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No, Baseball Does Not Need a Mercy Rule

The most shocking aspect of professional baseball’s war against the “time of game” stat is the idea that MLB teams want to get fans out of the stadium as quickly as possible. After all, those $12.50 Coors Lights aren’t paying for themselves, no? This prevalent issue took on a new wrinkle this week, with New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone remarking that blowout games should come with some kind of mercy rule.

“If you get to this point after seven innings or whatever, there might be something to that, some merit to that and worth exploring,” Boone said of an early ending to ESPN this week. “Because it’s not fun to have to put in a position player in that kind of situation.”

Boone was referring to the fact he used designated hitter Mike Ford to finish off a 19-5 loss at the hand of the Cleveland Indians on Thursday night. Cleveland took an early 7-0 before the Yankees even came to the plate and the remaining eight frames weren’t much better.

With his team locked up in not just a division title race, but a battle to earn homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, it’s understandable why Boone would take such a position. The New York manager probably has better things to do than watch his team slog through the Sisyphean task of a 10-run ball game.

Baseball does have its issues. But a mercy rule, or lack thereof, isn’t one.

This isn’t even meant to be part of the traditionalist argument, one that can be quickly taken over by extremists unwilling to budge on any single issue. But one of those issues that seems at least somewhat agreeable from that group is the importance of keeping baseball’s unique standpoint as the only major sport that doesn’t have a clock.

Baseball is anything but a sprint. It’s a 162-game marathon, and some of those landmarks are going to be bumpy. You get to go back at it the very next day in most cases. If one blowout loss, one embarrassing effort, is what a team needs to get into shape, realize their mistakes…that’s nine innings you’ll happily give for the chance at glory.

Hope is another pillar that baseball has been built on, and indeed sports as a whole. A mercy rule eliminates a portion of that if it shuts down a game early. Sure, a comeback from circa 10 runs down might be more rare than even a no-hitter. But the fact the possibility is there is enough. The game can be downright exhilarating when the odds are stacked against a squad.

The character-building part of baseball can be well on display in a brutal blowout. You get to see who’s dedicated to the cause, who’s still hanging on to hope. These are the guys who will make a difference on a 40-man or postseason roster.

Had a mercy rule surfaced, we’d be denied some of the more memorable moments in baseball’s endless regular season history. The Indians’ comeback from 12-0 down against a 2001 Mariners team that would win 116 games? Deceased. Mike Schmidt’s four-home run game as his Phillies came back from 12-1 down at Wrigley Field? The fact it’d be in question is insulting enough.

Yes, Boone’s suggestion for an early exit comes in the seventh inning. But, in the end, are two lost innings really worth ending a game entirely?

Plus, it would deny the novelty of seeing position players pitch. There has yet to be a major injury from a position player throwing and it adds a little bit of intrigue and humor to otherwise somber marches. Much like the concept of seeing pitchers bat (entertaining when it works, but a higher risk of injury), all eyes are on the man in question. Players situate themselves on the top step of the dugout. Fans give a cheer, only half in jest, when the shortstop gets a strikeout.

Opening up an argument such as this would be better received if other pace of play arguments are curbed. Power down the pitch clock. Extradite the extra-inning runners. Let baseball be baseball in other ways. The mercy rule is indeed a disturbance in the sport’s canon, but it’s at least one’s that is manageable. The aforementioned features result in too much tinkering as is.

You want the mercy rule? Fine. It’s doable. But the extremists on the other side…the ones that freak out when the duration goes a second past 150 minutes…need to relent. It’s hard to find compromises at any level of debate these days, whether it’s athletic, cinematic, political, etc.A mercy rule can achieve a rare unanimity against the general public. But a compromise requires give on both sides. Here’s hoping each side can show mercy toward…mercy.