It’s no surprise to any fan that the average person thinks baseball games are too long and too boring. It’s an opinion common especially among young people, which is part of why the age of the average baseball fan is skewing older all the time. Nowadays, people are more drawn to the flashiness of football, basketball and hockey, while baseball suffers as a result.
On February 8th, Yahoo! Sports broke the news that a new rule is to be tested in the lowest level of the minor leagues. When implemented, the rule will assert that all extra innings begin with a runner planted on second base. This is intended to stimulate offensive production for the sake of shaving time off extra inning games. The rule is a move toward making baseball more palatable and easily consumed. In an era that scarcely produces balls in play, this change attempts to extract the most production out of live balls during extra innings, thus shortening them.
While the intentions behind the rule come from a place of warranted concern, this move slightly resembles pointing a gun at one’s own foot. The main complaint among casual fans is the game’s mundanity, not just its length, so it stands to question if the extras are the right place for reform. Extra inning games are a valuable resource for the excitement and tension that the fence-walkers want. Planting a man on second base abbreviates that excitement, and needlessly defies age old tradition.
Baseball games are long, but extras don’t account for much of that length. Since 1980, approximately 45% of all extra innings games ended after the tenth inning (and the next 24% in the eleventh.) Considering that less than 10% of games per year even go into extras at all, the benefit of the added excitement outweighs the damage of the lengthened games.
It seems unlikely that such a radical rule change will quickly move up to the major leagues. Noah Syndergaard has already publicly voiced his distaste for the rule (very succinctly, I might add) and I’m sure many other players agree with him. As long as we all wear our pajamas inside out tonight, the rule probably won’t make it past rookie ball. The minor leagues perhaps being a decent place for it anyway, in the interest of preventing injuries for young pitchers.
Some other changes were agreed upon, limiting mound visits to 30 seconds and shaving 20 seconds off commercial breaks. These smaller changes will likely wield more tangible results than the man-on-second rule would, and will do so without actually changing the way the game is played.
Baseball is very much a reflection of its time. Being developed before the age of revolving door entertainment, baseball (or ‘base ball’) was crafted to fit the needs of the era. It’s safe to say that if the game were being drawn up from scratch today, it wouldn’t be recognizable, and the pace-of-play problem wouldn’t even exist. Although that doesn’t mean baseball should bend to the will of the times, antiquity is part of what sets the game apart from the others. It’s an old-timey game that somehow got trapped in the future, and that’s part of its charm.
We all want to protect the sanctity of the game. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we know what baseball is about, and we want to guard that. Note the lack of controversy surrounding the new slide rule (or The Chase Utley Accords, if I may.) We all know that if players slid around and broke each other’s legs every day, more people would watch, so why not? Well, because, while that sort of action has its place, that place isn’t in baseball. Artificially manufacturing runs is a far cry from, say, allowing fighting on the field, but we should remember that allowing cultural demands to heavily influence the way the game is played is a slippery slope.