Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Cutting to the (Literal) Chase

I understand that this is only my third post since the sixth anniversary of The Sports Nut Blogs, but much like any child or old friend, I must acknowledge the special day. Happy Seventh Birthday, dearest blog.

Last week, I heard a bit of stirring from the realm of baseball. After all, pitchers and catchers reported last week, with full squads working out as early as this weekend. Yeah, that's all well and good. We're used to that kind of stuff.

But that isn't what I'm writing about right now.

As most of us should know, this is the second full season with Rob Manfred as commissioner of Major League Baseball. Much like any leader before him, we tend to wonder what kind of ideas and suggestions he'll bring to the table. Considering how Bud Selig twisted the game a lot in 25-some-odd years, such as adding the Wild Card and helping birth the implementation of instant replay, he has had a lot expected of him. It's like we're asking the question: "What will the President of the United States do within his first 100 days?" Now that his feet are completely immersed--not just simply wet--in commish matters, we're starting to see a couple of "pitches," so to speak. [This pun was unplanned.]

This little number is causing a ton of commotion all over the sport and in baseball talks around town. If you've been living under a rock, it's a proposed regulation that will alter the rules of a game in extra innings. In my 26 years of life, I have experienced a ton of extra innings games. The longest one I can remember was 20 innings, and at least three position players had to pitch during the game. It was one of those games where I thanked baseball Twitter for helping me out and letting me know what was going on when my MLB feed cut out. While it's considered "free baseball" for all of the fans, it's oftentimes seen as the worst case scenario for any baseball team. It's where strategy really comes into play, especially when your bullpen is on the verge of total burnout. No team wants that, especially if they're smack-dab in the middle of a ten-game road trip, and their next day off isn't for another three days or so. But you have to get that W, right? You have to get it in any way possible.

In the chess-like structure of baseball, there are very few ways that you can curb the course of the game. However, this is what the rule would be:

In an extra inning game, both teams will begin their half of the inning with a runner on second base. This practice continues until there is a definitive winner at the bottom half of the inning.

(wrinkled face)

This honestly sounds like a rule you'd implement in a men's over-50 recreational softball league.

Could you imagine if they had this type of rule during Game 7 of the [Hell Has Frozen Over Because The Cubs Or Indians Could Win The] World Series? It wouldn't have been as fun. Sure, there would be a bit more tension, but it almost feels like you're cheating and rushing everybody out the door (you know what I mean). You may as well say: "Forget it! The game ends in a tie! You had your nine-inning fix!" I'm getting vibes similar to how NHL games would just end in a tie after a short overtime period before the shootout came after the 2004-2005 lockout. It feels exactly like that--forcing a winner.

During the game, it's as if you're putting on training wheels or a completely one-sided handicap on a team if they're not pushing hard enough to win decisively. Plus, this would also leave teams to decide if they want to place their fastest player in scoring position, thus affecting the lineup and fielding in either the bottom half of the inning or the possible next. It's like the flex player rule in softball, but used on a Major League scale in the event that "everybody has to have a role, but they're not going to bat or field."

The main reason for the proposal is that, according to a USA Today article, there is a need to attract the game to a younger audience, as the supposed average age to watch a TV broadcast is over 50. [SOURCE] Where that statistic came from, I'd really like to know. Does that make me 50 in spirit? 


There have been moves over the past few years to pick up the pace of each game, going so far as to giving the pitcher a time limit to set up, communicate with the catcher, and make his stretch. Of course, it's one step forward and two steps back, considering the almighty instant replay rule happens--sometimes more than once in a game--and the communication from New York and the final ruling itself can take anywhere from three to five minutes. You know who else encounters that same problem? The NFL, and with the clock-running tactics and everything else, there is only really 15 minutes of real gameplay within a three-hour broadcast of the game. Okay, there are only three days out of the week when there are games in the NFL as opposed to just about every day for baseball, but still, who's really losing out here?

You can't place the entire blame of pacing on extra innings, either. Sure, there were "record setting numbers" of the amount of extra innings games played during the regular season in 2013, but according to a Chicago Tribune article originally from the Washington Post, out of the 2,428 combined games played during the 2016 season, only 185 of those games went to extras, and 122 of those 185 games went to either ten or eleven innings. [SOURCE] In 2013, that number was 239.

From a CBS Sports article:

"There have been 239 extra-inning games in Major League Baseball so far this season. In 2011, there were 237, which was the previous record-holder. Prior to that, the most games to head to extras in history in a season was 220, which was done in 1986, 1991, 2007 and 2010.So four of the top six extra-inning seasons in history have come in the last seven seasons" (Snyder, 2013).

Okay. I get that. However, there are also thirty teams in the league. Each team plays 180 games. That number is going to climb. However, the numbers have gone down considerably since then, and there shouldn't be any room for worry. To be honest, it sounds like we're chopping off our big toe to save our ailing eyesight.

I got to thinking about this small point, but there probably won't be any significance about this particular matter. While the MLBPA isn't a fan of this proposal, there's a possible chance that the stadium staffs are going to be perfectly fine with this. Granted, I'm not 100% certain if they are granted overtime hours during extra inning games, but I know for a fact that working at the stadium isn't their only gig, and they may have to get up early the next day for their actual job. I don't know--they may not even be granted a say on this matter, because it looks like it will be full steam ahead on this rule.

There really isn't a way to test this outside of the regular season, either. Spring Training games will end in a tie after the ninth inning for obvious reasons, being that it's too early for that crap, and you don't want to tire out the promising new guys. As far as I've researched, I haven't been able to find an exhibition game (the games right before Opening Day at the main ballparks) that has gone beyond nine innings. If this proposal goes through and the extra innings rule is enforced come April, there is going to be some very loud and very obvious backlash from the crowds and maybe even the broadcast crews based on the discretion of their front offices.

As for me, I am heavily against this proposal. This isn't even me speaking from a purist perspective; I'm the type of person that enjoys the designated hitter rule in the American League only and not in both. Putting a runner on second base starting in the tenth inning is an obvious sign that the league wants to rush the game to its end. I can understand why with the pacing, but you can't change your ways and immediately expect your target demographic to come rushing to you. This isn't Grease, where both Danny and Sandy have to completely change who they are to try and be liked by one another and their groups. Stop. Just be who you are and market your younger players and long-standing iron men that are bound to be legends. Geez, how did my generation get sucked into the game? Not the steroid scandal--I mean, of course, the whole Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa thing was awesome, but I'm talking about Ken Griffey, Jr., Tony Gwynn, and Cal Ripken, Jr. Today, you've got guys like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Noah Syndergaard that are bound to be in the Hall Of Fame someday if they stay healthy. Focus on the franchise guys. That will get the younger boys going.

At least...at least I think so.

-- Stephanie