While hanging out at a Star Trek convention not long ago, I found myself thinking about how baseball might change in the future. How can this game be improved?
A three-dimensional chess set inspired me to wonder what a similar baseball field might look like and how it might affect the game. What if the infield were on one level and the outfield on another, say, ten feet higher?
Things get weird quickly. Either there are two discrete levels with some gravity-manipulating mechanism holding the outfielders in place on the higher level, or there is a gentle slope from home plate to the outfield.
While it might be amusing to construct a baseball field at a 2.5 percent grade (running up a hill toward first base, hitting a ball off the wall in center only to have it roll back to the infield, etc.), it serves no practical purpose other than to make me laugh. It doesn’t solve any problems.
Since I’m always looking to make baseball less boring for my good friend and Off-Balance Three cohost Bryan Miller, I turned to more practical ideas. Here are a few of more or less seriousness.
Two Bases on an Intentional Walk
Don’t want to face a dangerous hitter in a critical situation? No problem, just put him on second base and let everyone advance two bases. Under current rules, if runners are on second and third, an intentional walk loads the bases. Under proposed rules, it scores two runs.
To expedite matters and make things painfully uncomfortable, have the batter trot directly over the pitcher’s mound to second base. That should spice things up a little.
Sure, pitchers will still unintentionally walk guys, but at least then mistakes can be made. The point is, you want to let, say, Freddie Freeman swing the bat. Don’t make Braves fans (should that be singular?) watch Nick Markakis or a broken-down Matt Kemp try to hit baseballs.
Three-Batter Minimum for Pitchers
Currently each pitcher that enters the game must face at least one batter. This was fine until Tony La Russa started us down the bullpen micromanagement treadmill many years ago. Now that teams carry 12 or 13 pitchers, fans are subjected to multiple bullpen calls during a game, often in the same inning.
Although this benefits advertisers (more eyes on our product, woo hoo!), it disrupts the game’s flow. This is bad for fans, so instead, bump the minimum number of batters to three. You can still bring Xavier Cedeño into a ballgame, but he’ll have to face right-handers, which makes things more fun for fans and less fun for Cedeño’s team.
Anyone who played Little League knows this rule. If a team leads by ten runs or more after five innings, game over. This not only shortens the contest, but it also allows each team to save its arms without having to let its third-string catcher lob baseballs toward home plate in the later innings while everyone is trying to catch a few winks before driving home.
Advertisers and paying customers alike may complain that they didn’t get their money’s worth, but there’s an easy solution to that. Hold a home-run hitting contest to fill the remaining time. There’s no drama in watching guys swat baseballs into the seats, but it’s fun. Besides, it’s not like there’s any drama in a game that’s 13-1 in the eighth. With a home-run hitting contest, fans at least have something to cheer. They might even catch a souvenir.
And advertisers can still pop in after every round. How many rounds? Take the average length of a game from the previous season and subtract the amount of time elapsed before the mercy rule was invoked in the current game. That’s how long the contest lasts.
None of this has any bearing on the standings, so who wins? Fans and advertisers, who get something far more entertaining than one team beating the snot out of another.
Sometimes a game isn’t resolved after nine innings, so the teams keep playing. Usually this is fine, but every once in a great while you get one that just won’t end. For example, in July, the Pirates and Nationals went 18 innings. It lasted nearly six hours and produced only three runs. It was basically two very low-scoring games rolled into one.
To reach a quicker resolution, use a modified version of softball’s International Tie Breaker. Play the tenth inning like you would regular baseball, then start putting runners on base (whoever made the last out the previous inning) according to the following schedule:
- 11th inning: runner on first
- 12th inning: runner on second
- 13th inning: runner on third
If the game remains tied after the 13th inning, go to my solution for everything and hold a home-run hitting contest. This is when the skills honed during those meaningless contests in blowout games finally pay off. It’s like penalty kicks in soccer, without the insufferable boredom.
Geoff Young is a baseball writer who sometimes turns into a home-run hitting contest. You should follow him on Twitter.