Thursday, September 22, 2005

How to make Baseball a saner sport

Baseball, like most American sports, struggles with a surfeit of silly rules drawn up by people who probably never knew the meaning of the word "consistent". Here are four proposed rule changes that would make it a saner sport, without the need for weird special-case rules. From the least important to the most:
  1. Stealing First Base: For some strange reason, the hitter is not allowed to run to first base on a wild pitch. Never mind that any other runner on base has every right to run. And never mind that if the hitter strikes out on a wild pitch, he can then try to get to first base. What kind of crazy rule is that? Why not let the hitter run to first base no matter what, if he so desires?
  2. The Foul-tip out: Why is it that a foul ball that pops up and is caught by the catcher results in an out, but not a foul ball that "deflects" off the hitter's bat into the catcher's glove? And, of course, just to throw an additional twist, the latter results in an out in the special case that it happens on a two-strike count. Why on earth would it not be out every single time?
  3. Eliminating the Force-Play: Anyone know the infield-fly rule? The idea is that a ball that pops up could be deliberately dropped by the in-fielder in order to help him get a double-play when there is (typically) a runner on first base. How does baseball try to stop this? Create an "infield-fly" rule by which the umpire declares the hitter out even before the ball descends, arbitrarily deciding that the ball is catchable! My solution would be to get rid of the force play -- the idea that a runner on first is forced to advance to second on a ground-ball (and similarly when there is a runner on second with first base occupied, etc.). Instead, why not let a runner always have the option of staying at the base he is on? In case, multiple runners end up at the same base, the trailing runner would be counted out. Some tricky details are involved here that I won't elaborate on, but the basic idea is that all baserunners need to be tagged in order to be out.
  4. The Mega-Walk: The greatest abomination in baseball is the intentional walk. How crazy is it to let a team walk its opponent's best hitter without giving him a chance to swing the bat? And all they can do is complain about how it's such dishonorable behavior! If you had the misfortune of watching the Giants in 2004, you probably also saw how much the intentional walk can hurt the hitting team -- just recall the 232 or so times A.J. Pierzynski grounded into a DP after a Bonds walk. Instead, let's institute the Mega-Walk. The hitter no longer needs to walk to first base after 4 balls. He also has the option of receiving more pitches! If he gets up to 8 balls, he gets 2 bases; 12 balls will give him 3 bases, and 16 balls would be the equivalent of a home run. Of course, if he strikes out, he strikes out. The hitter also has the option of cutting and walking whenever he wants to. For example, when the count gets to 10-2, he might decide to just take his 2 bases instead of risking a strike-out. Now, let's see people trying the intentional walk!

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