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Baseball rule fixes

Here are a few modest suggestions for transforming baseball from a really good game into a really, really good game. (I am presuming, of course, that by the time you read this, the designated hitter will have gone the way of the dodo.)

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Do away with the outfield fence.

Isn't it a bit artificial, if not absurd, that a 380-foot pop fly is an out in one direction, but a grand slam in another? Isn't it strange that 4-base hits are about as commonplace as 2-base hits - and that 3-base hits are the rare birds?

Why shouldn't batters have to work for their home runs? Why shouldn't fielders have to scramble to hold runners to as few bases as possible? Isn't that the essence of the game?

If no outfield fence is too radical for everybody, couldn't we at least move it way back - to 580 feet, say, in every direction? That would have a similar effect of bringing the number of achieved bases into correlation with the goodness of the hit, plus, when somebody does hit one out, it would be a big deal.

Eliminate the infield fly rule.

Refresher: the infield fly rule says that, if there are runners on 1st and 2nd base (as a minimum) and less than 2 out and the batter pops up to the infield, the batter is automatically and instantly out and the runners can stay right where they are. (They may try to advance at their own risk, but if you think it through, you'll see they'd have to be crazy to try.)

The underlying reason for the rule is that the fielding team would have no trouble converting the pop-up into a double play by letting it fall and throwing to 3rd and 2nd.

The first question is, what's wrong with that? There's no "infield grounder rule" for when a batter smacks one right at the shortstop with a runner on first. If you don't wanna make 2 outs in that situation then you don't oughta should hit one like that.

The bigger point, though, is that the conversion into a double play is far from certain. Without the infield fly rule, this play would be one of the most exciting in baseball.

Sure, the fielders could turn an easy double play if the runners just stand on their bases daydreaming and spittin' tobacco juice, but without the rule everyone would be galvanized into action. The runners would move down the basepaths as far as would allow them to retreat in case the ball is caught. Then they must be ready to break in either direction depending on whether the ball drops or not.

The fielder would have to size up the runners' leads and make a snap decision whether to catch the ball and try to double somebody up, or let it drop and try for 2 force outs. Neither one's a given.

Believe me, the adrenalin would be flowing.

Fix the definition of ground fouls.

For fly balls, there's no problem. If the ball comes down in foul territory, it's foul.

For grounders that go foul before reaching 1st or 3rd base, there's no problem. They're foul.

For bouncing grounders that go foul after reaching 1st or 3rd, there's a problem. Whether or not they're called foul depends where in space they are when they go by 1st or 3rd. Not only is that generally impossible to determine (without a referee positioned directly above the base in question), it is not consistent with the rule for fly balls. Moreover, it's not consistent with the rules for out-of-bound balls in all other sports.

Proposal: a ball that flies or bounces past 1st or 3rd base is fair if it comes down in fair territory, or if it first touches a player who is in contact with fair territory. (Think football and basketball.) Otherwise, it's foul.

A new fielding statistic.

The problem with assigning an error, of course, is that it's strictly a matter of somebody's opinion. The other misleading thing is that a mediocre player might actually have a great error statistic. Somebody once pointed out that Jackie Gleason would have a perfect fielding record - if you can't get to the ball, you can't make an error.

As for errors, I don't have a better idea, but I'd be interested in a related statistic. Very simply, what percentage of balls that hit the ground before reaching the outfield are converted into a force out or a fielder's choice.

This doesn't involve any opinion. It would be a team statistic, but isn't baseball a team sport?

Maybe a related statistic for outfields would be interesting: how many balls that reach the outfield on the fly are caught. This is perhaps a little less valid since weak pitching may play a big part in balls falling in "where they ain't".


From Gene Somers, Presque Isle, Wis., Oct 1999:

Hi Don; having played most of my life, I share most of your suggestions to make the game better. But here's a few more that always made the game boring. How about the intentional walk. Why not just say to the ump "give him first" instead of watching the pitcher throw 4 meaningless pitches. Or how about the 99 foul rule. Why should a batter get 99 chances to get a hit, while the pitcher busts his butt to get 3 strikes. 99 fouls and out is rediculous. The batter should get 3 swings at the ball and that's it. Or the batter allowed to rub out the batters box. Do you realize how many times these guys arent even in the box when they swing. There's no reason for a batter to take his foot and rub out the marks. He can't do it on the foul lines. Thanks for the interesting site.

From John W. Smith III, Oct 2001:

I liked your suggestions for changing baseball. But I think you missed one. Do away with the balk! What's wrong with trying to trick the runner? They don't ban the hidden ball trick and at least once a year somebody gets caught.

DS: Actually, I think the game would be more philosophically sound if runners weren't allowed to leave their base until the batter hit the ball. (I insist on that in any softball or kickball game I play.) Then there wouldn't be any reason for balking. Anyhow, legal balking could make the game drag.

As Chad Groome points out:

The balk cannot be removed. It keeps the pitcher from balking the hitter more than it does the runner. The runner is kept on his toes anyways. If the balk rule is removed, the pitcher can throw fake pitches. It is hard enough to hit a major league pitcher as is, not taking into account the pitcher being allowed to make a fake move to first or home.

Date: Dec 2001
From: Chad Groome
Subject: This is stupid

Get rid of the infield fly? This is stupid.

Date: Oct 2002
From: Chad Groome

The infield fly is critical. It stops defensive players from dropping pop flies in order to turn an easy double play. With no infield fly, the runners are damned if they do and damned if they don't. If there is no infield fly rule, the runners must wait to see if the ball is dropped in order to advance, and they would be easily doubled off. Or in the alternative, the infielder could catch the ball then double off the advancing runners. It puts two outs in the discretion of the infielder, which would be completely stupid and unfair. The situation doesn't arise that much anyways.

Chad's argument gave me a nudge to try to make mine more convincing. It's still not obvious to me that the fielders could always and easily turn a double play. Let's examine some situations.

1. Suppose you know the fielder is going to catch the ball. Then, the runners will just stay on their bases. Result: 1 out.

2. Suppose you know the fielder is going to drop the ball. Then, everybody will run to the next base (at least). Result: nobody out.

So that leaves the situation where nobody knows if the fielder is going to let the ball drop. Yes, if all the runners stay put, the fielder will let the ball bounce (hopefully not too high!) and two well-executed throws will force out two runners. Yes, if any of the runners takes off for the next base the fielder will catch the ball and double him up.

But, what if the runners use discretion? What if they hang close enough to their respective bases to avoid getting doubled-up? Can the fielder always guarantee a double play by letting the ball drop? That's not obvious to me, and even less so if the ball is hit in the first base area. In any case, the fielder would have to be super alert, watching the ball and 2 (or 3) runners in order to make a split-second decision of whether to catch it or let it drop. I suppose the runners would do all kinds of crazy stuff to fake out the fielder - while the fielder himself tries to fake out the runners. It seems to me there would be all kinds of exciting situations depending on whether there are 2 or 3 men on, and where the ball comes down. I'd say that if the fielding team can turn a double play under those circumstances, they deserve it!

My suspicion would be easy - and a lot of fun - to test out. Runners of varying abilities would be put on base and a ball dropped into different areas of the infield to fielders of varying abilities. If the fielders can turn a double play in 100% of the trials, then I'm wrong. (Wouldn't be the first time!)

Date: Oct 2004
From: Jeff Barry; So. Acton, Mass.
Subject: "a few modest suggestions..."

9 innings, 9 players. Rotate the players a la volleyball. This would be the end of pitchers' duels and the beginning of MUCH more exciting ball. Best of all, it would mean the end of the specialist. [Not too likely, but I like it! DS]


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