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New MLB rule taints tradition

Commentary

Not long after the Dodgers closed out a victory over Arizona in 10 innings in early September, Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw offered a less-than-ringing endorsement of the new extra-inning rule, which places a runner on second base to begin each extra inning.

“It’s not real baseball,” said Kershaw, who received a no-decision. “But it’s fine for this year, and I hope we never do it again.”

The Dodgers opened the top of the 10th inning with Corey Seager on second. Seager advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored the eventual winning run when Chris Taylor sent a sharp grounder to left with no outs. That is the type of rapidly manufactured run that Major League Baseball envisioned when it introduced the new rule prior to the condensed season.

At the time of Kershaw’s comments, the Dodgers had won five of six extra-inning games. Not surprisingly, Dodger manager Dave Roberts expressed more enthusiasm for the runner-on-second concept than his eight-time All-Star.

“I didn’t know how it was going to play out and how it was going to be received, but as we’ve had some runs with it, I really like it,” Roberts said. “I think it really shortens the game. It adds strategy for the fans, the managers, the players.”

Rules changes in all sports reflect adaptability and a sensitivity to players and consumers of the product. Placing a runner on second greatly enhances the opportunity for MLB teams to push a run across quickly, ensuring that players are not unduly taxed physically by marathon extra-inning games during the pandemic.

While drama is heightened, the chances of television viewers witnessing multiple innings of “free baseball” are greatly diminished.

The purists often regard modifications to the rules as unnecessary tinkering that not only affects the nature of the sport itself, but impacts historical context. Simply mention the 1979-80 season to fans of the Philadelphia Flyers and they will respond, “The year of the streak.”

After losing the second game of that season, the Flyers crafted a 35-game unbeaten streak which still stands as the longest such streak in the history of major professional sports.

The NHL’s introduction of a shootout round in 2005-06 has made it impossible for another team to match the Flyers’ streak because Philadelphia earned a tie in ten of the games. Ties in hockey have gone the way of the leather helmet in football.

Over the last few years, it seems that every innovation or enhancement to a sport is designed to speed up the pace of play. This is especially true in baseball, where pitches aren’t even required for intentional walks anymore.

If the pace of a baseball game is too slow for a spectator’s taste, the option exists to stay home. There hasn’t been any movement to shorten the length of concerts or movies, where in most instances, longer is considered better.

Rules that created the 3-point shot in basketball and the overtime format in college football are inflating statistics that delegitimize any comparisons between athletes of different eras. That seems to be of little concern to those who have prioritized total gate receipts and television ratings over the historical record and tradition.

Retro athletic apparel has captured the fancy of the American public. How wonderful it would be if the time-honored rules for all sports were equally valued and appreciated.

Jim Caltagirone resides in Altoona. He is an occasional contributor to Voice of the Fan.

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