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Baseball’s new rules aren’t as bad as the purists thought they’d be

I was talking to a friend of mine over the winter about the Pirates’ prospects for the 2024 campaign. A bit of a baseball purist, he said, “Damn it, I am still angry they put infield netting from the first to the third-base lines!”

Anyway, that safety rule–all 30 Major League parks must have netting that extends from first to third base–was put in place to protect fans from line-drive foul balls and went into effect in 2018. Yet, my friend was still mad about it six years later.

Fast-forward to this past Sunday. I was at PNC Park to watch the Pirates take on the Red Sox. I was sitting in the all-you-can-eat section, which is located in the upper deck along the first-base line. I watched the players warm up. I saw some guy play the national anthem on his trumpet. I witnessed the little kids take the field as part of some pre-game meet-and-greet with the Bucco players.

But it wasn’t until a Red Sox batter fouled a pitch off to the right that I even noticed this safety netting that had my friend all worked up as he spoke about it back in February.

My friend also often complains about the designated hitter rule that the National League finally adopted as part of the new collective bargaining agreement that was signed in 2022. Does anyone even notice the designated hitter? I do, but I think it’s a good thing that Andrew McCutchen, 37, can still contribute regularly during his second tour of duty as a Bucco. No longer the speed demon he was when he was one of baseball’s best all-around players a decade ago, Cutch can still make an impact as a disciplined veteran who consistently takes “professional” at-bats as one of the Pirates’ main designated hitters.

“What about strategy?” those baseball purists often ask. What about it? Strategy is still involved when a manager makes up his lineup, but now he gets to decide who his designated hitter will be and where to place him in the lineup. Also, maybe one of his two-way players is starting to wear down a bit physically, but his bat is just too hot to keep him out of the lineup. What do you do? Just make him the DH for that game and start someone else at his position on the field. For my money, that’s a more exciting strategy than a double-switch or asking a pitcher to sacrifice bunt. Is it cool to see a pitcher, someone whose batting average begins with a .1, hit a home run? Yes, but only when you find a compilation of pitchers doing that on YouTube.  Unfortunately, you have to sit through a lot of horrible pitcher at-bats in real time before you see something exciting happen.

My friend also hates the MLB 3 Pitcher rule; in case you don’t know what that is, it states that any reliever who enters a game must face at least three batters or finish off an inning before he can be replaced by another pitcher.

What is the point of this rule? To speed up the game, of course. The same goes for the pitch timer that was added in 2023. Also, pitchers are now only allowed to step off or attempt to pick off a runner twice during an at-bat.

What about the new shift rule? Also, why are bases from first to third three inches bigger than they were two seasons ago? What was the point of these changes? More offense, which was also why the NL finally adopted the designated hitter full-time.

MLB hasn’t truly been America’s pastime for going on five decades. Why? Football is just more exciting, at least that’s how it appears with all of those big plays and points. American sports fans like points. They like big numbers. No sports league has ever regretted trying to make things easier for the offense. Face it, 9-8 games are almost always more fun than 2-1 affairs.

America also has an attention span problem, and while 2-1 baseball games can be fun and charming, they sure aren’t all that exciting when they take over three hours to complete. Few people want to sit around and watch baseball games that take that long–at least not night after night. Maybe that’s cool every now and then, but only when the contests go into extra innings. Having said that, marathon extra-inning games don’t happen all that often now thanks to MLB’s new rule that puts a runner at second base to begin the top and bottom of every inning beyond the first nine (at least during the regular season).

What’s the result of baseball’s new rules that were implemented in order to speed things up? The average baseball game took two hours and 42 minutes to complete in 2023, down 24 minutes from the prior year and 29 minutes from the 2021 campaign which averaged three hours and 11 minutes per contest.

Those rules combined with the new rules for offense just make baseball feel cool and sleek again.

Maybe the baseball purists will always hate these rules, but that likely won’t stop them from watching. Die-hards just can’t help themselves. They’ll watch even as they complain about the changes. But baseball wasn’t targeting the purists and die-hards; it was trying to attract the casual fans and maybe turn them into die-hards one day.

Has it worked? It’s too early to say, but baseball isn’t that much different than it was before all of the changes. It’s just faster and a little more exciting.

Fast and exciting attracts. Slow and pure repels.


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