We’ve all been at a baseball game that just never seems to end. There are nonstop pitching changes and tedious at-bats. By the seventh-inning stretch, everyone likely wants to go home.
Major League Baseball has taken notice. The game times have slowly increased over the last two years after dropping below three hours a game in 2015, forcing the league to introduce new rules that will come into effect this season.
Most of these new rules won’t provide drastic changes to the speed of the game, but they’ll help eliminate some of the downtime that makes fans lose interest. One rule, however, threatens to take away one of baseball’s hallmark traits — late-inning drama.
The first new rule regulates mound visits — when a player or coach walks out to the mound to talk to a pitcher. Teams will only be allowed six of them per nine innings, and they will receive an additional one for every extra inning played.
Another modification aims to better enforce the time between innings. When there are 25 seconds left in the inning break, the umpire will signal that it is time for the pitcher to throw his last warm-up pitch, which he must throw in the next five seconds. At the 20-second mark, the leadoff batter will be announced, and the pitcher must begin his windup for the first pitch of the inning within five seconds of the clock hitting zero.
These may seem like small changes, but they will go a long way in keeping the fans focused and the pace of the game moving along. Nothing kills the momentum of a good inning like a mound visit or a slow pitcher. These rules will hopefully alleviate some of that downtime and boredom, even if downtime is what makes up the majority of time in a ball game.
Perhaps the most controversial of these new rules is the decision to begin extra innings with a man on second base to help bring the game to a close sooner. Although the MLB has not officially adopted this new rule yet, it has decided to test it out in the minor leagues, as is often the case with new rule proposals.
The MLB had hoped to use it in spring training this season, but the MLB Players Association rejected the proposal.
One of the major reasons for this change was to lessen the likelihood of injury to pitchers, along with speeding the game up for the enjoyment of the fans.
And while beginning with a runner on second does add more intrigue to the game because the possibility of a run becomes much greater, extra innings are what separate baseball from other major American sports.
Many fans enjoy staying at the ballpark to watch two teams battle it out well past regulation, as in the 19-inning game last September between the Red Sox and Blue Jays at Fenway Park, which concluded with a Hanley Ramirez walk-off single. Moments like that, and the long innings that build them, are part of the experience for baseball fans.
Last year’s World Series featured two thrilling extra-inning games that went on for upward of four and five hours. Yet, it only seemed to add to excitement, not detract.
“We just watched a World Series game that lasted over five hours and my wife hung with me the whole night. I would probably say I’m a traditionalist and let them play,” Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno said at the Hall of Fame news conference.
These moments only exist in baseball, and the MLB would be sacrificing that if it eventually adopt the proposed change in extra innings.
It also seems fairly obvious that most teams will simply sacrifice the runner to third before using their last two outs to try to get him home, so this might not even shorten games that much, since scoring will become much easier for both teams.
It would be in the best interest of the MLB to leave extra innings untouched. The change wouldn’t make much of a time difference anyway, as extra-inning games are rare.
The small changes intended to speed up the game are fine, but it would be better to keep the larger rule change to extra innings in the minors. Bringing bigger changes could lead to the MLB striking out with fans who love the game exactly the way it is.