If you’re one of those leave-the-game-alone baseball fans, what you’re about to read might shock you to your very core.
Radio host Rich Eisen floated a radical idea that one MLB executive told him is being talked about to improve the game. It represents a tectonic shift beyond anything modern baseball has ever seen. If you hated the home-plate collision rule, be prepared for actual smoke to come out of your ears for this one.
According to Eisen, MLB teams would be able to bat whoever they wanted as the first three hitters in the ninth inning if they’re trailing in the game. Anybody. Just toss the lineup card out the window. It doesn’t matter if it’s your No. 8 hitter’s turn, put up your cleanup hitter and see what happens. But only in the ninth inning. Here’s how Eisen explained it on his show:
One #MLB executive told @richeisen about an idea to improve excitement in the game by allowing managers to put anyone up to bat in the 9th inning if trailing. Good idea or crazy? pic.twitter.com/IgM6Zrofer
— Rich Eisen Show (@RichEisenShow) February 20, 2018
Then he doubled-down with a tweet supposedly quoting an MLB exec: “No other sport has the best players sitting on the bench in the final minutes of a game. Imagine LeBron, Brady, Renaldo [sic] watching from the sidelines.”
Eisen himself says he has no idea how close this is to becoming a reality. As someone who pays attention to baseball’s interworkings, I suspect it’s nowhere near being close. Baseball likes to flirt with change and implement it slowly — like in the fall league or the minors or at the All-Star game. Rare is the instance where MLB immediately implements a new rule at the big-league level that turns the game upside-down.
In recent years, Major League Baseball has shown it will consider just about any idea that will speed up the game or make it more alluring to younger viewers. Considering is far different than implementing, however, as most of these radical how-to-fix-baseball proposals end up proving. We talk about them, let the outrage build and they never come close to happening. It wouldn’t be surprising if that’s the case here. Yet this is so wild that it must be discussed.
There’s been talking about banning infield shifts or starting with runners on base in extra innings. We’re getting closer to pitch clocks. Many people still want robot umps. We’ve already seen the addition of video replay, new rules of about slides and collisions and this week MLB limited the number of mound visits.
None of it would be as jarring of a change as this. This idea would essentially scrap everything we believe in with regard to lineups, late-inning pinch hitters and would have ramifications that extend to bullpen management and home-field advantage. If pitchers and catchers hate the idea of limiting mound visits, how do you think they’ll feel about this?
In theory, yes, being able to send up your three best hitters in the ninth-inning sounds like must-see TV. It sounds like something out of a backyard wiffleball dream or out a video game. It sounds fun in the same way that being able to do somersaults and literally catch on fire in “NBA Jam” seems fun. And just as practical.
Is this really how baseball should court younger viewers? By tearing down a basic tenet of the game? By buying into something that sounds like a rule from the baseball version of the XFL?
Creating a ninth-inning where the drama can match the excitement of the final two minutes of an NFL game has its advantages. But it’s still manufactured drama, neglecting all the strategy that goes into the other eight innings of a baseball game. It’s almost like saying, let’s play eight innings as a warm-up, then turn the thing into a home-run derby and see what happens.
Would that one inning be fun to watch? Sure, but it would be a totally bastardized version of baseball.
Now consider all the questions this would bring up if we’re just disregarding lineups and normal rules:
• Could the Yankees have Giancarlo Stanton bat twice in three batters?
• What about players who are out of the game? Can they come back?
• If teams can use whatever hitters they want, can the opposing team bring back a pitcher who is already out of the game?
• If one team shuffles its lineup in the ninth and ties the game, what happens in the 10th? Does the other team get the same luxury?
• What kind of asterisks would we need to add to the record books?
• And most importantly: Would this draw more people to baseball than it would push away?
It seems like quite the pandora’s box to open, all in an attempt to replicate the last-minute drama of other sports. Baseball isn’t football or basketball. It never will be. Some of the best drama in baseball happens when someone like Rajai Davis — who would not be among the first three guys off the bench in this proposed scenario — hits an unlikely homer in the eighth inning of a World Series game.
That is what makes baseball great. Always has been.
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