MLB – Let’s play T-Ball

Major League Baseball is at it again. That is, kicking the tires on making more changes to the GOG (Grand Old Game). Changes to the game stimulate endless debate among the baseball purists, myself included in that group, and those that want changes in the game for a variety of reasons. Debate is always good as it means we truly care about baseball and we are still involved in the game as more than passive spectators.

To its credit, MLB is moving slowly with its proposed changes and has been, or will be, test driving the proposals at the minor league levels. One such test drive was the implementation of a 20-second pitch clock beginning in the Arizona Fall League in 2015. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of the clock, but by all reports it has not been an impediment to minor league pitcher’s effectiveness, while marginally speeding up the game.

Perhaps the snail’s pace of change in MLB is mandated by the Major League Baseball Players Association which is one of the strongest unions in the United States. The MLBPA has been dedicated to advancing and protecting the interests of major league players for nearly 50 years.

On the other side of the equation, perhaps change comes slowly also because the Baseball Commissioner’s Office is trying to evaluate, in advance, the possible outcome of any proposal with the existing fan base, and the targeted fan base. It seems that Commissioner Rob Manfred has a two-pronged approach in trying to expedite his mandate as commissioner. Certainly, one of his primary objectives is to speed up the pace of the game which he feels will make the game more competitive in attracting new viewers to MLB baseball. While he might be dealing with conflicting goals, another predominant objective is to increase offense so there is more action on the field.

On Wednesday, February 8, I inadvertently found an article by Jeff Passan, MLB columnist for Yahoo Sports, in which he described some possible changes being proposed by Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Those changes include eliminating the four pitches thrown on an intentional walk and simply placing the runner on base without the pitches being thrown. Another suggested change was raising the strike zone as the zone has definitely crept down over the years having a detrimental effect on offense, resulting in more strikeouts and ground balls.

A third proposal is being borrowed from international baseball which has used a different extra-inning procedure for almost a decade now. Major League Baseball plans on testing a rule change in the lowest levels of the minor leagues this season that automatically would place a runner on second base at the start of extra innings. The rookie-level Gulf Coast League and Arizona League this summer will be part of an effort to understand its wide in-game consequences.

The objective of placing a runner on second base – which seems akin to playing T-ball – would be to reduce the number of extra innings played and to reduce the wear and tear on a 25-man roster. Joe Torre strongly supports the proposal and explained why he is not a fan of long extra-inning games.

“Let’s see what it looks like. It’s not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing a utility infielder in to pitch,” said Joe Torre, the longtime major league manager who’s now MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer and a strong proponent of the testing. “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.

“What really initiated it is sitting in the dugout in the 15th inning and realizing everybody is going to the plate trying to hit a home run and everyone is trying to end the game themselves,” Torre added. “I don’t know what inning is the right inning. Maybe the 11th or 12th inning. But there are a number of reasons.”

It is inconceivable that the MLB Players Association would ever agree to Joe Torre’s proposal of beginning extra innings with a runner automatically placed at second base. (Photo credit – Ron Cervenka)

To begin a discussion of the proposed change I expect one has to buy into the contention that extra innings are a problem.

First, I would contend that any fan that bails out on a game after nine innings in the existing conditions will never be in for the long haul, and will continue do so with the plan to be tested. I don’t believe it will hold fans in that come to watch or tune in to nine innings of baseball. It certainly would not please me to watch my team lose when a player was placed on second base in the bottom of the tenth inning and scored on a broken bat hit just so the game can be shortened.

The number one objective in the game is to get to first base. There are a number of ways to do that, including the intentional walk, which will become even more prevalent by placing a runner on second base with no outs. An intentional walk would then put the double play in order. Guess who would be a great candidate to be issued that free pass? Now it might also bring the much-maligned bunt back into prominence forcing the third baseman to field a bunt and with one out putting a runner on third base.

Secondly, I wonder if MLB is overly burdened with extra-inning games? I expect Joe Torre feels a fifteen-inning game is a problem. I am not sure a few instances demand such a radical change in the game making it more like a shoot-out in hockey or soccer.

In 2016 there were 2,428 games played during the regular season. This was two shy of the usual 2,430 game schedule as two games were postponed and never made up. Out of the games played there were 185 extra-inning games. Seventy-six of the games went 10 innings or less. One hundred twenty-four went 11 innings or less. That means that only 61 even went into the twelfth inning. Sure, there were some much longer games, but is that a reason to implement such a wholesale change in the game denying those fans who go from inning to inning in overtime looking for the significant hit.

