Take this with a bit of skepticism due to the source — Bob Nightengale of USA Today. He’s been wrong before, and I have not seen this reported anywhere else.
But Bob reported Friday that the placed runner in extra-inning games and seven-inning doubleheaders are going to be part of MLB rules in 2021:
Major League Baseball, fearing that the pandemic could create havoc with their scheduling once again, is proposing the return of seven-inning doubleheaders and extra-inning games beginning with a runner on second base, two persons with knowledge of their discussions told USA TODAY Sports.
The persons were unauthorized to publicly discuss MLB’s plan because of the on-going negotiations with the Major League Baseball Players Association, which must approve the rule changes.
There is some logic to MLB’s fear about the pandemic messing with the schedule. This is why I’ve been for of a plan some owners favor, which would be to delay spring training until April and play a 162-game season starting in May and ending in October, with playoffs in a bubble in November.
Regarding the two changes noted above, I have no issue with doubleheader games being seven innings. Players and managers seemed to like them and — presuming the pandemic gets under control sometime this summer due to vaccinations — doubleheaders aren’t likely to happen as frequently as they did in the abbreviated 2020 season.
Per this ESPN link, there were 45 doubleheaders in 2020, almost all of them forced for pandemic-related reasons. (The Cubs/Reds doubleheader in Cincinnati August 29 was one of the few exceptions; that was played as a result of a rainout in July.) In this article I wrote last September, I posted this list of how many doubleheaders had been played each year from 2002-19:
If you extrapolate the 45 doubleheaders played in 2020 to a full 162-game season, that would be 122 twin bills, far more than in any of the seasons listed above. That’s completely pandemic-related. The average per year from 2002-19 was 26 doubleheaders. That’s fewer than one per team.
Would MLB keep this rule in a non-pandemic season? That remains to be seen.
About that runner on second rule... sigh.
I didn’t hate it in 2020 as much as I thought I would. Before it was implemented, it was thought teams would simply sacrifice the runner to third and try to get him in from there. But in general, that didn’t happen, and it provided some interesting baseball. Former Cubs announcer Len Kasper (sigh again, to write “former” before his name) noted in some of those games that visiting teams likely had to take a two-run lead to be assured of victory, because if they scored just once, the home team knew exactly what it had to do in order to tie and force another inning.
I’d be better with this rule if they used it only after the 12th inning. Play three innings of “normal” baseball, then do it starting in the 13th. Before 2020, historically only about 1.5 percent of all games went 13 innings or more, and the very small number of games that went 18 innings or more usually became part of baseball lore. Do we really never want to have a “John Baker Game” again?
Just two games in the shortened 2020 season went 13 innings, none longer.
Regarding other possible rule changes for 2021:
MLB has proposed implementing a universal DH in exchange for an expanded postseason — which would generate additional revenue with the extra round of playoffs televised by ESPN — but the two sides have been at a stalemate.
Most baseball executives still believe there will be a universal DH this season, but unless the union approves an expanded playoff field, it may not happen. MLB is seeking a 14-team playoff field — two fewer teams than a year ago but four more than their format since 2012.
Players and owners at a stalemate. This is my shocked face.
I hope they sit down and talk about these two things soon, whether in person or by Zoom. Both of them would be good for the game.
Seven-inning games in doubleheaders...
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The placed runner on second base in extra innings...
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Like it, but would rather have it only after the 12th inning