MLB: Automatic runner rule needs to be augmented

Quick Hit

Photo by USA TODAY

By @RyanGrosman
Laced
April 25, 2022

On April 24, after making a timely comeback and even taking the lead, the Toronto Blue Jays lost a heart-ripper to the Houston Astros in the 10th inning in walk-off home run fashion. The game saw both teams enjoy the benefits of the automatic runner at second base.

I have to say, I’m a fan of this new-ish extra inning rule. Even though I love baseball more than anything, I don’t love it enough to watch a marathon 22-inning game. By that point, the two teams’ bullpens are fully taxed and they’re basically trotting the bat boy out to the mound to get slaughtered. And any resemblance to the game of baseball has been killed off long ago.

Of course, if this rule was in place back in 2016, we would never have experienced the epic, will-this-ever-end, 19-inning Canada Day classic between the Jays and then Cleveland Indians.

But would that have been such a bad thing? Two Jays utility men, Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney, were used in relief, with the former hitting the DL shortly after with right forearm tightness. Goins nor Barney were signed to toe the rubber. Nor did anyone buy a ticket or tune in that day to see them pitch. It was just an ugly byproduct of a never-ending game.

The automatic runner rule likely does away with all of that.

Plus, the rule adds a little bit of strategy to extra innings. Does the manager bunt the runner over to third? Put a steal on? Just hit away and hope for the best (or blast)? It’s an additional crucial, game-on-the-line decision that has to be made.

So before the 2022 season, when MLB and the Player’ Association agreed to bring back the extra inning automatic runner rule, I was happy.

Well…sort of happy. I just have two issues with it.

My first issue is that people keep calling it a “ghost runner.” It’s not. So please stop. Like now.

For those of you who obviously never participated in an undermanned baseball game as a kid, (and it seems like there are a lot of you), let me explain what a ghost runner actually is. Ghost runners are when your team’s batting, but you don’t have enough people to bat around. So you’re forced to abandon your base to go up to bat. You shout, “Ghost runner on third,” or whichever base you’re on. The runner still exists, but without your physical presence. Hence the word “ghost.”

Even some prominent MLB writers are getting it wrong. As far as I can tell, there are physical, corporeal beings sent out to second base to run in extra innings. I know this because I can see them.

My second (and real) issue is that teams should be given at least two innings of normal extra inning baseball to win before the automatic runner is implemented. So the runner would start at second base in the 12th instead of the 10th.

On the Blue Jays broadcast, Pat Tabler put forth his own intriguing tweak to the rule. Play the 10th inning straight up (i.e. no automatic runner). For the 11th inning, place the runner at first base. Then in the 12th, place him at second base. Tabler stopped there, but an automatic runner at second base from the 12th inning on would make the most sense in this scenario.

Either way, with all the rules that MLB has installed or is trying to install to either speed up the game (i.e. the three-batter minimum rule for relief pitchers) or bump up balls in play (i.e. anti-shifting rules), at least the automatic runner doesn’t mess with baseball strategy. In fact, it adds to it.

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Ryan Grosman

Welcome to Laced — sports with a little something extra. Follow me on Twitter @RyanGrosman