Torre’s argument that extra-inning games force teams to utilize position players to pitch is a weak one. Of the 185 extra-inning games played in 2016, a position player was called upon to pitch once.
(Photo credit – Jeff Roberson)

Thirdly, I can buy into the wear and tear argument with the 25-man roster, especially when the team has to travel following the game. However, these are superbly conditioned athletes, or should be, and are paid millions of dollars to play baseball. Perhaps MLB should increase the roster to 26 or 27 to more ably accommodate the infrequent 15-inning or longer game. Some of those games do become classics.

How is it that in the “Golden Age” of the fifties, doubleheaders were commonly scheduled in and players could stand up to eighteen innings in a day? Dodger legend Don Newcombe once started both games of a doubleheader, pitching a combined 16 innings.

If concern is for the players’ health or roster depletion during a game, would it not be possible to reduce the regular season schedule so players get more rest during an overly demanding schedule? Perhaps a 150-game schedule is in order and a 15-inning game would then not be such an issue.

If MLB wants to get into tiebreakers, as in other team sports, and not stay true to the uniqueness of the game, then perhaps they can go to the half-game as baseball already has half-games. That is, after 12 innings each team is awarded half of a game. I personally detest that idea but I prefer it to placing a runner on second base to start an inning.

Commissioner Manfred wants more action on the field. To stimulate more offensive action would be one way to perhaps reduce the number of extra-inning games. He seems open to considering banning the “shift” by not allowing the shortstop to set up on the right side of second base. That would remove the negative impact of the shift on run production. Maybe e-strikes and e-balls really do need to be encouraged as a definitely defined strike zone would lead to more hard hit balls in play having taken the guessing of the strike zone out of the mind of the hitters. Hence, more runs and probably less extra-inning games.

If MLB really believes extra-inning games are an issue, then maybe a “Tee” – as is used in the Arizona Fall League’s Bowman Hitting Challenge – is in order


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15 Responses to “MLB – Let’s play T-Ball”

  1. Ron Cervenka says:

    You knocked another one out of the park, Harold. GREAT piece.

    I am willing to wager any amount of money you wish that the automatic extra-inning runner on second base thing will NEVER be approved by the MLBPA, not ever. Talk about the wussification of the game.

    Like yourself, I am a ’50s and ’60s-ish baseball purist – and why wouldn’t we be, that’s when we fell in love with the game. (Although I am a fan of instant replay whereas I know you are not). I detested the DH rule (and still do) and am opposed to Pace of Play clocks except for the between-innings part. (I’d like to see it dropped to 2:00 instead of the current 2:30, but the “Helpful Honda Dealers” (e.g.) are paying dearly for their air time.

    I am of the opinion that Rob Manfred and Joe Torre are pulling a fast one on us. I honestly believe that these proposed rule changes are of their own manifestations and were never run past any ad hoc committees for discussion or alternative possibilities – not that any are even necessary.

    As for the auto IBB proposal, I call bullshit. I didn’t have to look very long or very hard to find that Gary Sanchez video for your article; and it wasn’t from way back either, it occurred on September 10, 2016.

    When I played in an extremely competitive fastpitch softball league (many) years ago, teams were given the option of an automatic IBB or actually making the pitcher throw four wide ones. Fortunately, my manager (our catcher) knew the importance of a potential wild pitch (or passed ball) and always insisted that pitches be made. Let me tell you, it absolutely made a difference on many occasions, especially with stolen bases, which were permitted at the time. I would be willing to bet that if the auto IBB rule were made a manager’s option in the MLB (like my fastpitch softball league), 99.9 percent of the time the managers would opt for making the pitcher throw the four pitches (helloooo … pitch-counts). (That reminds me, I have long wondered why there aren’t / weren’t more stolen bases during IBBs. Granted, we’re only talking maybe a half-second here, but that could be all that is needed for a speedy baserunner).

    As you can see, I could go on and on over this nonsense but the absolute bottom line (once again) is: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

  2. oldbrooklynfan says:

    That, along with Ron’s comment, was a very interesting article, Harold. .

  3. Bluenose Dodger says:

    I can live with instant replay although I would be even better without it. My biggest beef is the procedure used in a challenge.

    The manager saunters out slowly to give the bench coach time to look at a replay, talks some jibberish with the umpire, looks back at the bench waiting for a thumbs up or down, then decides to call for a replay or not. That is absolutely dumb. It wastes times even as the commissioner is rightfully concerned about the pace of the game. It is akin to dead air time. The umpire having made the call waits for the whole world to see if he missed it by a nanosecond. Everyone waits while someone in New York makes a decision to overturn the call or not. The pitcher warming in the bullpen gets extra time to do so.

