When it was finally over, and Atlanta Braves pitcher Rick Camp struck out to end the game, night had blurred into early morning at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and the visiting New York Mets emerged victorious, 16-13.
“I know that 19 innings can produce great theater over six hours,” said former Mets pitcher Ron Darling, who was the last pitcher on the mound for that 1985 regular season marathon. “I know because I’ve played in it.”
Both teams used a combined 14 pitchers to navigate that lengthy affair and Camp socked a home run in the bottom of the 18th inning to tie the game — again — only to whiff an inning later in a deflating Braves loss. First pitch was on Thursday night, July 4, but the final out didn’t occur until almost 4 a.m. Friday morning. A smattering of fans stuck around until the end to watch the Independence Day fireworks.
“I’m one of those nuts — you give me an extra-inning game, I want historic. Give me 20 (innings). Give me 22,” said Darling, now a baseball analyst on SNY and the MLB Network. “I love those games. The rawness of it is interesting to watch.”
But Major League Baseball games in that vein and some other quirks of the sport may be history after baseball commissioner Rob Manfred recently voiced his support for maintaining some of the new rules implemented this year. Before the season was reduced to 60 games in the midst of the global pandemic, a rule was established that pitchers must face a minimum of three batters. The truncated baseball season also prompted additional changes, including an expanded, 16-team playoff format, a universal designated hitter throughout the regular season and postseason, and a runner at second base at the start of each extra inning during the regular season.
“I like the idea of, and I’m choosing my words carefully here, an expanded playoff format,” Manfred told the Associated Press this week after the World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers had begun. “I don’t think we would do 16 like we did this year.” (Normally, 10 teams total make the postseason).
Of the rule placing runners on second base in extra-inning games, Manfred said “it’s really good from a safety and health perspective that keeps us from putting players in situations where they’re out there too long or in positions they’re not used to playing.”
Manfred was also emphatic that the three batter minimum rule is, in his mind, a permanent fixture in the game going forward.
“There’s nothing about what happened this year that has changed, not only in my mind, but anybody in the game’s mind about it, and I think that’s here to stay,” Manfred told the AP.
Darling, however, said he disagrees with the three batter minimum rule, and baseball super agent Scott Boras, Royals executive Gene Lamont and former Red Sox pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee echoed Darling’s sentiments.
“Let’s take it from its infancy,” said Darling. “Why was the rule made? There was some kind of thought it would quicken the game. That certainly is not the case. It can make the game even worse than it is now.”
Lamont, a former Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates manager and now a special advisor to Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore, went as far as calling the rule “terrible,” and that it “messes with the integrity of the game.” And Lee, the outspoken former major league pitcher, called the rule “like putting a Bandaid on a severed artery.”
Boras, whose clients include Dodgers players Corey Seager (shortstop), Cody Bellinger (outfielder) and Julio Urias (pitcher), said the rule does the opposite of speeding up the pace of the game, which is its purpose.
“Relievers are facing hitters their managers and coaches don’t want them to face,” said Boras. “Guess what they’re telling them to do? They’re telling them to throw seven or eight pitches instead of two or three. Try to pitch around them. Now all the sudden — look at the lengthy at-bats. It takes more time when they’re doing this than it does to change the pitcher. I don’t think it works.”
But Boras said he’s in favor of the runner on second base to start extra innings, although he specified that it should be a regular-season rule only.
“The playoffs are a place where we’re not concerned with time,” said Boras. “We’re concerned with the idea that you must earn every run in a fashion that’s unrelated to what we do in the season.”
Boras added that he thinks an expanded playoff format “creates greater interest in the game,” but the baseball agent hopes the neutral site World Series — as is the case this year with the Fall Classic staged in Arlington, Texas — will become permanent.
“I believe it should be ‘World Series Week,’ where they play seven games in a row,” said Boras. “The integrity of the game and putting a team together are better served when you have more mystery, more roster depth requirements. Modern-day people want binge watching. It’s not a national or international event as it has no notice or planning. We are serving MLB’s best steak in a drive-thru! ‘World Series Week’ should be a week-long gala in a city that plans for it, like the All-Star Game.”
Lee was part of the Red Sox team that faced the Cincinnati Reds in the 1975 World Series, one of the greatest in the sport’s history. Carlton Fisk, the Red Sox catcher and Hall of Famer, ended Game 6 with a dramatic, 12th-inning home run at Fenway Park. That game was four hours in length, while Game 2 of the 2020 World Series was nine innings and was only 20 minutes shorter.
“This World Series has been the most boring affair you’ve ever seen,” said Lee. “These new rules are ridiculous. It’s to pacify owners to make them more money. This new commissioner is dumb as a post. He sits well in the owners’ pocket.”
Darling was part of the Mets team that won an epic 16-inning playoff game against the Houston Astros in the 1986 NLCS. The victory clinched the pennant for the Mets.
“If you’re ranking postseason games, that’s in the top 10 I would think. That said, I think people today are over extra innings,” said Darling. “The players are over it, managers are over it. The way they put the team together, general managers are over it. People are happy to have the game over with.”
One major league scout called the extra-inning baserunner “exciting” for the game, creating “pressure right away.”
“I’ve been a fan of that for a while,” said the scout. “It forces the issue, makes the manager react a little more quickly.”
But the scout, like Darling, said the three batter minimum rule was bad for the game, and that it removes one of the quirky managing strategies that has existed for decades: sending a lefty specialist to the mound.
“You’re taking jobs away,” said the scout, referring to the new rule of relievers facing at least three batters.
Darling added that he would feel cheated if the “Jerry Blevins’ of the world were not able to have a career,” referring to the left-handed reliever who has played for the Mets and three other clubs.
And while there have been great pitcher performances at the plate in baseball annals — Hall of Fame St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson homering in the 1968 World Series; portly Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon hitting his first career homer at age 42 in 2016 — the universal designated hitter (DH) rule seems to have wide appeal. It was instituted this year, but the owners and players’ union will have to negotiate that issue when the collective-bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season.
“The most important thing to me are health and safety concerns,” said Boras. “The greatest health and safety measure we can do in this game is get the DH going forward. We had something like 60 pitchers hurt in two months of baseball. The talent level of our business, the integrity of the game is infected when you have that many injuries. The DH is critical to what we’re doing going forward health and safety-wise.”
Darling said that while he appreciated and enjoyed “pitchers being one of the athletes” during his playing days, in modern baseball times, “the DH is here to stay.”
“Fans like it, players like it, and the Players Association, more importantly, likes it,” said Darling. “It’s an extra job. There’s a business side of it. But growing up in the National League, I’ll miss the pitcher hitting. That will no longer be.”
Source: Forbes – Business