Nothing is temporary. The next time you wonder why people seem unwilling to compromise, look no further than the “automatic runner” rule in major league baseball, which teaches us that if you give an inch, you’re never getting that inch back. This rule affects the Dodgers more than most teams (more on that in a minute), and it’s probably here to stay.
In 2018, MLB brought the automatic runner rule — also known as “international tiebreaker rules” — to all levels of the minor leagues. This made sense because the minor leagues are for development more than for wins and losses, so the value of deciding a legitimate winner of each game is far outweighed by the developmental and injury risk inherent in a 16-inning game or whatever.
At the time, this intrepid reporter liked the idea for the minors but didn’t think it would ever come to the majors, in retrospect placing far too much confidence in the idea that a certain commissioner would be able to recognize the key difference between the minors and the majors.
Yeah, I don’t think this particular slope is that slippery. I think there’s a clear difference between the places where they’ve implemented it — winning doesn’t matter — and real major league games.
— Jeff J. Snider (@snidog) July 8, 2019
In 2020, when the season was shortened and the roster rules tweaked due to the pandemic, MLB and the union agreed to use the dumb rule for one year, because pitchers had an abbreviated spring training so the risk of injury was going to be higher. Not ideal, but whatever.
In 2021, MLB and the union agreed to keep the dumb rule for one more year, because they’d be playing a full season after a shortened season, so the risk of injury was going to be higher. Ugh, okay, we get it, but then we’re done!
In 2022, MLB and the union agreed to keep the dumb rule for one more year, because the lockout caused an abbreviated spring training so the risk of injury was going to be higher. Seriously, folks? It’s starting to feel like you just really want to keep this dumb rule and you’re making up excuses for that.
This weekend, commissioner Rob Manfred was talking to his intellectual equal Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo, and according to the third member of the bozo brigade, Bob Nightengale, Manfred said the dumb rule will be back.
Rob Manfred tells @MadDogUnleashed the ghost runner/extra inning rule will likely stay. ‘The clubs like it,the players like it.And I think overall the fans like it.I think it does bring sort of a focus to the end of the baseball game in a way that has been positively received.’
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) October 29, 2022
Two issues, Rob. First, the rule fundamentally changes the nature of the game in extra innings, introducing an element of randomness that doesn’t exist in real baseball. Randomness always favors lesser teams, because a system where the odds of winning are 50/50 is better for the team that would otherwise have a 40 percent chance of winning than the 60 percent competitor.
In the last two seasons, the Dodgers have a 203-84 record (.707 winning percentage) in nine-inning games and a 12-22 record (.353) in extras. I know you’re already typing your comments about fundamental flaws and sacrifice bunts and all that, but the actual answer is that a huge element of luck is inserted into the game when you start putting unearned runners on base.
The second issue is Manfred’s assertion that “overall the fans like it.” Manfred suffers from the same misconception a lot of baseball writers do. Yes, the stupid dumb fake rule does create some excitement for people who don’t care who wins an individual game. If you’re flipping through MLB.tv and you see a tie game in the ninth inning, you might flip to that game knowing there a good chance of a dramatic ending (and soon).
But if you care about who actually wins the game in question, that element of randomness makes the rule infuriating and frustrating, especially if you’re a fan of the team hurt by the randomness. So the end result is that you have a rule that everyone likes except the people most likely to actually be watching the game.
It’s like basing your cat food formula on the fact that dogs and parrots really gobble it up and telling Chris Russo “overall the animals like it.”
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