    If replay is here to stay, and I have no doubt it is, then make it a decision for the manager. The game abounds in decisions. I say make the manager decide immediately if he should challenge, from the dugout with a 10-second clock. That is not difficult as the player involved usually has a good idea if he was safe or out and often gives a signal.

    Have him throw a flag, sound a horn, flash a light, whatever, but absolutely do not have everyone wait giving him two choices to make a call. Make him man up and call it instantly. The umpire doesn’t get two chances. If he wants to debate with the umpire he can do so but loses any opportunity to challenge.

    The manager pays his money and takes his chances. If he loses then he and the team pay the price.

    The present procedure is ludicrous in my opinion. Make him toss the dang flag. How often in life can we have it both ways?

  4. Ron Cervenka says:

     photo Escalated Quickly.jpg

  5. Bluenose Dodger says:

    My rant was not in response to any comment made but speaks to the whole pace of game issue.It really slows things down when it shouldn’t be so easy to do so. Just make it a managerial decision baby, all on his own. The article was long enough without including more thoughts.

    BTW, I am not anti- Manfred. I,in fact,like him even though I truly cringe at the second base idea. How hard is it to get to first base and we are going to give second base freely. You are right. The MLBPA will never agree to that. Too much depends on those games, like missing the play-offs by losing a game where a team is given second base unable to get there on their own.

    Manfred’s overall goals for the game are good, in my opinion.

    • Ron Cervenka says:

      I just like using the Ron Burgundy graphic whenever I can. lol!

      I agree. I think Manfred is doing a very good overall job. That said, I think Joe Torre is in way over his head.

      • Bluenose Dodger says:

        Who doesn’t like Ron Burgundy?

        I think Rob Manfred has the bigger picture in mind. Joe Torre seems to have had a bit of a difficult time getting separated from the dugout.

  6. Respect the Rivalry says:

    The defense can also benefit from having to throw the four balls on an intentional walk. I remember a game in the ’60’s, Henry Aaron batting against Don Drysdale. The runner got to 2nd (I don’t remember how) with 2 strikes on Aaron (I don’t remember how many balls). Dodgers decided to put Aaron on.
    Bad Henry then stood flatfooted as Big D threw a fastball right down the middle.

  7. Respect the Rivalry says:

    Regarding the runner-placed-on-2b idea:
    First, I don’t like it.
    But if instituted I would suggest that a plate appearance not be taken away from the next batter due up. Instead, the manager can select any player not currently in the game.
    Yes, I am suggesting making an exeption to the no return rule. This would be in support of Torre’s thinking, as they would naturally send out the best baserunner not currently in the game.
    Better yet, forget to whole stinkin’ idea.

    • Bluenose Dodger says:

      I think in the WBC two runners are put on in extra innings. The runners are the two who had batted in front of the due up hitter. That initially eliminates a pinch runner but I don’t know if one could be substituted in later.

  8. Respect the Rivalry says:

    One more comment:
    Harold, you touched on expanding the rosters. I’ve been toying with that idea for the last year or so, but not specifically in regard to extra-inning games.
    Teams used to carry 10 pitchers. Now they generally carry 12-13. Those slots were taken away from position players. It only makes sense to increase the rosters to give those slots back.
    My thought actually goes one step farther. Make the roster 29 players. For each game 4 players are designated as inactive. That can be changed for each game. The NFL used to (or maybe still does) have something like that.
    For MLB it’s obvious that the 4 starters not scheduled for that game would be those inactivated in most cased. If Bruce Bochy wants to have Bummer’s bat available he has to make adjustments.
    Like others here I’m very much a traditionalist, but I do think roster expansion of some kind needs to be done.

  9. SoCalBum says:

    How about this radical idea? Before making any rule changes require umpires and teams to comply with current rules, including the defined strike zone for 5 seasons to determine if changes are necessary.

    • Bluenose Dodger says:

      I expect in some areas they have data for five years while others will take some time. Shrinking the strike zone up seems to be the easiest one to get the MLBPA to accept as it would bring improved offense and probably players contracts.

      • SoCalBum says:

        The strike zone has not been consistently applied according the rule book for decades, same for the rules regarding sliding into bases and interference calls. My point is that MLB should first make umpires enforce the current rules.

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