As one of the least, if not the least progressive of the major sports, surprisingly, MLB decided to keep the “extra-inning runner on second base” rule around for the 2021 season. And once again, Rob Manfred is the man behind a rule that the majority of baseball fans don’t care for.
Pick a side of the fence to be on Major League Baseball. If you want to be an ever-developing league that does things like crack down on foreign substances, allows shifts and enact new rules to speed up the game such as the extra-inning baserunner rule, then why is there no universal DH as well?
Obviously there is a disconnect between the sport and its fans, which is sad to see because of the long history of love for the game of baseball here in the United States.
Let’s go back to last year when the rule was first put in place. First and foremost, I’ll say I wasn’t opposed to this rule last year. Speeding up the pace when there were only 60 games on the schedule with the huge possibility of delays and keeping players away from each other as much as possible seemed fine to me.
Now, with 162 games on the schedule and more and more players and staff planning on getting vaccinated, the MLB decided to keep this rule around.
I have an idea as to why they kept this rule and that’s because they want to keep the game “action packed”. That’s fine and dandy but how does that align with a game that ensures less home runs and the lack of a universal DH as mentioned before?
The extra-inning runner on second rule has shortened games, there’s no debating that. Specifically, games ended in the 10th inning 69% of the time in 2020 compared to 46% from 2017-2019. And reportedly, MLB.tv viewership as much as doubled in extra innings with the implementation of a guaranteed rally.
It just feels like some fun aspects of the game are being taken away from the fans. We as spectators don’t expect action during the entirety of a baseball game, but in that rare occurrence of a game lasting beyond the 12th inning, there are wacky plays and strategies that make the game unique.
Position players pitching, a wild stat line that has “Player X” going 6-for-8 on the day with 7 RBI’s, and that growing desire to see your team pull it out as each minute passes with you thinking about the regret and sleepiness you’ll feel in the morning.
The attempt to “speed up the game” seems to have worked on the surface as FanGraphs reports that over the last two seasons, just 43 total games went more than three extra innings, compared to 345 in ’16 and ‘17 combined in the minor leagues. MiLB incorporated this rule earlier on to get a feel for how it affected the game and the results appear to have been favorable enough in the eyes of those in charge.
But the key here is that the speeding up of the game has little to do with extra innings. According to a study a few years ago, extra inning games make up anywhere from 7.6 percent to 10 percent of total games played in an entire season. The slow pace of the game is due to the time it takes to get a new pitcher in and the seconds each batter takes outside of the box in between pitches, among other things, not extra innings which happens around maybe one out of every ten games.
Last year was the first year since 1901 that there wasn’t a game that went until at least the 15th inning, and while those games can get long, they rarely happen.
In relation to the Brewers organization specifically, this rule seems to be in their favor. When you have two out-getters as dominant as Devin Williams and Josh Hader, you have a good chance to win. This was made very evident in the first game of the season when Josh Hader struck out the side and stranded Andrelton Simmons at 3rd base, which then led to a Milwaukee walk-off win in the bottom of the inning..
The ending to that game almost seemed superficial though. Sure Hader was unbelievable and looked about as good as he EVER has, but the ending felt rushed. And apparently I wasn’t the only one that wasn’t aware that this rule had returned as Brian Anderson and Bill Schroeder also alluded to not knowing the rule was back in place.
The fundamentals of baseball suffer with this rule. There was a day when a single, sacrifice bunt, sacrifice fly and base hit would win you a game in extra innings. The lost art of the little things are being pushed further and further away and it’s disappointing to see. And if a rule isn’t good enough to implement into the playoffs in its first year, why would we want that rule in during the regular season?
Baseball fans aren’t watching the sport for constant entertainment, the beauty of baseball comes with those long afternoons on the recliner with a nap strategically snuck in, the excitement of “free baseball” when you’re at the stadium and the thrill of a position player striking out the last batter to end the marathon.
All in all, the MLB cherry-picking which rules to advance the game with and which to leave out, is discouraging.