It’s time to end the extra-inning silliness.
Because apparently this needs to be said, the primary problem with the length of baseball games is not the occasional 15-inning game. It’s the nine-inning games that take four hours. We can pretty much all agree on that, right?
Yet, MLB seems determined to make extra innings the scapegoat — likely because it’s the only thing that can be easily controlled — so for the second year in a row runners are magically appearing on base to start every inning after the ninth. The quicker runs can score, the quicker games can end. Because that now seems to be the goal. Less baseball. Sheesh.
And now, in an MLB partner league, games that extend into extra innings are going to end with a home run derby. Yep. The Pioneer League announced that plan on Tuesday. Here’s the explanation of the sudden-death home run duel.
To avoid the excessive strain on our pitching staffs, the Pioneer Baseball League will not have extra innings, but rather will employ a first-of-its-kind “Knock Out” rule that resolves tied games with a head-to-head, “sudden death” home run duel. Under the rule, each team designates a hitter who receives 5 pitches, with the game determined by the most home runs hit. If still tied after the first “Knock Out” round, another hitter is selected for a sudden-death home run face-off until a winner is declared.
Fun? Sure. I admit, I’d enjoy watching that end a Pioneer League game.
But is that how we’re really considering ending Major League Baseball games? The only reason a partner league tries a rule like this is at MLB’s request, remember. We’re really going to determine full Wins and full Losses by the result of a five-pitch home run derby?
Imagine fighting and clawing your way back from, let’s say, a 7-1 deficit to tie the game in the ninth inning, only to lose because your designated slugger only hit two homers on five pitches and the other team’s slugger hit three on those five pitches. And imagine missing out on the playoffs — those spots are determined by single games all the time — because of that.
Nine innings of effort, gone. Poof.
That’s not baseball. That’s a carnival. Why not just set up a dunking booth in center field and put the managers on the splash seat? Actually, that would be LOTS of fun.
The home run derby is only slightly more ridiculous than the current Magic Runner setup. The fundamental element of Major League Baseball has always been the batter-pitcher duel, a head-to-head contest that takes place over and over in the same game. The pitcher does everything in his power — hours and hours of practice, with hours of video and scouting work — to keep the batter from reaching base safely. The batter does everything he can — hours and hours of practice, with hours of video and scouting work — to reach base safely.
Starting in the 10th inning, though, MLB has suddenly decided none of that matters, that it’s just going to freely give out what had to be earned for more than a century of competition: a spot on second base. And, yeah, it does create a bit of instant drama. I’ll admit that. But it’s artificial. It’s not baseball.
Look, any rule that made baseball possible in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season was fine. No complaints there. But we’re back to a 162-game schedule for 2021 and hopefully for many decades in the future.
Here’s the honest truth: I would rather have MLB games end in a tie starting in 2022 than continue the current “magic runner” setup or implementing a home run derby to determine wins and losses.
My first preference, of course, would be for the century-long setup — play regular baseball until one team wins — to be reinstalled, but if MLB is absolutely resolved to eliminate 15-inning games, ties are the better baseball option.
If the game’s tied after nine innings, let’s play two (or three) more straight-up. If nobody is ahead after 11 (or 12), the game ends in a tie. Simple. Non-gimmicky. And how much fun would those two (or three) drama-filled extra innings be? I’m excited just thinking about it.
And, I know, the idea of a tie isn’t going to sit well with most baseball fans. It’s a soccer thing, and occasionally an NFL thing. It would take some getting used to. I’m not thrilled with it, either, but MLB isn’t presenting us with other good options.
Let me ask it this way: Would you rather — as a player or fan — have your team end its season with, let’s say, a 95 wins, 52 losses and 5 ties or 95 wins and 57 losses because your team lost five extra-inning games to, essentially, a gimmick (magical runner or home run derby)? At least the ties were reached by playing the sport as it’s meant to be played. It’s one thing to lose an extra-inning game the traditional way, it’s another to lose it because baseball put in rules to help games end more quickly.
Because here’s another truth: Games don’t reach extra innings by accident. If a game is tied after nine innings, it’s because those teams played an even game (though the paths there can, obviously, vary widely) and that should be rewarded. Ties are earned.
The NHL has tried lots of overtime options in the past few years, adding in the shootout and reducing OT to 4-on-4 and now 3-on-3. But for every game that is tied at the end of regulation, both teams earn a point. They get something for their efforts.
I’m not advocating for a points scenario in MLB. That’s not necessary. A team that’s 89-70-4 gets the last wild-card playoff spot over a team that’s 89-71-3. Half-games count.
Ties over gimmicks. Let’s make it happen.