Here we go again.
Somebody sees an issue with the great game of baseball. Maybe there are too many runs. Maybe there aren’t enough runs. Maybe everyone is hitting too many homers. Then, someone proposes that–god forbid–maybe we change something in the game. NO, you say, WE CAN NEVER CHANGE THE GREAT GAME OF BASEBALL! THAT WOULD BE LIKE CHANGING THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF FREAKING AMERICA!!!!
Yes. I’m aware the Constitution has these little things called “amendments.” And that’s exactly my point. Maybe change can be….dare I say it….good?
And so we come to the newest greatest travesty in baseball. On Tuesday the Associated Press reported that among MLB’s proposed pace-of-play initiatives was an idea to begin the 11th-inning of the All-Star Game with a runner on second base.
The All-Star Game, which over 88 iterations has gone into the 11th inning exactly 7 times, and hasn’t gone past ten innings since 2008.
The All-Star Game. That game where “this one counts,” but not anymore, because we really don’t give a flying f*** who wins the damn thing anyway.
MLB had the unmitigated gall to propose a controversial change to a meaningless event where the change in question has a less than 10% chance of happening.
HOW COULD THEY?!?!
It’s the All-Star Game, for chrissakes. In the words of Aaron Rodgers, “R-E-L-A-X.”
There’s something quaint about baseball purists. You know, the same way MySpace or MSN Messenger is quaint. Baseball is great, but it’s not perfect as it is. The game has changed over it’s 100+ year history, and it will continue to change. What’s wrong with proposing changes, if there’s a problem to be addressed?
Now, let me be clear. I don’t think MLB should institute this rule for every game. I think baseball fans would feel cheated out of one of the most exciting parts of the game: the extra-innings tension, the nerves, the hand-wringing of the desperate manager who wonders how much depth he can get out of his bullpen before he asks his backup catcher to go out and throw a few fastballs. Baseball games can be shortened (by, say, instituting a pitch clock–revolutionary!!), but seizing the excitement of extra-innings isn’t the right call.
But what if it is?
Maybe this rule would add more excitement to the end of baseball games. Maybe this change could be good for baseball. I’m skeptical, but how would I know if we’ve never tried it?
Major League Baseball should institute this rule, and other proposed changes to improve the sport, in games where the result doesn’t matter, or where it doesn’t disrupt the all-cherished “integrity of the game.” The All-Star Game? You bet. Spring Training? Sure, give it a try there. Heck, make it the tenth inning so we can all go home. Nobody ever gained anything out of a marathon Spring Training game.
The World Baseball Classic instituted a rule similar to this last year in an effort to prevent overuse of pitching staffs. As I wrote then, it made for some interesting tactical decisions, and was in its own way exciting, but we only saw it in two games–that’s not exactly enough of a preview to understand how it would work on a wider scale.
I would even be in favor of seeing this rule, or a similar idea, proposed in the low-level minor leagues. Players in the Carolina League, the Midwest League, and other Single-A divisions are developing talent. How much talent does a player develop from his sixth at-bat in a single game as his shoulders slump and the crowd dwindles to friends and family in the fourteenth inning? How much talent does a pitcher gain from throwing his fifth inning of relief in a twelve-inning Single-A baseball game? Outside of the teams themselves, does anyone have a die-hard, vested interest in who wins a regular-season matchup between the Modesto Nuts and the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes? Instituting an 11th-inning rule in Single-A would allow MLB to test the merits of such a rule, and limit the wear-and-tear on younger players looking to work their way into the major leagues.
What would be so unholy about limiting regular season games? Almost every other major sport has some sort of limit. The NHL has a 5-minute overtime, followed by a shootout. The NFL has fifteen-minute overtimes. The NBA doesn’t have a limit, but it doesn’t need one: only thirteen NBA games have ever gone to a fourth overtime period. In comparison, forty-six MLB games have gone twenty innings. That’s two full games, then two more innings for good measure.
An interesting model might be found in tennis. ATP and WTA matches–comparable to a regular season, if you will–are decided by final-set tiebreakers. If the two players are at 6-6 in the final set, they play a tiebreaker to decide the winner. However, three of the four Grand Slams (the Australian and French Opens, and Wimbledon) don’t use final-set tiebreakers. The players just keep going until one closes out the match. In the Slams, then, tennis keeps the potential for a match like the Isner-Mahut match at Wimbledon 2010, which Isner won in the fifth set 70-68. The match lasted over 11 hours, played over the course of three days.
Maybe baseball could follow suit. Regular season games could be limited–maybe by a runner starting on second in extras. But playoff games just keep going, building intensity with each and every inning.
But you know something? We’ll never know if it works until we try.
MLB’s proposed 11th-inning rule may be terrible. It may take away from the excitement of extra-innings, and maybe the baseball purists are right that it will utterly ruin the greatest sport ever invented. But at least MLB is coming up with ideas, and the fact that they want to give one of them a test-run in a meaningless game should be welcomed, not scorned.