, in the terminology used in other sports, “healthy scratches.” If MLB went to the “taxi squad” idea, in general most teams would simply deactivate the starting pitchers not scheduled to go for any given game. It would increase the size of bullpens, to be sure, but this way you’d almost always have enough healthy, non-fatigued relievers to go in a game, regardless of how long the previous day’s (or night’s!) game had gone.

Another idea would be to allow any team that played a game of 13 innings or longer to add a pitcher to their roster for the next game without having to make a roster move. If the team had an off day after a long game like this, perhaps that wouldn’t be necessary or permitted. This way a team could have a fresh reliever available to take pressure off a tired bullpen. Turns out, in fact, that Joe Maddon is in favor of something very much like this:

“I still like the least amount of change to our game as possible, even to the point where my thought is if you want to do something differently, maybe after a team plays 12 innings, they get an extra pitcher for two days,” Maddon said Saturday. “Just give you an extra guy for two days. That’s all you’re looking for is one guy.”

Or perhaps, after the 12th inning, some form of re-entering the game for players already out could be tried — not unlimited free substitution, but maybe, say, one player could return for every three innings beyond the 12th.

All of those things would be rule changes — but none would change the fundamental way the game itself is played.

It’s been suggested by some that MLB should have tie games if, say, they are tied after 12 innings. This is how things are done in Japan’s NPB — here are that league’s 2017 standings, with ties indicated. One of the reasons they do this is that most of Japan’s trains stop running after about 11:30 p.m. and most fans would have no way to get home. That’s not the case in the USA, although it nearly happened for the Cubs/Nats Game 5 last October, until a local company agreed to pay the $100,000 fee for late train service in Washington.

Even with the NPB standings, though, you can see how infrequent games of 13 innings or longer are. Adding up the total of tie games shown in the standings (32), that means there were only 16 such games in 2017, about 1.8 percent of all games played in NPB, consistent with the number of such games played in MLB over the last several seasons.

I’m not in favor of tie games. One thing about sporting events is that they’re played to a decision, something we often don’t find in other areas of life. Some have said that baseball used to have tie games, and that’s true — and the reasons for that were practical: stadiums had no lights and games were halted by darkness, or teams had to make train schedules to the next city.

All parks have had lights since 1988, and the one that didn’t, Wrigley Field, didn’t have tie games after 1969, instead suspending them. Here’s a history of Wrigley suspended games I wrote in 2014, when the last suspended game at Wrigley happened, caused by weather, rather than darkness.

And teams don’t travel by train anymore, and haven’t for more than 50 years.

So while there were real-life reasons for tie games in the past, those things are no longer relevant.

The NFL and NHL previously had tie games, but both have worked to eliminate them over the last years and decades. The NHL’s solution is similar to the “runner on second” rule. A shootout might be fun, but it’s completely different from the way the rest of the game is played. And then in the playoffs, NHL teams play regular hockey to a conclusion, after not playing that way all year.

Some players were asked about tie games by Gordon Wittenmyer of the Sun-Times and opinions were divided, but I agree with Eddie Butler:

‘‘I don’t like tying in spring training,’’ Butler said. ‘‘Ties are no fun. I like winners and losers, and I like to be winning.’’

Going back to the runner-on-second rule in place for the minor leagues this year, think back to Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. The runner-on second rule would have made that game very different and possibly even changed the outcome. Two World Series games in 2017, Game 2 and Game 5, would have been altered — and those games will be remembered as legendary. Why would anyone want to change that?

I’m certainly not against rule changes in Major League Baseball, and I do understand the desire to pick up the pace of play — but that’s not the same as the length of games. There are rules already on the books to enforce a faster pace, and I wish they’d simply empower umpires to enforce those rules. (I’d be perfectly fine with a pitch clock in major-league ballparks.)

I am against dumb rule changes, and the extra-inning rule about to debut in the minor leagues would be dumb in the big leagues. As I noted, I get why they want to do it in the minors, and I’m okay with that, though I think in practice I’d put it after the 12th inning in minor-league games, not the 10th, as they are about to do.

But Rob Manfred, don’t ever, ever, ever do this in the major leagues. You’ll face a backlash bigger than any you’ve seen in your time as Commissioner.

Are you even a baseball fan, Rob Manfred? Sometimes I wonder.


The best way to solve the issue of very long extra-inning games is...

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Have a "taxi squad" for all teams with no more than 25 active for any game
    (46 votes)
  • 36%
    Allow a team playing a game longer than 12 innings to add a pitcher for a day, or two
    (102 votes)
  • 5%
    Call games tied after 12 innings and leave them as tied
    (14 votes)
  • 3%
    The runner-on-second rule in extra innings beyond the 12th
    (9 votes)
  • 36%
    Nothing. Just leave everything the way it is
    (100 votes)
  • 2%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (6 votes)
277 votes total Vote Now