Musings: A Bad Idea Comes to Life

By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author

A BAD IDEA COMES TO LIFE

Brainstorming sessions, in which every idea, whatever its merit, gets a fair hearing, are
generally thought to be beneficial things. But that does not negate the fact that some ideas
are just flat out bad.

Maybe it’s the old fogy in me, grabbing hold of the reins of my life; maybe I’ve become
too set in my ways, too resistant to change; maybe I’m living in the past. Whatever it is, I
think the new baseball rule, that, starting this season, every extra inning of every minor
league game will begin with a runner on second base, is absolutely bonkers.

Who thought that one up? And, more important, who signed off on it? And what kind of
funny cigarettes were they smoking?

Picture this – the home team ties up the game in dramatic fashion in the bottom of the
ninth. In the top of the tenth the guy who made the last out for the visitors, or a pinch
runner, if he’s faster, takes second base. The leadoff hitter grounds out to second as the

runner advances to third. The next guy hits a routine fly ball and the runner tags up and
scores. That’s how the game is decided? Are you kidding me?

I know, I know – in the bottom half of the inning the home team gets to start the same
way, with a runner on second, but that’s not baseball. It’s not the way the game has been
played for the last century and a half. You have to earn your way around the bases. If you
go to a track meet, the final heat of the one hundred yard dash isn’t shortened to fifty
yards, is it? Of course not; to do so would be to distort its meaning. Same thing with
baseball.

All minor league teams at all levels will play under the new rule this year. You can bet
that if it sells it’ll be part of major league baseball sooner rather than later. Not to worry,
though, I’m pretty darn sure it’ll flop, at least I hope so. Perhaps it’s a case of the wish
becoming father to the thought, but I believe that anyone who likes the game of baseball
will be totally repelled by this – dare I say it? – bastardized version of the game.

Not everyone agrees with me. Pat O’Connor, president of the National Association of
Professional Baseball Leagues, said in a statement, “We believe these changes to extra
innings will enhance the fans’ enjoyment of the game and will become something that
fans will look forward to on nights where the game is tied late in the contest.” To which I
reply, with all due respect (a phrase used to signal one is about to disrespect the other
guy), “Hogwash.” I think that anyone who knows and appreciates the game will feel
cheated.

There is, of course, the issue of wear and tear on players; long extra inning games are
disruptive to rosters. Well, why not allow for the temporary expansion of rosters after
extra inning games, or does that sound too reasonable?

There have been significant rules changes in baseball before, almost aways to benefit
offense over pitching: the lowering of the pitchers’ mound; the shrinking of the strike
zone; the invention of the designated hitter rule; but none has changed the way the game
is played to the extent this half-baked idea does.

Is this just a case of another old guy going on a rant aganst change of any kind? If it was
eighty five years ago, would I have been sputtering about the cockamamie idea of putting
numbers on the backs of uniforms? Would I have been pining for the good old days,
when no one knew who the hell the players were? God, I hope not.

Other sports have tinkered with overtime rules changes from time to time. The National
Hockey League has instituted the shootout, for example. The verdict, though not
unanimous, seems to be that the shootout works.

Why not try a version of the shootout in baseball? A home run hitting contest would be
better, in my eyes, anyway, than the t-ball idea of starting every extra inning with a
runner on second base.

Think of the contortions that scorekeepers will have to go through. The runner on second
will be deemed to have reached there on an error, but no one will have been charged with
an error (huh?). And if he should score, his run will be ruled unearned (you’re telling
me!). If a guy hits a home run, scoring the runner ahead of him, his run is earned, but the
run that scored first is not? Can a pitcher be charged with a loss even though he doesn’t
allow anyone to even reach base? Say it ain’t so.

Maybe the loss should be charged to whomever it was who came up with this lousy idea
in the first place. End of rant.