On his radio show last week, Rich Eisen announced that there are mumblings among executives regarding a potential rule change coming to Major League Baseball. The change would allow the manager of a team trailing in the ninth inning to send any three batters from the lineup to bat. (You can watch the video below for more details.)
My first reaction to this proposed rule change was, “yuck.” The batting order is set the way it is for a reason and there are strategies to get around desperation at the end of games. Then I thought for a couple seconds about the implications of what it would mean if the change was made. Let’s examine.
When a team is trailing in the ninth inning and the 7-8-9 hitters are coming up, fans usually concede defeat and head for the exits or turn off the TV. Yes, one hitter getting on base in a two-run ballgame can make a huge difference because it allows the leadoff batter to get to the plate. But let’s be honest, the leadoff man isn’t likely to hit a dinger to tie the game, unless it’s George Springer.
The allowance of any batter in the order to step up to the plate in the ninth is good for ratings. People are much more likely to stick around through the end of a game to see what Mike Trout or Bryce Harper can do with a chance to tie or win a game compared to Joe TripleA pinch hitting for Brad Hitsabucktwenty.
It definitely makes the game more exciting. Eisen referred to the NFL and NBA not keeping Tom Brady or LeBron James on the sideline in the final minutes of a game, but baseball keeps its best offensive players in the dugout if it’s not their turn to bat. It would only make sense to put the best offensive players against the best end-of-game pitcher on the staff in the closer. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, and that goes for both sides of the ball.
Baseball hasn’t made an radical changes since the invention of the cork-centered baseball in 1910. What was the reason for changing up the make of the ball? Fans complained about low scoring in the dead-ball era and the new cork-centered ball led to bigger hits and higher scoring. We’re in a day again when fans are complaining about the pace, length, and excitement of games. Mixing things up in the ninth inning could be a great way to draw in a new generation of fans.
The NFL recently moved the extra-point from 20 yards out to 33 yards. The NBA implemented the 3-point line in the 1979-80 season. MLB shouldn’t hesitate to make a radical change shake up the ninth inning of close ballgames. Coming from a former baseball purist, it’s about time MLB and its fans were open to making minor changes to get with 21st century.
Photo by Brigham Berthold