The Harvey Haddix Rule And Extra Innings

Friday, February 10, 2017

THE HARVEY HADDIX RULE: An Exception to Extra Innings Change

Even if I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would still say, “Play ball.”

While the Anthropocene is already in extra innings, and might well wrap itself up with one walk-off-into-oblivion Grand Slam, how long a baseball game might last is less speculative. Changes are afoot: A proposal to alter how extra innings (or what would be called “overtime” in other sports) is played in professional baseball has reached the first stage of implementation. Starting in the lowest levels of the minor leagues, any game that is still tied after the ninth inning will have the 10th inning start with a runner already in scoring position.

I can understand the impetus behind this rule change. Professional baseball is a continental traveling circus at this point, and athletes are highly paid performers. With ticket prices at exorbitant levels, one deserves to see them at their best, and to ask someone to play 16 innings and then head to the airport and fly cross-country in order to play a game the very next night tests the limits of reaction times. The rule would accommodate the social evolution of the game’s maturation as part of a globalized economy.

I tend not to favor rule changes in baseball. I savor the continuity of the game. But let us remember that the game itself went through radical changes before it finally settled on its current rules, and even less than a century ago the spitter was still a legal pitch. Like it or not, the DH is now firmly embedded in the game, and some people believe that the National League should give in and adopt that change, too. One recent change has long overdue: the banning of slides into second base outside of the base path.

I would be in favor of the change regarding extra innings, with the following variations:

1) the tenth inning starts with a runner on first. In point of fact, as every manager knows who watches his pitcher walk the first batter in an inning, the odds that that runner will score are uncomfortably high. What this rule will do is increase the value of the utility player who has worked hard at the craft of stealing bases. It will also create immediate tension in the game. Will the runner take off for second base? From the first pitch of the top of the tenth, the game’s momentum will swirl in expectation.
2) in regards to the DH rule, the National League should allow a DH for the pitcher in extra innings only. This will also increase the likelihood of a swift resolution to the game.
3) if the runner on first does not score after starting on first base in the 10th inning, then and only then does the runner start on second base. In the 11th inning, the pressure will truly build.
4) if the runner on second does not score in either the top or the bottom of the 11th, then the 12th inning starts with the runner on third.

There is one concern I have about this rule change. How would it affect the record book in regards to no-hitters and perfect games. As we all know from the sad fate of Harvey Haddix, it’s possible to throw 12 perfect innings of baseball and still lose a game. But let’s imagine a pitcher who has thrown a perfect game for nine innings and still must confront a duet of zeros on the scoreboard. The other pitcher has thrown an eight-hit shutout, and the game must go on to extra innings.

Allowing a runner to start the inning on the basepaths seems an affront to anyone who accomplishes the feat of nine perfect innings. Let’s call it the Harvey Haddix rule: if a pitcher has pitched nine perfect innings, the other team is not allowed a runner on base to start extra innings. This would not apply, by the way, to no-hitters; only perfect games. So my fifth point in the above list is non-negotiable as far as I’m concerned. The Harvey Haddix rule must be a part of this change to the baseball rulebook.

Finally, this rule change would indeed be a concession to those who stand up for tradition in baseball, but let’s talk about the real impact of concessions. The truth is that concession sales no doubt drop significantly in extra innings, and I have no doubt that the owners will be convinced to adopt this rule because it improves the bottom line of concession sales. By the 14th inning, the dwindling sales of soft drinks and souvenirs surely must make the owners go, “Let’s get this over with and start counting final receipts.”