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Here’s a 2020 rule change MLB should keep going forward

It’s really a simple concept: Once a game is started, it should be completed.

Sahlen Field in Buffalo during a Blue Jays/Rays rain delay August 15
Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

Major League Baseball made a number of rule changes for the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Among those were the placed runner in extra innings and the universal designated hitter.

Another rule change that didn’t get much publicity was in regard to suspended games. Under previous baseball rules, any game started that wasn’t “official” (five innings, or 4½ if the home team is ahead) would have to be started over.

Over the years, this wound up leading to very long rain delays in order to get past that fifth inning. It came to its absurdist peak June 1, 2019 in St. Louis, when a Cubs/Cardinals game was delayed more than four hours by rain, finally concluding at around 1 a.m. when there was an afternoon game scheduled only 12 hours later. I wrote about this at length at the time:

There was a similar circumstance Saturday in St. Louis, as the Cubs and Cardinals played their game with a thunderstorm approaching Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The game was about to enter the bottom of the fifth inning when play was halted even though it had not yet started raining. The stated reasons: lightning was reported within 10 miles of the stadium and to allow the grounds crew to cover the infield before heavy rain and wind came and made that task more difficult. That was a good idea. As we saw on the South Side of Chicago last week, if you play through a torrential downpour the field’s going to become unplayable. That’s what happened, which is what allowed MLB to suspend the game even though it had not gone the required five innings.

So really... beyond the “unplayable” part, what’s the difference between that White Sox game and Saturday’s Cubs game? The games were at just about the same point (though the Sox game actually got into the last of the fifth). Which of these two scenarios is better?

Sit around for three and a half hours, then resume the game in front of maybe 2,000 fans, play till 1 a.m. and then have players have to return to play 12 hours later, or

After perhaps an hour’s delay, allow the game to be suspended, send everyone home around 9 p.m. and resume play at noon the next day?

For the 2020 season, MLB waived the five-inning minimum and instead set a rule that stated a game could be suspended at any time, if needed, and completed whenever the two teams next met.

There were exactly two games (out of 898) suspended in 2020, and just one for this reason, a Blue Jays/Rays game in Buffalo August 15, which was suspended just before the bottom of the fourth inning and completed the next day:

The Toronto Blue Jays had their game against Tampa Bay suspended in the fourth inning because of rain Saturday night, a hazard of playing in their temporary outdoor home in Buffalo.

Play was called at Sahlen Field with the Blue Jays about to bat in the fourth inning and trailing 1-0. About two hours later, it became a suspended game.

The Rays and Blue Jays will resume at 1 p.m. Sunday and finish their nine-inning game. They will then play a seven-inning game, shortened from the regularly scheduled nine innings.

This is the right way to do things, in my view. The teams had already played three and a half innings. Why pretend that baseball didn’t exist? Now, the seven-inning game was played because 2020, and MLB not wanting players to be around each other for too long during the pandemic, and that probably wouldn’t happen once baseball resumes whatever “normalcy” we can have in 2021 and beyond.

But in general, I think this rule should be put in place for all games going forward. There was only one other game suspended in 2020, an Orioles/Nationals game that was suspended in the sixth inning August 9 due to unplayable field conditions. That rule’s already on the books, but could be expanded to include games not played to “official” status.

As I wrote in my 2019 article, one of the reasons for the “official game” rainout/suspended game rules has long been to “protect” ticket holders from losing their investment in those types of games. But I also noted:

Perhaps you’ll say, “Al, in your scenario the original ticket holder doesn’t get to see an official game.” My response to that: Most of the fans at Saturday’s game, which had an announced tickets sold total of 46,297, left before the resumption of the game anyway and so they didn’t see an official game by their own choice. Further, it’s very likely that a significant portion of Saturday’s crowd also attended Sunday’s game, either Cardinals season-ticket holders or Cubs fans who traveled to St. Louis for the weekend. This type of fandom is far different from the way things were decades ago when the “rain check” language was first put on tickets. Most teams had very few season-ticket holders until after World War II and the number of Cubs fans you’d have found in St. Louis (or any other road city, for that matter) for games in that era could probably be counted in the dozens instead of the thousands.

What doing this would likely accomplish is eliminating rain delays of four hours, as happened last year in St. Louis, or playing games through horrendous conditions just to get to “official” status, as I can personally testify has happened many, many times at Wrigley Field in recent years.

The conclusion I reached last year is still valid:

To me, there’s no reason anymore to force games to be played through five innings for “rain check” integrity (or, beyond five innings, to not allow games to be suspended regardless of the score). The idea of teams playing four innings (for example) and then having all statistics washed out if it rains, starting the game over, seems weird and anachronistic. Once a baseball game starts, the stats should count. If there’s one pitch thrown... suspend the game and finish it the next time the teams play. (This would likely almost never happen. If weather conditions are such that a game could be delayed after one pitch, it’s probably not even going to start.) If there are four innings, or six innings, or whatever... suspend the game and finish it the next time the teams play, no matter the score.

Beyond that:

Further, of the 30 MLB parks, 13 of them are mostly unaffected by this, either because they have roofs (Tampa Bay, Toronto, Houston, Seattle, Texas [in 2020], Miami, Milwaukee, Arizona) or are in California where rainouts and rain delays are rare (Oakland, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego). So only a little more than half the existing ballparks even have to worry about this sort of thing.

Again, we’re not talking about many games at all that would be suspended under this sort of rule, if it became permanent. Even under the current suspended-game rule, there were only 34 games suspended from 2000-19, an average of about 1.5 games per season. It’s not likely we’d have more than one or two per team in addition to that. That’s especially true given, as noted above, almost half of MLB parks don’t have to worry about weather issues.

It’s time for Major League Baseball to get with the times and be more considerate to fans and players by not making them sit around for hours and hours and hours delaying games that could be suspended instead. Everything I wrote in my 2019 article, I stand by today. MLB put this rule in place for 2020, and it worked in the one situation where it was needed. It should be retained for 2021 and all future seasons.