Not far from where I live, a guy poured a bunch of money into a new restaurant recently. It was a nightclub that served gourmet steaks and seafood, had several elevated dance floors and a DJ and had VIP areas with bottle service provided by leggy models. It was, perhaps, as fine a representation of the South Beach scene as one could concoct.
The problem is that I don't live anywhere near South Beach. I live in suburban Cleveland. And this sizzling scene was placed not next to an ocean but next to a Super 8 motel right off the highway.
Do I need to mention it closed within a year?
The point is that sometimes you can see a weird/bad idea coming a mile away, and I want to make it clear to you that the ideas I'm about to present below generally qualify as weird and bad.
But right now, there are several genuine Major League proposals or experiments on the table in the name of speeding up the game or adding action …
- Moving the strike zone up to the top of the kneecap.
- Eliminating the pitches and allowing those intentionally walked to go straight to first base.
- Beginning extra innings with a runner on second (as a rookie-ball trial).
These ideas have generated quite a bit of discussion in recent days. We've been talking about how umpires have been calling an increasingly low strike zone for several years, so that proposal has merit. The intentional walk idea won't shave much time off but also wouldn't rob us of much aside from the occasional wild pitch or Gary Sanchez sacrifice fly. So whatever. And the extra-innings thing, despite some public outcry, should offend only rookie-ball purists. There's genuinely no harm in experimenting that one at the lowest level.
But with so much rules talk on the table right now, let's generate some "Miami-style dance club in Northeast Ohio" levels of loopy. Here, just for laughs, are some truly oddball ways to increase action and/or get to the gist.
They're so crazy, they just might work! (Stop looking at me like that.)
1. If any "regulation" game reaches the three-and-a-half hour mark, all counts become automatic 3-2 counts
The longest nine-inning game in history was a four-hour, 45-minute affair between the Yankees and Red Sox (who else?) on Aug. 18, 2006. Last year, the National League mark was set at 4:30 at Coors Field (where else?) in a June 24 game between the Rockies and D-backs.
We can do better. Three hours and 30 minutes from first pitch, a buzzer sounds, and every count goes to full to speed things toward a conclusion, add more drama to every at-bat or, in the event of a tie, potentially get us closer to extra innings, where the time of game would make significantly more sense. And while the obvious problem with this rule is that it wouldn't help matters much if we're deadlocked in a taut, 0-0 affair, my response is WHY IS A 0-0 GAME THAT HASN'T EVEN REACHED EXTRA INNINGS TAKING MORE THAN THREE-AND-A-HALF HOURS? THAT'S NUTS!
2. No rain delays after the seventh inning
I don't care what the conditions are. Just summon your inner Carl Spackler, insist "the heavy stuff's not gonna come down for a while," and play through, boys. It's too late to stop now.
Suppose we can make exceptions for lightning. Maybe.
3. All foul bunts are outs
Not just two-strike foul bunts. A conspiracy theorist could suggest that the installation of this "automatic runner on second with no outs" in extras rule in rookie ball is nothing more than a veiled attempt to improve sacrifice bunting at the game's lowest levels (as my MLB.com colleague Mark Bowman noted, it's very possible Ned Yost is secretly behind this).
But here's an even better way to improve the quality of bunting at the big leagues while simultaneously speeding things up. An inability to properly get a bunt down is already pretty embarrassing, so let's properly account for it.
4. If any team is up 10 runs or more, new rules kick in
I would suggest that clubs can be run-ruled or forfeit, but that's too obvious. So let's just find other ways to fast-forward toward a conclusion in a blowout. How about:
- Fly balls can be caught on a bounce.
- As long as a ground ball is cleanly fielded, it's an out (no throw necessary).
- Foul balls on two-strike counts are outs.
- Every baserunner must attempt to steal.
- Two-out innings!
5. In extra innings, pitchers must throw underhand
A pretty self-explanatory means of expediting offensive production in extra innings. And if anybody claims this is an affront to the purity of the competition, all we have to do is point out that pitchers were actually required to throw underhand until 1883 -- the year Old Hoss Radbourn won 48 games.
6. In extra innings, one side of the bat is allowed to be flat
Same deal here. This wouldn't be the de facto home run derby some suggest as an extra-innings alternative, but, you know, it might not be far off.
The National League actually allowed these cricket-style bats as a means of improving production in 1885, but the bat's tendency to splinter led to the abolishment of the rule in 1893. Let's operate on the assumption that bat-making technology has improved enough in the time since to make this work. C'mon, people, don't you want baseball to more closely resemble cricket??
7. Change the intentional walk
You can do this a number of ways. You can have intentional walks automatically go to second, certainly limiting their application to all but the most extreme of circumstances (the intentional walk, as currently applied, is a cop-out). Bill James has suggested giving the batter the option of turning down the intentional walk (I suppose if the batter is "unintentionally" walked anyway, you could have him go straight to second).
Though we're generally just having a laugh here, I'd be genuinely interested in seeing the "intentional walks go straight to second" rule in practice. Look out, rookie ball!
8. You can try to "steal" first on wild pitches or passed balls.
You can do this on strike three, of course, but let's apply it to all pitches. It's the batter's discretion. You'd have to imagine that the vast majority of times, it wouldn't be worth the effort. But this is one way to improve Billy Hamilton's on-base percentage.
9. The home manager chooses how many runs the game will go to
Now we're totally off the rails. But how fascinating would this daily decision be? If you think the average Major League manager is already under intense scrutiny for his lineup decisions and pitching changes, imagine if he set today's winning score at five runs, his starter got smoked in the first inning and the game was over in about 20 minutes. The poor guy would have to sneak out of the stadium that night.
But you can see how this could be a truly tactical decision, likely tailored to the quality of the starting pitching matchup. You'd open the door to potential clubhouse discord if, say, James Shields (JUST A RANDOM EXAMPLE USED FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER) was on the mound and Rick Renteria set it at 10. Managers could also use it as a psychological motivator.
Some games would be wrapped up in a hurry, others would drag on for an eternity. You'd probably even out to something approximating a three-hour average, though I of course have no mathematical evidence to support this.
10. The Minor League countdown.
OK, this has absolutely nothing to do with game play whatsoever. But when I mentioned to my wife that they're trying out the extra-innings rule in rookie ball, she said she thinks it's dumb that Triple-A is the highest level of the Minors and A-ball is the lowest. "It should be the opposite," she suggested. "Like a countdown … Triple-A, Double-A, Single-A, and then you're in the Majors!"
I had no idea what to do with this ridiculous suggestion, so I put it here, if only to prove that I'm not the only purveyor of bad ideas in my household.
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.