In an era where it seems like some of baseball’s most cherished rules are up in the air, Minor League Baseball announced a huge rule change Wednesday: Starting in the 2018 season, extra innings will begin with a runner on second base.
It’s an idea that’s been applied in settings like the World Baseball Classic and even floated for the professional leagues, but MILB is now making it happen. Here’s how the rule-change was explained:
At all levels of Minor League Baseball, extra innings will begin with a runner on second base. The runner at second base will be the player in the batting order position previous to the leadoff batter of the inning (or a substitute for that player). By way of example, if the number five hitter in the batting order is due to lead off the 10th inning, the number four player in the batting order (or a pinch-runner for such player) shall begin the inning on second base. Any runner or batter removed from the game for a substitute shall be ineligible to return to the game, as is the case in all circumstances under the Official Baseball Rules.
This is obviously not baseball tradition, but in a time where baseball tradition is getting re-examined every season, the idea does have supporters. Partially because we saw in the WBC that it makes extra innings much more exciting. Partially because teams would rather players not hurt in the minors than have a winning record.
The hope is to expedite extra-innings games and not overuse pitchers — especially because teams often have to play again the next day. Here’s what MILB president Pat O’Conner said about the change:
“We believe these changes to extra innings will enhance the fans’ enjoyment of the game and will become something that the fans will look forward to on nights where the game is tied late in the contest,” said Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Conner. “Player safety has been an area of growing concern for our partners at the Major League Baseball level, and the impact that lengthy extra innings games has on pitchers, position players and an entire organization was something that needed to be addressed.”
These are fair points and probably won’t cause too much trouble at the minor-league level. However, that might not be what purists are most concerned about. Often times, the minor leagues are the test ground for new rules in Major League Baseball. The pitch clock, for instance, was introduced in the minor leagues first and has been flirted with at the big-league level. It was almost introduced this season and could be used next year.
That’s the bigger story here — seeing whether this minor-league rule change is an experiment for Major League Baseball one day. Doesn’t mean it’s going to happen next year, or even the year after that. But it means someone somewhere is thinking about it.
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