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To be, or not to be baseball? On the extra-innings rule change proposal

I see where Rob Manfred and Joe Torre are coming from. They need to slow their roll.

Division Series - Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Three
Coming soon to extra innings: Dumb stuff?
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

I’ve been reading Hamlet on Genius recently, because it’s something to do. I started Act 2, Scene 1 yesterday, which begins:

SCENE I. A room in POLONIUS' house.



Give him this money and these notes, Reynaldo.


I will, my lord.

The Genius annotation for this — and I strongly recommend reading Shakespeare this way — explains that this scene begins in media res, a Latin term for “in the middle of things.” No background, nothing: Just go.

It is quite possible that Major League Baseball extra innings games will soon begin in media res, with a runner on second base, in one of Commissioner Rob Manfred’s pace-of-play initiatives. The move is backed by Joe Torre, of all people, and has already started rolling out in rookie ball. Here’s what Torre told Yahoo’s Jeff Passan:

“Let’s see what it looks like. It’s not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing a utility infielder in to pitch. As much as it’s nice to talk about being at an 18-inning game, it takes time.

“It’s baseball. I’m just trying to get back to that, where this is the game that people come to watch. It doesn’t mean you’re going to score. You’re just trying to play baseball.”

Before we get to the substance of this, let’s quickly note what many others have noted: Position players pitching is one of the game’s great gifts, and should not be scorned by the likes of Torre, who ought to know better.

Aye, but let’s get back to the clock. Yes, baseball games could be shorter and no, I won’t totally dismiss the idea of putting a runner on 2B as a way of speeding up a game. The idea of doing it in the 10th inning seems ridiculous and clearly inspired by college football’s crazy overtime rules, but the idea (which I am proposing right now) of doing it in, say, the 15th inning also cribs from the FBS, and not necessary in a bad way*. Just as college football teams eventually are forced to go for two as a tie game drags on, so too might MLB teams benefit from speeding up the game deep into extras.

*Editor’s Note: Bryan is wrong about this. It is still bad.

That might be a controversial opinion, but it’s a way of finding common ground with Manfred and Torre, who seem to be approaching two different ‘problems’ from two different angles. Manfred is trying to create a better television product; Torre is trying to save teams from the ravages of the game itself.

Amazingly, I find myself far more sympathetic to Manfred than Torre here. I mean, who is Joe Freaking Torre to lecture about overlong baseball affairs? I think a 2005 Red Sox/Yankees game is still going on somewhere. Those games weren’t popular despite being bloated and overlong; they were popular because they were bloated and overlong, as is the entire baseball season. On a micro and macro level, the sport’s grind is a feature, not a bug.

But don’t take my word for it. Let’s get to the relevant Hamlet passage on all this, which I have transcribed below. It’s safe to say noted Red Sox fan Bill Shakes was on my side:

To be, or not to be baseball: That is the question

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous long games,

Or to take arms against a sea of scoreless innings,

And by putting a runner on second end them? To end the game, to sleep;

And by a sleep to say we end

The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks

That fandom is heir, ‘tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wish’d. To end the game, to sleep;

To sleep; perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;

For in that sleep of loss or victory what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil

Must give us pause: there’s the respect

That makes calamity of such shortened games;

For those who would bear whips and scorns of extra innings,

The commish’s wrong, Joe Torre’s contumely,

The pangs of despised foes, the new rule’s delay,

The insolence of the commissioner’s office and the spurns

That patient merit of unworthy hot takes,

When anyone himself might his opinion make

With a Twitter account? who would Cardinals bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary LOOGY,

But that the dread of the position-playing pitcher after him,

The undiscover’d beauty from whose pitches bourn

No fan returns, puzzles the will

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Toward opponents’ position players pitching we know not of?

Thus silly new rules do make cowards of us all;

And thus the native hue of the resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pith and moment

With this regard their rule changes turn awry,

And lose the name of sanity.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. This is insane.

To look ahead, I’d compromise for 12th inning if it came down to it* -- there is no need or demand to end it earlier than that among the die-hards, and they are the ones that suffer. If Manfred and Torre can just abstain from upending the key tenant of the game — that there is no clock, and there is no aberration in how the game is played until it is finished, within reason (as we already have a curfew) — I’ll be okay with it, but I’m not convinced. I trust them as far as I can throw them. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and it’s this dumb rule.

*Editor’s Note: No.