This summer, Major League Baseball (MLB) plans to test out a new rule to try to shorten extra-inning games. In the World Baseball Classic and two low-level rookie leagues, every half-inning after the ninth will now begin with a runner on second base. If the rule change is successful in these games, MLB may look to implement the rule in major league action.
Professional baseball has gone to great lengths in recent years in an effort to shorten the time of games. The idea is that baseball’s main demographic now consists of people over 50 years old, and commissioner Rob Manfred wants the game to appeal more to younger fans. Manfred has tried a variety of tweaks in the last two years, including quicker pitching changes and yes, shorter commercial breaks. However, the average game time still increased by over four minutes from 2015 to 2016.
It is tough to see where the extra time can be shaven off but the answer clearly is not extra innings. Sure, starting an additional frame with a runner on second would lead to more immediate action and scoring. It would also cause games to end faster. Higher scores and shorter games. The fans would love that, right?
Wrong. Extra innings are what baseball is all about. Game 7 of the 2016 World Series was one of the greatest games in baseball history, something fans will remember for generations. It went into extra innings. Imagine this scenario: It’s Game 7 of the 2017 World Series. Your favorite team just tied the game in the bottom of the ninth, and the fans are screaming their heads off. The tenth inning begins — with a runner on second. The opposing team’s first batter comes up and hits a broken-bat bloop single. The runner comes around and scores. One lousy, lucky hit, and your team is right back behind. Although they will get their own chance with a runner on second, their momentum is completely gone. This stuff can change seasons.
Games that go deep into extra innings are part of baseball’s charm. No other major sport can boast super-marathon games that result from deadlocked scores. Basketball and football are too high scoring for games to stay tied for long. Soccer games can end in ties, and hockey stalemates are decided by shootouts. Baseball is the only sport where the extra time can stretch on for hours and hours, with the tension continuing to build. Often, a game appears to be a routine three-hour affair before a team ties it late, leading to several extra innings. It’s crazy to sit on the couch, having watched a six-hour, 18-inning marathon, and think, “this could have been over three hours ago if they hadn’t scored that one run.” Obscure bench players have chances to win games because teams exhaust their rosters and pitching staffs. Anyone can be a hero at any time. Extra-inning marathons aren’t for everyone, especially if you have an early bedtime, but the constant tension is epic and beautiful. Truly the essence of baseball, especially in the postseason.
If you want more young people to watch baseball, would this rule really be barking up the right tree, potentially removing hours of drama from many games? My answer is a decisive no.