OPINION: Baseball’s New Extra Innings Rule – Slow Your Roll, MLB
Here is a riddle. A baseball game is tied by the end of the ninth and headed into extra innings. The top of the tenth begins. The first batter of the inning steps up to the plate. Zero pitches have been thrown but there is a runner on second base. How did the runner get there?
Starting this June, Major League Baseball will test a new rule in their rookie-level Gulf Coast League and Arizona League – putting a runner at second base at the beginning of each extra inning. The rational behind the rule is simple – teams are much more likely to score in an inning if they have a runner on second with no outs, which, in turn, would end the game more quickly. But consider that Kevin Knudson recently reported in Forbes that the rule change “will give MLB about a 6% increase in the likelihood of ending a game after 10 innings.”
New Extra Innings Rule Speeds Up What Should Be Slowed Down
Ultimately, the new rule comes down to money. MLB fears that games are too long for the Internet age and that older fans will stop watching and new ones will never matriculate. Over the past decade, they have made multiple attempts to cut back on dead time (in-between pitch routines and such) to increase the pace of play. Each new change is met with a fury from purists who argue that the unhurried pace of play is baseball’s most timeless quality. I am a purist. I am furious.
The most damning flaw of this new rule is that revenue from a game is highest during extra-innings. Fans come out of the woodwork to watch the drama of the tenth, eleventh, twelfth, or beyond. And while this influx has its tipping point, extra inning games end by the eleventh well over fifty percent of the time anyway. It makes no sense to shorten your most profitable moments.
The new rule also defies logic. If you absolutely must speed up the game, why speed up the ending instead of the middle or the beginning. No one would sit through three hours of a movie, get to the final scene where all conflicts are resolved and says to themselves, “screw it, I would enjoy this more if I pressed fast-forward.”
There is no arguing that a baseball game, even one that doesn’t go into extra-innings, is long. In 2015, the average length of a nine-inning game was a little under three hours, which is enough time to watch Toy Story twice and still have some time left over to run to the corner store for a new box of tissues. But for fans of the game, this kind of time spent is not without reward.
Be it at the stadium, at home, or the bar, baseball is a sport of leisure – best enjoyed with a couple of good pals, and bountiful grub and glugs. If you love the game, you have long ago accepted its length and you have probably embraced the relaxed form of consumption described above. MLB, we don’t really care about making the game shorter.
On October 16, 2003, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox played game seven of the American League Championship series. The winner of the game would advance to the World Series. At the time, the Red Sox were still very much cursed and the rivalry between the two East coast teams was at a special peak. I was 11 years old and had watched the series with my dad as we both rooted for the Yankees. Game six, played the night before, was three minutes shy of four hours, and I had gone to bed early knowing the Yankees had lost.
Game seven was a battle from the beginning. Boston had Pedro Martinez, New York had Roger Clemens, and the hits were coming few and far between. By the middle of the seventh, the Yankees were down 5-2 and I went to bed, expecting New York’s season to be over by the morning. My dad promised to write the final score of the game on a sheet a paper and slip it under my door while I slept so I’d know the result the moment I woke up.
Seconds after opening my eyes the following morning I rushed to my bedroom door. “Aaron Boone. Bottom 11. Walk Off Homerun! Yanks 6-5,” my father’s note read. If I jumped up and down, or screamed with joy, I don’t remember. But thinking about that moment now makes me wish I could go to sleep early all over again.
You see, MLB, you are fighting a monster that doesn’t exist. It doesn’t matter if your game is four hours long and fans have to go to bed before the finale. When they wake up in the morning the magic will still be there all the same – lingering in the fall sunrise, and holding out until next spring and the next spring after that.