One of Major League Baseball’s greatest challenges in the last few years has been trying to shorten the length of an average baseball game. Competing with the quick, action-packed games of the NBA and NFL, the MLB’s recent struggle to win the attention of fans has led to multiple proposals being introduced this offseason to decrease the average time of a game.
Proposals included limiting trips to the mound, raising the strike zone in order to promote offensive production, and perhaps the most controversial suggestion, to begin all extra innings with a runner on second base.
In a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that none of these rules would be implemented for the 2017 season, citing the failure of the Player’s Association to cooperate with rule negotiations.
However, one rather insignificant rule may be implemented in 2017: the automatic intentional walk. This would entail managers signaling that they wish to intentionally walk a batter instead of having to pitch four balls.
The proposed rule lacks real impact as it may take a minute off game time, but would hardly be a profound change. The pace would not be largely affected either, as there are hardly ever more than two or three intentional walks in a game. All things considered, the rule does not threaten the overall essence of the game or eliminate any of its essential qualities.
However, other rules may not be so harmless.
While putting a runner on second base at the top of the tenth inning will undoubtedly raise the intensity, all known extra-inning strategy would not only change, but also be extremely limiting. With this rule, extra innings could become homogenous, altering the fundamental idea of extra innings rather than improving upon existing dynamics.
In examining the potential affects of these two rules, the real questions baseball needs to consider are both which rules would improve the pace of play and which would not threaten the game’s fundamentals. Major League Baseball must propose a rule that both improves the pace and upholds the game’s integrity.
Commissioner Manfred specified that he was looking to improve the pace of play and believed that baseball as a whole was “fundamentally sound.”
And Manfred is right. Last season, as he said, did captivate the nation by proving that baseball can be riveting, unpredictable and unforgettable.
Implementing rules that eliminate uneventful moments but risk drastically altering certain aspects of the game might eliminate the unique qualities of baseball. The 2016 World Series games approached four hours at certain points. Despite the long nature of the games, the nation seemed to love every second. For the fans who enjoy games such as these, the proposed rule changes put the integrity of baseball on the line.
Raising the strike zone might produce a similar effect that moving the extra-point kick had in football.
But, unlike the dynamic change of having to kick farther, raising the strike zone would alter both pitching and hitting techniques that players have known their entire lives. While this rule may not impact the visual dynamic of the game, it would completely shift the players’ game strategies.
As long as the amount of time was reasonable and still allowed for the alterations made between pitches in the field, this rule could satisfy both conditions mentioned above.
Baseball will never be brief, incredibly high scoring or as fast-paced as basketball or football. While the fans’ mandates continue to change, baseball must distinguish between rules that improve the game and those that alter it altogether.