Yesterday, MLB floated the idea of starting extra innings with a runner on second base. This (radical) idea would be very effective. Extra innings would be more exciting and games would be shorter.
It’s also a remarkably stupid idea. I applaud the commissioner for thinking outside the box. I’d rather have a commissioner with too much imagination than one who is committed to outdated customs for all the wrong reasons. I congratulate Rob Manfred for being creative, but this idea falls on the wrong side of the creativity/stupidity scale. There are ways to improve baseball without fundamentally changing it. Putting a runner on second base to start an inning is a gimmick, not an improvement. It’s like a shootout in hockey or college football’s bizarre overtime system. It’s not necessary.
Occasionally, I use this space to float my own ideas to improve baseball. The last time I did it, I proposed three rule changes to speed up games, which I think is necessary. I incorporate those changes by reference. They were:
1. Limit replay to 30 seconds. This is a no-brainer. If an umpire’s call isn’t obvious after 30 seconds, it’s not a big enough error to worry about. Keep the game moving.
2. Eliminate warmup pitches for mid-inning pitching changes. Another no-brainer. The reliever has been warming up for 10 minutes. He doesn’t need more warmup pitches. If he’s too big of a snowflake to be thrown off by the new mound, let him start the inning.
3. Make every reliever record one out. I’m less wedded to this idea because there are probably unintended consequences I’m not considering. It’s probably too radical of a change. Intriguing idea though.
Now, here are my new ideas. I still think baseball games are too long. I know some people don’t consider longer baseball games to be a problem and it’s just “more of a good thing.”
I disagree. 4 hour games don’t give you more baseball. They give you more dead time between the baseball. Yes, the pace of baseball builds tension and gives the game it’s unique atmosphere. But there has to be a limit. Baseball was just as charming and relaxing 50 years ago when the games were 30 minutes shorter. We’re moving in the wrong direction.
In particular, innings 7-9 of MLB games are when things start to drag. Most of this is due to Tony LaRusa overmanaging and pitching changes. In addition to limiting the time it takes to change pitchers, I want to disincentivize managers from doing it.
First, bring back the bullpen car. Bullpen cars disappeared a long time ago and I’m not sure why. Maybe groundskeepers had something to do with it. But eliminating the (sometimes slow) walk to the mound immediately takes minutes off of each game. Couple that with the elimination of warmup pitches, networks might not even need to go to commercial. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Second, MLB should limit the number of relievers a team can use a game by making teams designate one or two “inactive” players each game (the NFL does this). Fewer players available means fewer substitutions. Relievers may need to pitch full innings. This might increase offense since it might eliminate a few pitcher friendly hitting matchups, but I’m ok with that. Another side effect to this rule: fewer appearances will be healthier for the relievers, who struggle with an alarming high injury rate. Even the players union should be in favor of this rule.
Finally–and this rule change has nothing to do with length of games–MLB needs to barnstorm. Last year, MLB played a regular season game on a military base. It was great. We need more of this. Baseball is a great game and this is a large country. Let’s get MLB games to ordinarily unreachable locations. They should make it a goal to play a game in all 50 states. Imagine a game at the Field of Dreams site in Iowa or a game at a pop-up field with the Grand Canyon as a backdrop. With a 162 game schedule, there is more than enough flexibility to do this.