It’s a pandemic. And Major League Baseball will roll out a deluge of preventative measure to attempt to limit the spread of the coronavirus as it attempts to get the 2020 season safely off the ground.
No high fives. No Gatorade coolers. No sunflower seeds. No spitting. And on and on and on.
Included in that ever-growing list is a new rule for extra innings. In an effort to limit the amount of time players, coaches and staff have to be in proximity to one another, extra innings will begin with a runner on second base. It’s additionally helpful in a season in which pitching deployment could be entirely different, with starting pitchers going fewer innings and relief pitchers used more often. Such a rule could save bullpens, a good thing with only a certain number of players on the “taxi squad” to replace them on the active roster.
The reasoning is sound. Baseball games are long enough as it is. No need to keep people at the ballpark for five and a half hours when they're supposed to be social distancing.
But this is also something that was in the works long before COVID-19 gripped the planet. The rule was implemented in the minor leagues last season, a test to see if it could come to the majors and help with the sport’s quest to make games move along a little quicker. To speed things up, or in this case, bring them to an abrupt end.
Whether you think that needs to happen, and that such a rule could help with that, is your opinion.
Rick Renteria’s opinion is that he doesn’t like it.
“Late-inning strategies might change now, (with a) runner on second in a tie ballgame. That’s something I’m sure everyone is excited about trying,” the White Sox manager said Thursday. “I’ll be honest, I’m not.
“I’ll just lay it out there. I’m glad everyone is going to enjoy something new. ‘We want to tie in some excitement.’ I’m more of a traditionalist.”
Indeed traditionalists are having the game as they know it rocked by changes right now. Sure, some are temporary because of the unprecedented circumstances the pandemic has created. But others were talked about before the virus came around and could be here to stay for future seasons.
The designated hitter is coming to the National League and likely won’t be leaving. It seems only a matter of time until the playoff field grows to include nearly (or perhaps more than) half the teams in the league. It might not be long before every team’s uniform is graced with a corporate sponsor.
And then there’s this vastly different look to extra innings.
The White Sox general manager is more open to seeing what these changes will look like, arguing that if there has ever been a time to try something new, it's in these most unusual of circumstances.
"I think it makes sense in terms of trying to bring some finality to the game in this shortened season. And frankly, in a year where we're playing 60 games, why not try something a little different? Why not experiment a little bit?" Rick Hahn said. "Obviously, you'll have the DH in the National League to go along with this extra-inning rule, which may offend the traditionalist in all of us. But this is the time to try this stuff, the time to experiment with ways, whether it's on the field or from a broadcast standpoint, to improve the game for the long term.
"So I'm all in favor of these and certainly understand the motivation about the extra-inning rule in terms of trying to bring a little quicker finality to the game."
For those wondering, including former major league hurlers, pitchers will not be saddled with an earned run should that base runner score, but they could still get hooked with the loss. Those base runners will supposedly go down as having reached on errors.
Your opinions on the matter are your own. There are arguments to be made in favor of the speeding up of baseball, considering the sport is often criticized for its at times glacial pace. The 60-game sprint to October could show how valid those arguments are — and how exciting the format might be. There are other arguments that it changes the game to something completely different.
Renteria revealed he had a different pitch for the shortening of extra-inning games, hoping it wouldn’t have come to this runner-on-second business.
“I get the idea, trying to limit based on arms, how it affects your arms and bullpen when you play long games,” Renteria said. “My own opinion is — and I put this out there years ago and I’ll get myself in trouble — just play an 11-inning game and figure out some way of creating a point system if you’re tied after that. You use a mechanism that gives you the ability to create something that gives you some form of differentiating yourself from other clubs that end up having the same type of record or whatnot.
“Then we just play the game and it ends when it ends.”
Oh, games will end when they end under these new rules. Perhaps a lot quicker than they normally would have. And that’s the point. But not everyone has to be happy about it.