Major League Baseball To Challenge Little League? Is The ‘Mercy Rule’ Next?

Commissioner Rob Manfred tries to explain his rationale for the controversial "ghost runner."Photo byArturo Pardavila III from Hoboken, NJ, USA , Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

By Bob Nesoff

The old saw says “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Major League Baseball seems to be hellbent on violating that saying.

The brain trusts have begun formulating new rules for the upcoming baseball season that could put fans scratching their heads. At a recent meeting, they began to codify new rules for the American, National and probably the minor leagues as well.

During the pandemic, they sought to upend things in order to shorten the season and, possibly, bring more fans into the ball parks across the country. Television and the movies often had shows revolving around ghostly beings and their haunting of some characters.

Now baseball has stepped into that act.

During the pandemic-ravaged 2020 season, in order to speed up extra-inning games, they introduced what has come to be known as “The Ghost Runner.” OK, it’s not a spectral being, but a runner that automatically starts the inning on second base. For every inning thereafter he will be granted an automatic double, something real players would like to have starting any inning.

The Ghost Runner, hated by many fans, sometimes scored. Sometimes didn’t score. But seeing a runner on second base at the start of an inning was often very unsettling to both the pitcher and the fans. The hope was that by the 2023 season the Ghost Runner would have gone back to the grave.

The original intent of the Ghost Runner was to be discussed each season. But, lo and behold, in early February the MLB Joint Competition Committee voted unanimously to make ghostly apparitions a permanent part of the game.

The reasoning here in the National Pastime, was allegedly an effort to reduce injury and wear and tear on pitchers in a limited player pool. They felt it would also limit the possibility of “marathon” extra-inning games.

The wonder is what football players, who mash and crash into each other, would think of a “no contact” rule.

OK, no one wants to sit through a 15 or 20-inning game. Not on those hard, slatted seats in the cheaper sections of ballparks. Those in the cushioned, more expensive locales, might not have the same feeling. But so far as this writer knows, no survey was ever taken of fans to see what they want.

Seats for baseball games, once affordable, now range in price from $385 for upfront to more than $2,000 for a ticket to a suite.

Now consider this: We are talking about players making millions upon millions of dollars to swing at a ball and run. Most don’t even get a hit one out of three or four chances at the plate. Pitchers are pulled from the game when their pitch count reaches a predetermined level.

There should be a plaque in every locker room to Wilbur Wood, who in 1973 pitched both games of a double header. OK, he lost and he was the last one to do that. But back then players weren’t coddled the way they are today.

Ron Blomberg, Yankee first baseman, became the first designated hitter in baseball 30 years ago this coming April 3.He’s been invited by the Yanks to throw out the first pitch. In that historic game, he returned to the dugout, picked up his glove, and headed to the field. He was called back and reminded that he was a designated batter and, as such, did not play the field.

But the baseball brain trusts did not stop at ghostly doings. Position players  can no longer be put in a game to pitch unless certain rules are met. A team would have to be leading by a minimum of 10 runs to put, say a left-fielder in to pitch. A team trailing by eight or more runs would be permitted to make the substitution.

Once a game reaches extra innings, in addition to the Ghost Runner, position players can become pitchers no matter the score.

The question now is: If a team is leading by a certain number of runs, will the game be called off because of a “Mercy Rule,” as there is in Little League? MLB is well on the way to becoming LL.

Will the next World Series be played in Williamsport, PA, home of the Little League World Series? That, by the way, is a true world series because there is no geographical limit for teams to participate. Taiwan has often fielded winning teams. And Little League players aren’t paid. They simply earn a trophy and a title.

Babe Ruth, Happy Chandler, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle would die. Oh, they are dead. Baseball could be on the skids to meet them if they keep dumbing down the rules.

Writer and author Bob Nesoff divides his time between Milford, NJ and Del Rey, FL. This article was reprinted with his permission.

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