Extra Innings

When it comes to baseball, yes, I tend to be a traditionalist in that my first reaction to every new idea is, "Uh ... how about no?" I can't help that. The timelessness of the game appeals to me. I'm drawn to this quaint (and, admittedly, ridiculous) notion that while everything in the world changes, baseball stays the same. Ninety feet. Sixty feet six inches. Bartolo Colon. I like stuff staying the same.

A couple of years ago when people around baseball first talked about adding a pitcher's clock to the game, I basically went into convulsions and wrote all about how baseball's very essence is NOT having a clock. I mean: A clock? At a baseball game? Sacrilegious!

Thing is, then I watched a minor-league game with a pitcher's clock. And I realized: You know what? This is better. The clock was a minor distraction as a fan for about half an inning and then I forgot all about it except to notice that everything was moving just a tick faster, there was just a tiny bit more urgency, and that was a good thing. In one game, I became pro clock ... and I admonished myself for once again falling into that traditionalist trap.

On Wednesday, it came out that the low minor leagues will be experimenting with an extra-inning idea -- they will place a runner at second base to start the inning in order to spark more scoring and, presumably, end games more quickly. The concept has been used internationally for quite a while, and it will actually be in place for the World Baseball Classic.

Of course, my first reaction to this was my perpetual first reaction: Um, NOOOOOO!

But then I stopped and thought about something.

Can you think of the last time you went to a regular season evening baseball game that went into extra innings? Something happens pretty much every time: People start flooding for the exits. It doesn't matter the city you're in. I've seen it in Arizona and I've seen it in St. Louis. I've seen it in New York and I've seen it in San Francisco. I mean, it's a massive swarm for the parking lot. I used to laugh about this (largely because I was being paid to stay until the end of games) and say sarcastically, "I paid for nine innings, dammit, and I'm not staying for one pitch more!"

But the older I've gotten the more I have come to realize: This is a problem. People do not want to stay for extra-inning games. Oh, sure, there are plenty of diehards who will stay to the very end, but that's just not how most people seem to feel. Look at the stadium at the end of the ninth inning. Then look at it at the end of the 10th.

And, if you watch closely, you will notice that at the end of every extra inning, a huge swath of the crowd disappears. And there's something else: Best I can tell fans who leave baseball games during extra innings don't leave happily. I've talked to people who left games after the 10th or 11th inning of a 14-inning game, and mostly they feel cheated. They invested three and a half or four hours into the game on a work night, on a school night, and they didn't even get to see who won. It's kind of a ripoff.

Sure, you can say: "Well, stay then. It's free baseball!"

But people leave anyway. It's the only game, I think, that has this sort of attitude about extra time. I'm sure some people leave basketball games or hockey games or football games at the end of regulation, but not many, and not willingly. Anyway, all the other games put finite time limits on their overtimes. In baseball, as everyone knows, the game can go on forever.

Don't get me wrong: I love the purity of extra innings. I would never want them to change it for postseason baseball where each game takes on much more meaning. But in a July game in Texas, a hot muggy night, both teams basically out of pitchers, yeah, I'm not sure a fun little gimmick would be a bad thing. I think it's very possible that putting a runner on second base to start the 10th inning WOULD encourage more people to stay. It's kind of a fun thing. And it's totally different.

True, a change like this would mean losing some things. We would miss out on teams having to use regular players as pitchers -- that's always fun. We would miss out on those hilarious 18-inning games that go on to 2 in the morning with like 674 people left in the stands -- that's fun too. And we would miss out on the continuity; baseball has always had extra innings.

Then again, the "it's always been this way" argument isn't always a great one.

All in all, it's a reasonable question to ask if the majority of baseball fans WANT full-fledged extra innings. Sure, I love the custom of extra innings, love the history of it, and because I love baseball irrationally I am for extra innings. Even with that in mind, though, there's a longstanding press box tradition that anyone in the box who mentions "extra innings" during the game will get viciously booed and might have stuff thrown at him or her. See: Nobody in the press box wants extra innings either.

All of which is to say: I don't know if this second-base thing is the way to go. But I think it's worth considering. In the wise words of Joe Torre: Let's see what it looks like.