A Cuban Revolution in Baseball

December 20, 2010

There is no crying in baseball, but this one should bring a few tears to the eyes of purists.

The Associated Press is reporting that Cuba has changed baseball's extra innings rules at the highest levels of Cuban competition.

Under the new rules, at the top of the 10th inning the team at bat will get two runners on with no outs. The process then repeats itself, inning after inning, until a winner emerges.

Additionally, teams will get a "one-time restart," meaning they can select any hitter to lead off, after which the batting order will remain in place.

The rule changes first arose before the 2008 Olympics, when the International Baseball Federation yielded to requests to have the games end more quickly.

Similar efforts have been made in other sports as well. Cricket, baseball's predecessor, has recently adopted Cricket "Twenty20" -- a quicker, perhaps more dramatic version of the game than traditional test matches.

Major League Baseball should avoid such a move. Baseball's problem isn't extra innings, as the late-game flow of relievers and pinch hitters often keeps things lively.

If anything needs to be implemented to speed up the game it is cracking down on needless pick-off throws to first base. And the best remedy for that is a simple one: Major League umpires need to enforce the balk more strictly.

Andy Pettitte was keenly adept at the "near" balk, but many of his supposedly clean pick-off moves arguably could have been called balks.

Another example can be seen with the "catcher's balk" during an intentional base on balls.  By rule, the catcher cannot leave the catcher's box until the pitch is delivered, but in today's baseball it is unheard of for umpires to enforce such a technicality.  As a result, there are some sloppy catchers who sometimes commit this sin.

Los Angeles Dodger fans may recall their team won a 2010 game in the bottom of the ninth thanks to a correctly-enforced balk by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

That walk-off balk required no drastic changes to the sport, just a mere enforcement of the game's already existing rules.

By Joe Hammond
Contributing Writer for TheDailySportsHerald.com

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