Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training soon in Florida and Arizona, and while a lot of attention has been fixated on unsigned free-agent stars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado and what that might portend for future labor relations, the week’s biggest development involved proposed changes to the game’s rules.
Any discussion of rule changes usually evokes visceral reactions from traditionalists, particularly when the sport in question is baseball.
Few sportswriters have spent more time watching baseball than Thomas Boswell has, and in praising most (though not all) of the proposed changes, our man Boz recognized something essential: Rules serve to preserve and uphold what we care about in our favorite sports; they aren’t what we actually care about. Baseball fans care about watching hitters try to solve pitchers, and vice versa. Five pitching changes in an inning actually detracts from that spectacle, or at least spreads it out interminably. So a rule change that forces pitchers to face a minimum number of batters actually gives us more of what we care about in a sport; it doesn’t diminish what we’ve grown to love over decades.
It’s also worth noting that rulebooks always have been living documents, and while the 60 feet, 6 inches, between the pitching rubber seems sacrosanct, the height of the mound has been adjusted, to wide acclaim.
Of course, there always will come a bridge just too far. In an effort to curb the potential for seemingly endless extra-inning games, one recent proposal called for each team starting each extra inning with a runner on second base. Of this possibility, Boz wrote, “The first time I see a ‘free runner’ sent to second base to start the 10th inning, I might decide that soccer has become my favorite sport.”
— Matt Rennie, deputy sports editor