Like most sports around the world, baseball has been derailed by the global outbreak of Covid-19. A curtailed season, empty stadiums, and slightly eerie cardboard cut-outs of fans have been the staple of sports operating in the midst of the pandemic, and Major League Baseball has been no exception.
A complex and hectic season schedule was formulated by MLB’s officials to mitigate the risks associated with travel and reduce contact, but inevitable slip-ups and positive tests for the virus have still seen cancellations and postponements.
To adapt to this new reality, officials have also formulated new rules and regulations to the sport of baseball, which has of course caused a stir with fans. Whilst some may see the traditional and established rules of baseball as sacrosanct, and that any attempt to change the smallest details of the sport is tantamount to heresy, others have enjoyed the shakeup, and have even voiced wishes for the rule changes to continue.
The new extra innings rule pioneered in 2020, which sees each half-inning start with a runner on second base, is one example of how MLB officials have adapted baseball to cope with the added demands of the truncated season. Advocates for keeping this rule change point out that the stakes are immediately much higher for the particular inning, and this encourages high scoring rather than a defensive slog. Extra innings betting markets have exploded in popularity off the back of this change, demonstrated by their inclusion in many MLB picks and parlays, so this is one new rule that could be retained.
Another change witnessed this season was actually well forecast even before the pandemic took hold, however with time very much of the essence in light of a reduced schedule, this is another rule change that many fans would like to maintain. The change sees relievers face three batters, or closeout an inning, whichever occurs first. Limiting receiver swaps is in theory designed to reduce time, and in practice has won many admirers. For more casual fans, the often long and turgid gameplay in baseball can be a deterrent. This time-saving rule therefore should make for a more compact and thrilling game.
Finally, a unique feature introduced to National League games for this strangest of seasons was the use of a designated hitter. This change was amongst the most controversial, with some traditionalists vehemently opposed at what they perceive to be the undermining of the sport, resembling amateur baseball rather than professional sport at the highest level. Others loathe watching pitchers come up to swing the bat, and prefer specialist players excelling at what they do best. Whether this rule is maintained may change the face of baseball at the highest level for good.
Ultimately, sports are ever-evolving beings, and new rules and modifications will always be introduced to keep the game both competitive and interesting. Some of these changes will inevitably rub fans up the wrong way, but may prove popular over subsequent seasons. When the baseball faithful are finally let back into stadiums, these changes will certainly prove to be a talking point, and if you can’t have a good grumble over an inconsequential ball game, then what can you do?