Yesterday I wrote about the rules changes announced for Minor League Baseball. Specifically, the alteration of the pitch clock and, more significantly, the rule in which all extra innings games will begin with a runner on second base.
While limited to the minor leagues in 2018, Major League Baseball has made no secret of the fact that it views the minors as a lab in which to experiment with such things. Pitch clocks generally worked in the minors and now Rob Manfred is poised to put them in the majors next season. If the man-on-second rule works — however one defines “works” — it may very well be on its way to the majors sometime soon.
I gave my take on the man-on-second rule yesterday: it seems unnecessary and will lead to almost every extra inning starting with a bunt followed by an intentional walk, which is nothing anyone wants to see. That aside, I find it more of an eye-rolling thing than a source of outrage. For the precise reason it is unnecessary (i.e. there aren’t that many extra innings games) is the reason I won’t get too worked up about it.
Based on the feedback I’ve gotten in the past 24 hours, however, I feel like I am in the distinct minority in this view. People are angry. Very angry, and I feel like the anger is such that Major League Baseball will be pressured to rethink the rule sooner or later.
To be sure, there is a subset of fans who will complain about any rule change as if it’s the end of the world. I’m not talking about the major ones. Yes, people are still angry about the DH 45 years later, but that was big. I’m talking about the ones who are set off by even minor changes. The takeout slide rule. Batting helmets on base coaches. The new intentional walk rule. Everyone has opinions about these at first, but some people get super mad. For the most part, though, a few months later, no one really cares anymore. The game is the game and it can stand minor alterations.
The response to the runner-on-second rule strikes me as different, though. People are legitimately upset. A lot of people, not just the usual whiny subset. I’m basing this on the comments I’m seeing here on the blog, over at my public Facebook page, on social media, and questions I’m getting from casual fans who normally wouldn’t care. People feel like the man-on-second rule is a bridge too far. That it crosses some line that previous rules changes haven’t in that it fundamentally alters the way the game is played rather than changes the context in which it is played in minor ways.
I am still, personally, inclined to think it’s not a major thing, even if I don’t care for it. At least for now, as it’s limited to the minors. Maybe I’ll feel differently about it if and when a game I care about is decided in this rather silly fashion, but I’m not yet prepared to storm the battlements over it.
Beyond the jaded types like me, however, I suspect Major League Baseball has stirred up a hornets nest. The fans who are aware of the rule change one day in are pissed about it and the more fans learn about it — maybe on their first trip to a minor league game this year, maybe while hearing about it during a big league broadcast — more will be pissed. In this I think the fallout from this rule, if it is pursued beyond the experimental stage, will be greater than the usual sorts of rules changes that come along every year or two.
Yes, all of this is still in the hunch stage, but my hunches about such matters are usually pretty good. If I had to place a bet, I’d bet that baseball backs off the man-on-second rule pretty quickly because fans utterly hate it. Or will.