To cleanse the palate, this proposal is so atrocious — even compared to the highly atrocious “start extra innings with a man on second” proposal — that I have to believe someone either pranked Rich Eisen with it or just passed along a brain fart that one random guy had, with no support among baseball’s powers that be.
But you never know. The idea to start extra innings with a runner in scoring position was so terrible that it could only mean MLB executives either don’t understand their sport or actively hate it. This new idea is in line with that. And oddly, it contradicts the other terrible proposal: If you’re so worried about games dragging on too long that you’d put a man on second to start extra innings, why the hell would you want to increase the odds that extra innings will be played by letting the team that’s trailing send up its sluggers in the ninth?
The rationale here is that “No other sport has the best players sitting on the bench in the final minutes of a game. Imagine LeBron [James] or Tom Brady or Sidney Crosby or [Cristiano] Ronaldo watching on the sidelines.” But of course that’s not always true, notes Matt Snyder:
What if LeBron had fouled out? What if the Patriots don’t have the ball? What if there’s a shootout in hockey or soccer and the best player in the world only gets one of the five shots instead of all five? Should the NBA have a rule to let the best players back in for the final minutes? The NFL should make sure the best QBs get on the field for the final minute, even if the other team has the ball and keeps getting first downs? The NHL should allow the same player to take all five shootout shots?
Eisen likes the proposal, though, to his eternal shame. So does Sports Illustrated, which argues that “baseball needs a shakeup” by … making it unlike baseball, apparently. Ironically, in purporting to make baseball more like other sports by putting the best hitters on the field in the ninth inning, they’re making it less like other sports in a crucial way. Offhand I can’t think of a sport that changes one of its most basic rules during certain situations in regulation play, as baseball would do if it threw out the batting order in the ninth for the trailing team. There are sports that do that in overtime, like penalty kicks in soccer, but this proposal isn’t aimed at “overtime.” And soccer has a good excuse for penalty kicks: The players are physically exhausted after running for 120 minutes. The match needs to end before they keel over. That’s not a problem in baseball.
I’d argue, in fact, that even penalty kicks is (barely) more sufferable than the MLB proposal since it really doesn’t “change” any rules. It’s an entirely different type of contest from the match itself. The proper analog in baseball would be holding a home-run derby to settle a tie game. Ignoring the batting order in the ninth inning is more akin to letting the players on the trailing team in a soccer match use their hands to advance the ball for the final minute of play. It would increase the “drama” but only by lifting one of the defining obstacles that challenges the sport’s players and makes it what it is.
If you’re a baseball fan and your 7-8-9 hitters are up against the other team’s closer, them’s the breaks. And every now and then your 9 hitter will take the closer deep and you’ll remember it forever. Imagine the magic that would have been lost if Rajai Davis, with 60 career home runs, had been yanked in Game 7 two years ago in favor of the Indians’ clean-up hitter to face Aroldis Chapman. (Right, right, that was the eighth inning. You take my point.) What’s odd about the new proposal is that a similar effect could be accomplished by a more modest rule change: Expand the roster by a few players and let teams go out and sign power-hitting freaks who wouldn’t hit for sufficient average to qualify for the major leagues otherwise. Find a Dave Kingman-type slugger in the minor leagues, put him on your bench, and then use him as a specialty pinch hitter in the ninth when you need a bomb to tie the game. If teams can have specialty pitchers for the late innings, they can have speciality hitters — so long as they continue to observe the basic rules of the game.
Exit question: If we’re throwing out the rulebook in the name of making the game dumber yet supposedly “more exciting,” why not reduce line-ups to the team’s five best hitters for the entire game? Create four designated fielders and just have the top five guys in the order hit seven or eight times or whatever.
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