On Wednesday morning, radio host Rich Eisen reported he has talked with an MLB executive who said there have been talks to radically change the ninth inning of baseball games. The change would be that if a team were trailing when entering the ninth, they could send out to the plate whomever they’d like.
Eisen backed this up later in the day, sending out a tweet with a quote from an MLB official saying “No other sport has the best players sitting on the bench in the final minutes of a game. Imagine LeBron, Brady, Renaldo watching from the sidelines”.
This is not the first time we’ve seen a possible drastic change to the end of baseball games. In February, it was reported that MLB would be testing starting a runner out at second base in the tenth inning in rookie ball. This is a rule that has already been implemented in the World Baseball Classic, though a runner is not placed at second base until the 11th inning.
These rule changes at the end of games and in extra innings are not unheard of. In both the NFL and NHL, the rules change once the game hits an overtime period. But there is something special about having a baseball game battle that lasts for five hours, where no one can break the ice. Yes, it may be long, but they turn into instant classics and are a thrill for the fan.
This latest rumor of implementing a rule where you can send your three best hitters to the plate is what I interpret as baseball trying to add excitement to the game. In their eyes, who wouldn’t want to see the Yankees sending up Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in back-to-back at-bats, trying to hit a walk-off home run? The answer is plenty of people. One of the best parts of baseball are those bottom of the ninth rallies, runners on second and third, and a pinch hitter comes to the plate. Often times, the unlikeliest of heroes ends up delivering the knockout punch and sending the hometown fans home happy.
The problem with trying to add another excitement factor to the game is, is it really going to make a difference with those who aren’t already baseball fans? Is sending up your three best hitters in the bottom of the ninth going to get the casual sports fan to turn the TV on like they do for the end of a close football game? Is shortening the game by ten minutes going to get more people to come out to the ballpark and start following the game more closely? To me, it is unlikely. Those who are already not baseball fans due to its slower pace and long game times are not likely to start tuning in just because of a few rule changes at the end of games.
That is why Major League Baseball should not mess with the ends of games. Changing the rules in an attempt to bring outsiders closer to the sport should not be at the top of their list. Instead, they should focus on its current fan base and how to market the young influx of stars the game is currently seeing. In the age of cord cutting and the overall ratings decline, maintaining the base they already have should be what is atop their list.