Rozner: Home run derby to decide a game? Baseball is becoming a three-ring circus

  • Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred wants more offense but shorter games. What's next? Home run derby? Well ... maybe.

    Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred wants more offense but shorter games. What's next? Home run derby? Well ... maybe. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 5/3/2021 12:55 PM

It doesn't seem like that long ago, maybe a few years, that I was joking about this very thing on the radio.

It was that someday -- if he had his way -- baseball commissioner Rob Manfred would try a 3-on-3 in extras to avoid long games, or lacking that possibility, maybe even home run derby.

 

Well, it's not a laughing matter anymore.

The independent Pioneer League, designated as an MLB partner, announced last week it will implement a sudden-death, home run derby to decide games tied after 9 innings.

"Under the rule, each team designates a hitter who receives 5 pitches, with the (result of the game) determined by the most home runs hit," the league said in a news release. "If still tied after the first knockout round, another hitter is selected for a sudden-death faceoff until a winner is declared."

Among other new rules, the league is adding a check-swing appeal for hitters, asking a base umpire to possibly disagree with the home-plate umpire's call.

They are also going to experiment with a designated pinch hitter, letting a player be replaced in the box, but still return to his defensive position.

Similarly, a designated pinch runner rule could replace a player on the bases, while allowing the original base runner to return to the field after that half inning.

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MLB has not announced an official partnership on these experiments, but in the past the big leagues have asked the independent Atlantic League to test other rule changes, like moving the pitching rubber back a foot, and a double-hook rule in which a team would lose the designated hitter when it takes out the starting pitcher.

Among other varying degrees of nonsense, in the minors this season there was a schedule that included bigger bases in Triple-A, and an attempt in Double-A to get rid of the shift, requiring a minimum of four players on the infield, each of whom must have both feet completely in front of the outer boundary of the infield dirt.

In high Class-A, pitchers would be required "to disengage the rubber prior to throwing to any base, with the penalty of a balk in the event the pitcher fails to comply."

In low Class-A, the step-off and pickoff rules were changed with runners on base, pitchers allowed a maximum of 2 pickoffs or 2 step-offs per plate appearance.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

There has been talk about many other experiments possibly coming down the road, like a lower mound, more distance -- more than a foot -- from the mound to the plate, and time limits or innings limits on games.

To this point, those have only been rumors.

But 7-inning doubleheaders are already here, extra innings are a farce and various other rules and limits have made their way into the game, Manfred changing as much as he can as fast as he can.

One year the baseball is a golf ball, the next year it's a rosin bag.

Manfred contradicts himself repeatedly, insisting upon rules that shorten a player's time to think or process information, but at the same time wanting more scoring in every possible way.

Of course, more scoring means longer games, but the last thing Manfred wants is longer games, which seems to bother almost no one who attends a game. I've yet to hear anyone say, "I want less for my money and I want to go home sooner because I don't want to be at the ballpark that long."

Manfred may truly want what's best for the game, but he seems to take not at all seriously the love people have for their baseball and the way in which they want to view it.

Change is not a bad thing, but changing baseball just for the sake of it, to be able to point at the alterations and say that they're trying to modernize, actually flies in the face of what's so great about the game.

"I have great concern that our sport has turned into a lack of offense and the strikeout-homer-walk, three-true outcomes is not our best entertainment product," Tigers manager AJ Hinch said last week. "We're trending in the wrong direction.

"It doesn't mean we can just snap our fingers and make a rule change or do one simple thing and all of a sudden we're going to turn into a more balanced sport."

Fundamentally, baseball hasn't changed very much in 150 years. Sure, it goes in cycles and the trend of today might not necessarily be the trend of tomorrow.

In the meantime, home run derby in extras is not as far-fetched as it once seemed, soon to be followed by clowns, elephants and a flying trapeze.

And there's nothing funny about it.

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