You’re the Commissioner of Baseball, and there’s a gun to your head. The masked man forces you to make a substantial change to baseball’s rules governing games tied at the end of nine innings.
In a stroke of kindness, though, he allows you to choose the model to which you’ll switch:
1. The NFL Model – each team gets to bat in the 10th inning, but thereafter, the game becomes truly sudden death: Any run wins the game immediately, whether scored by the home or visiting nine. (If you choose Option 1, you’ll also need to decide whether to preserve home-field advantage by letting the home team hit first, beginning in the 11th.)
2. The College Football Model – each inning begins with a runner on second base. This player need not be in the game on any other basis, but he also can be. The only constraint is that if an active batter is chosen as the runner and his spot in the order comes up while he’s on base, it’s an automatic out. Otherwise, the rules are the same.
3. The Basketball Model – instead of any inning ending with an uneven score signaling the end of the game, three innings are automatically added when the first nine fail to decide things. If the teams remain tied after 12, it goes to 15, etc., until someone finishes a three-inning set in the lead.
4. The Hockey Model – Nothing about gameplay changes, but as is the case in hockey, a team that loses an extra-inning game is awarded, as it were, partial credit. A third column is added to the wins and losses in the standings. Two points for a win, one for an extra-inning loss, none for a loss in regulation.
5. The Shootout Model – Batting order ceases to exist. Teams can send up any batter they want, as long as he’s not on base, whether they’re in the game defensively or not. Any pitcher can face those batters, including those previously removed from the game, but only one pitching change per inning is allowed.
6. One-pitch Baseball – A ball is a walk. A strike is a strikeout. One pitch per batter. All other rules are unchanged.
Make your selection:
Now, what is the purpose of this exercise? Well, the first thing to say is that I didn’t formulate it for any specific purpose. Listeners to the premier extant baseball podcast, Baseball Prospectus’s Effectively Wild, will know that the weekly listener email show long ago devolved into one bizarre modification or alternate reality after another, and that it’s been a great deal of fun (although occasionally overdone, as well this may have been, too).
That said, I think you can really have some interesting debates about this, based on your perspective and what you want from the game, as a fan.
The NFL and one-pitch models are for thrill-seekers. They hike up the intensity of the action and make everything more of a high-wire act. They also rob the game of a bit of its competitive legitimacy, but there’s a fair question to be asked here about how legitimate an outcome can be once it takes overtime to arrive there.
Speaking of legitimacy, though, the hockey model certainly rewards the valiant effort of the losing team, properly differentiating between a regulation and an overtime loss. On the other hand, it makes the extra action less exciting, since there’s a bit less at stake, and it doesn’t incentivize teams to really go for it.
I like the shootout and college football models for the way they let stars and guys with exceptional skill sets shine. Can you imagine Billy Hamilton’s value as the guy who starts the 11th inning on second base? It’s a nearly guaranteed run. The shootout is also fun, and allows baseball to capture hockey and basketball’s most entertaining element: having the best players on the team decide close games. On the other hand, those are fairly radical changes to the game itself, and it’s hard to say, when discussing it theoretically, how off-putting that could feel.
The basketball model is for die-hards. It’s great, in that it permits the game to go on in a more normal way than even the current extra-innings model. There’s not a destructive sense of desperation creeping into the minds of the manager and the pitcher at all times, and less reason for batters to press and swing for the fences. On the other hand, it would make a lot of games a lot longer than they need to be, and among other things, that would strain pitching staffs.
Each plan has its merit. None is superior to the current way of doing things, although a couple might be fun to try out for a while. The one thing that’s certain is that different fans will prefer different models, some of them strongly, and that should help everyone figure out what they like best about sports, in general, and baseball, in specific.
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