Baseball games are long. While the average regular season game in May might clock in at a respectable three hours or less, when the games get serious in September and the playoffs start in October, it’s not unusual to see games stretch to three and a half hours, or even over four. Game 7 of the Cubs/Indians World Series last year, as exciting as it was, lasted almost five whole hours!
Major League Baseball desperately wants to keep that from happening again. They’ve already introduced timers for between innings, pitch clocks, and other small measures to reduce game length, which have been making a small difference. However, a new rule proposal would have a drastic impact on any game that went to extra innings.
While the specifics of the rule are not final, the current plan is to start with a runner on second base in the 10th and every inning thereafter. As baseball grapples with ways to increase action in a game with a record-low rate of balls in play, changing its extra-innings rules emerged as a solution with multiple potential benefits.
In addition to the increase in action a forced runner would create, so too would a philosophical element enter the game: to bunt or not to bunt.
A similar rule is already in place in international baseball, and it will be used at the World Baseball Classic this year. However, for a game as steeped in tradition (and record keeping) as Major League Baseball is, this proposal will definitely take its fair share of criticism. Former Yankees manager Joe Torre won’t be among them, though. Torre, who is now the league’s Chief Baseball Officer, was optimistic about the rule chance having a positive effect on baseball games as a whole.
“Let’s see what it looks like,” said Torre. “It’s not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing a utility infielder in to pitch. As much as it’s nice to talk about being at an 18-inning game, it takes time.
“It’s baseball. I’m just trying to get back to that, where this is the game that people come to watch. It doesn’t mean you’re going to score. You’re just trying to play baseball.”
The league will reportedly test out the rule in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and Arizona League this summer, to determine whether it works in a real game scenario. There’s no timeline on when (or if) it might ever be used in the Big Leagues.