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MLB needs to look more closely at a mercy rule

Photo Credit: Sean Gladwell

Interesting idea from New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone: to get MLB to consider implementing a mercy rule.

He may have made the suggestion in frustration. His team had just lost to Cleveland, 19-5, and he had used first baseman Mike Ford to finish out the game on the mound, in a two-inning stint.

The use of a position player to finish out a laugher on the mound is becoming par for the course in MLB in recent years.

As Boone noted, the idea is to save arms on the staff, even in an era in which teams routinely go with 12 and even 13 pitchers, meaning seven or eight relievers, but part of the effect is to transfer the risk of injury to the position player doing something that he may not have done since high school or college in a competitive situation.

That this is being done in games that are 19-5 blowouts that only a handful of the paying funs on hand at the outset are sticking around for is another part of the issue worth exploring.

I’m a Nats fan, and have enjoyed, in a manner of speaking, back-to-back big wins the past two days – a 16-8 win over Milwaukee on Sunday that was 13-0 Washington after three and 16-4 Nationals heading into the ninth, and a 13-0 win at Pittsburgh Monday night, in which the Nats led 11-0 after four.

Neither game, incidentally, saw the losing team use a position player to finish things out, but for the fans, speaking from experience, it was over in every respect except that the game wasn’t officially over until the ninth inning.

And yet: time of game on Sunday was 3:24, and on Monday, it was 3:16.

Six hours and 40 minutes of baseball, maybe two hours of it, total, competitive.

We’re so worried, in baseball, about the length of games being such an issue.

I’m not sure our heads are in the right place in this respect.

The Saturday Nats-Brewers game, the 15-14 marathon 14-inning win for Milwaukee, went 5:40 all by itself.

I was riveted to the TV screen for roughly five hours and 40 minutes that night, and into Sunday morning.

People will watch good stuff that goes long, way long, because it’s good stuff.

As much as you want your team to win a bunch of blowouts, they’re not exciting.

We can cut that down with a mercy rule – maybe the cutoff being set at, 10-run lead after six and a half.

Those last couple of innings can run 45 minutes to an hour, easy, with B relievers, or position players, sent out to the mound to close things out.

I’ve also got experience as a broadcaster in the spring on ESPN3 telecasts of college baseball, and I can tell you, there is little entertaining about those kinds of games, even for those working them.

So, we implement a mercy rule, we cut out the less entertaining parts of a game, we save the arms, either relievers or position players.

I think it’s a good thing all around.

Now, yes, it would involve overturning 150 years of practice in terms of how pro baseball games have been played forever and ever.

Whatever. Err on the side of making it more entertaining.

Column by Chris Graham