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Here’s a better way to do the extra-inning runner on second base

This idea would make it an actual baseball play rather than “placed runner.”

Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Last Sunday, the Cubs played an extra-inning game for the first time under the “placed runner” rule, where a “ghost runner” begins each extra inning at second base.

There had been warnings that this would create the same thing in every extra inning: the runner sacrificed to third base, then (perhaps) score on a sacrifice fly. That hasn’t happened; in the Cubs/Pirates game last week there were walks, a stolen base, a play at the plate and the winning run scoring on a base hit. In other extra-inning games this year there have been all sorts of plays, including a walkoff grand slam.

I found myself not hating the idea as much as I thought I would.

But I still really don’t care for the idea of a runner simply placed at second base, with the fiction that he reached on an “error” that doesn’t really exist. The reason for that “error” is to make any run that runner scores unearned to the pitcher’s record, because clearly the pitcher is not responsible for that runner being on base in the first place.

So I wondered if there were a different way to accomplish the same goal.

I found it while reading this very long 2018 article by Sam Miller at It’s an amusing look at what might happen if a game went 50 innings. Toward the end of the article, when the game gets to the absurd 50th inning, Miller suggests this:

They will each intentionally walk the leadoff man and let him immediately steal second base uncontested.


Well, why not do that? Those are actual baseball plays which accomplish the same thing as the “placed runner.” Maybe instead of stealing second base uncontested, a rule could be put in place where the leadoff batter of the extra inning is intentionally walked, then allowed to take second base on “defensive indifference,” which is another actual baseball play that happens in games.

To keep the idea that runs scored by such runners are unearned, it could simply be stipulated as such in the rulebook.

I’d be much more likely to support extra innings like this if MLB put such a rule in place rather than simply put the “ghost runner” or “placed runner” on second base. And it would do the same thing — there’d be a runner on second with nobody out.

One last thing I’d do if MLB actually wanted to have this rule past the 60-game season of 2020: Don’t do this until the 13th inning. Let players play innings 10, 11 and 12 with normal baseball rules; if the game’s still tied after 12, then use the “IBB/defensive indifference” rule. As I’ve noted here previously, 98.7 percent of all games end in 12 innings or fewer, so this rule wouldn’t be used much, and most teams could handle a 12-inning game without too much fatigue for players. Postseason games would revert to the previous rule, where teams keep playing under normal rules until there’s a winner. The National Hockey League does this; in their regular season tie games go to a five-minute three-on-three overtime, then a shootout, but playoff games play normal hockey in 20-minute periods until there’s a conclusion.

I’d like to see MLB consider Sam Miller’s crazy idea — can’t take credit for this, only for adapting it — tried out. Maybe this would be a good way of compromising between those of us who actually like a really long game once in a while, and those of you who would like to see extra-inning games shortened.

What do you think?


The idea of starting extra innings with an intentional walk and the runner allowed to take second on defensive indifference...

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Brilliant! Do it for any extra inning!
    (11 votes)
  • 23%
    It’s good, but do it only starting in the 13th
    (127 votes)
  • 33%
    I’d rather have the "ghost runner" as MLB is doing now
    (178 votes)
  • 37%
    Don’t do this at all — play all games to a conclusion using regular baseball rules
    (199 votes)
  • 3%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (20 votes)
535 votes total Vote Now