Bock’s Score: Stop Tinkering With Baseball

As baseball teams begin arriving in Florida and Arizona for spring training, word arrived that the proprietors of the sport have come up with a dandy new idea for extra-inning games. They plan to experiment by starting each extra inning with a runner on second base, figuring that one way or another, he’ll find some way to score and then we can all go home.

Now why didn’t I think of that?

Probably because I would like them to stop tinkering with my game.

Baseball was wonderful in the beginning. And no matter how much they monkey around with the greatest sport ever invented, they can’t spoil it. That doesn’t mean they won’t keep trying.

They started with the designated hitter, turning a nine-player game into 10 players. That clever invention has provided us with World Series played with two sets of rules, one for the games played in American League cities where the DH is embraced, and another in the National League cities where the game is played as originally designed.

Then they gave us inter-league play, homogenizing the regular season so that teams cross over to play in the other league, just for kicks. That trampled the unique nature of the World Series, where teams from the two leagues would play each other for the first time all season. Tradition? Who needs tradition?

Flush with their success, the bosses of baseball next attacked the uniqueness of the postseason. Where once just two teams made it that far, now we’ve added three division winners in each league and four wild card teams. No longer does a team need to finish in first place. Everybody deserves a second chance. Baseball’s marquee time turned into the crowd of clubs like the kind jammed into the NBA, NHL and NFL post seasons.

Baseball is just two slow, they decided. So we’ll speed it up with a clock between pitches and limit batters wondering around outside the batter’s box after each pitch. Has anybody really tried that yet? That could turn into one dandy argument.

And because we have all this fancy new technology capable of taking a second look at close plays, we’ll call a timeout and let the umpires huddle with headsets to communicate with a review team, pledging to get the call right. It takes a couple of minutes while the two teams stand around, waiting for a decision, but that’s the price of progress.

All of these gimmicks were cute. But this new one is darned right dangerous. Putting a man on second base without having him earn his way there attacks the very integrity of the game, a quality the lords of baseball realm have always claimed to protect so religiously.

This is baseball’s latest step to follow the other sports into resolving tie games. There was a time in hockey when, if the game was tied after 60 minutes, each team got a point in the standings and we all went home. No good. We must have a decision. So we play a five-minute overtime with 3-on-3 skaters. And if that doesn’t work, we go to a shootout, essentially one penalty shot after another, leaving goaltenders in a shooting gallery. Did anybody ask the netminders what they thought of this scheme? I think not.

College football has a fun way of resolving ties. Put the ball on the 25-yard line and let’s see how good each team’s defense really is. It used to be that teams had to pass and run down the field to get in scoring range. Now they start there. Did anybody ask defensive coordinators what they thought of this scheme? I think not, again.

The Super Bowl essentially was decided on the coin flip. First touchdown wins. New England won the flip, scored the touchdown, won the game and went home – without Tom Brady’s uniform shirt. Atlanta had no chance to respond.

Now, baseball will experiment with giving the offense a leg up in tie games. So, without charge, we offer an even better scheme to decide games. Instead of starting extra innings with a man on second, start with the bases loaded.

Let’s see what pitchers think of that.


About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock is a contributor with NY Sports Day. He has covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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