It has occurred to this writer over the past few days that perhaps a recently adopted IBAF rule change designed to thwart long extra-inning games (see previous entry) might not be such a hair-brained scheme after all. In fact the new touted “Schiller Free Base Runners Rule” might be taken as only the first of several ground-breaking steps in the sport’s improvement. There are additional steps that might now be taken by the “lords of international baseball” not only to improve the swansong Beijing tournament, but also to increase chances that baseball might somehow find its way back as an Olympic sport for the 2016 games at an as-yet-unnamed site.
With that thought in mind I suggest to the IBAF and IOC brain trust a handful of further slight modifications in long-standing baseball rules that would likely benefit the Beijing matches and possibly improve chances for the sport finding renewed support and acceptance in such far-flung outposts as Afghanistan and New Guinea. The first needed rule change for this month’s contests would seem to be one geared to neutralize any threats to healthy and artistry posed by Beijing’s notorious “walls of incessant industrial smog.” The seeming solution here would be to eliminate the three outfield positions from the diamond, since outfield play will most likely not be clearly visible from the grandstands or press box at any rate. With the defense now limited to just six players, any ball hit beyond the infielders would automatically be scored a “ground-rule single” no matter what the dimensions of the unseen blow might actually be.
A second new playing rule humbly proposed here would be the limiting of all games (entire games, and not individual pitchers) to a 30-pitch count. Once 30 pitches are thrown the game would immediately cease (no last at bats for the “home” club) and the results would be duly recorded in the tournament standings. If by some chance a game were still tied after 30 pitches (not a high likelihood given that any ball hit beyond the infield would be an automatic single) then the winner could be determined by immediately moving to the novel IBAF showcase ruling for 11th-inning tie-breaking. The team at bat after 30 pitches would suddenly revert to no outs, and their manager could then move to any hitter he chooses from his batting order (per Schiller’s new ruling) and thus also put the two previous hitters in the batting order on first and second bases. One clear advantage of this new set of playing conditions would be that Olympic baseball fans would enjoy a much greater opportunity to see the new ingenious Schiller extra-inning rule on display and not have to wait for the rare event of an 11-inning contest. (I realize here that with a 30-pitch limit on all games, first at-bats would now take on a major importance. This could be handled with an auxiliary rule that allowed first at-bats to the team whose name had the fewest characters in the Chinese character spelling system.)
The combination of these new proposed rules (no outfielders and 30 pitches total) would also work most effectively to achieve two of the IBAF’s main stated goals. First, these rules would definitely shorten all games, eliminating the main IBAF preoccupations with possible interruptions of important television, entertainment and security schedules (as claimed in the recent IBAF announcement of their revamped extra-inning rule). Secondly and most importantly, by reforming the game with an infield only and a total of no more than 30 pitches, baseball would hardly look much like “baseball” anymore. The diamond sport would take on instead the appearance of something akin to, say, curling or field hockey or squash. It would seem likely that a sport with such a revamped appearance might stand a far greater opportunity of receiving the support of non-baseball countries throughout Africa and Europe and Oceania, and thus also increase its likelihood of obtaining the votes desperately needed in IOC circles for 2016 reinstatement as an “official” Olympic sport.
The only possible objections I can foresee to these proposed “minor” rule changes would be that they might be seen by some backward-looking old-timers as impacting far too heavily on the traditional appearance and quality of the sport as fans have known it and loved it for more than a century and a half. But the recent IBAF proposed extra-inning tie-breaker rule is itself already sufficient proof that such sentimental “traditionalist” arguments hold little importance for IBAF rule-makers. Most traditional baseball fans reside in the United States, anyway, where Olympic baseball draws almost no attention at any rate. So why not continue the reigning logic of tweaking the Olympic version of the sport so that it finds needed success and appeal with a population existing outside of what might be termed traditional baseball populations. If we don’t need extra innings or fixed batting orders or earned base runners, why do we need outfielders or outfield play? And if you have already seen 30 pitches why do you need to see 300? If in 2008 few baseball fans can recall what a double header was, why should we expect that many fans in 2016 or 2020 will recall the concept of baseball played without a time clock? Or without a pitch count? Let’s seize the moment and remember Beijing as the sacred place where baseball starting look squarely and boldly to the future and finally cut its stranglehold ties with the withering past.