Something Else To Blame On Wuhan Hysteria Baseball’s Corrupting “Ghost Runner” Becomes Permanent

I am just about as loyal and devoted a fan of baseball as there is, and if recent developments in the game under the misguided and incompetent stewardship of Commissioner Ron Manfred risk alienating me, the “National Pastime” is in big trouble.

In the 2020 season, Major League Baseball responded to the Wuhan-interrupted Spring Training and shortened season by instituting the “ghost runner” rule that had been used in some minor leagues as an experiment. Each half inning after the 9th if a game was tied would begin with a runner on second base, that runner being the player who made the final out of the previous inning. The theory was that this would decrease the likelihood of marathon games, decrease player workloads and mitigate the chances of injuries to the supposedly under-prepared players. It was pushed, of course, by the Players Union, which wants its millionaires to have to do the minimal among of work possible for their lucre. Players have always hated extra-inning games; it’s like unpaid overtime. Never mind the fact that such games have frequently resulted in some of the most exciting and memorable contests in baseball’s history. I was in the stands for one of them: Carlton Fisk’s legendary home run off the foul pole in Fenway Park’s left field in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.

Notes one baseball website,

Though the change rankled many baseball purists, there’s little doubting that it was successful in accomplishing the goal of preventing exceptionally long games…. there were only 11 games to reach the 13th inning last year, compared to 37 in 2019. There were also no games that went beyond the 15th in 2022, while it happened eight times in 2019.

Now MLB’s Joint Competition Committee has voted unanimously that the “ghost runner” rule will become permanent, at least until exta-inning games of any length are deemed inconvenient, and such games are decide by a round of paper, stone and scissors.

This is one more example of making the game less exciting and interesting to fans, while catering to the players, whose job is entertainment. It also is one of many capitulations to the diminishing attention spans of Americans, a condition greatly accelerated by the internet. All entertainment and culture is being infantalized by this trend: though the three greatest plays in the English language are all over three hours, they are now seldom produced in great part because they are “too long.” Movies have become increasingly facile and plot-lite because of the same restrictions.

Fans who objected to the now-universal designated hitter rule because it marred baseball’s integrity—the idea was that all players had to bat and play defense, exposing their weaknesses as well as their strength—have been proved correct when they argued that it would be a slippery slope. The “ghost runner” makes the DH look like an Alexander Cartwright device by comparison. Let’s see…

  • Different rules apply in different innings
  • A batter who made an out magically appears on second base without doing anything to deserve it but fail.
  • The runner, if he scores, isn’t charged to the pitcher who allowed him to score, though that pitcher can be designated the game’s official loser because of that run.
  • The player playing “ghost,” however, does get official credit for the run he scored.
  • The device leads to a boringly predictable strategy by the team at bat: sacrifice the “ghost” to third, where a fly ball or a slow grounder will score him.
  • It also cheapens the run: whereas the expected result in a traditionally played extra inning is for a team not to score, with ghost runner a team’s failure to score is the result of poor execution.

As if to demonstrate that baseball’s brass knows that the rule diminishes the game for fans, the “ghost runner” rule will only apply in the regular season. In the play-offs and the World Series—you know, when more people are watching, even if I might not—the original rules will apply.

Has any modern phenomenon led to as many incompetent leaders making more destructive and idiotic decisions with lasting consequences in so many sectors and pursuits as the Wuhan virus?

12 thoughts on “Something Else To Blame On Wuhan Hysteria Baseball’s Corrupting “Ghost Runner” Becomes Permanent

  1. Implement something like soccer shootout penalty kicks? Maybe an extra inning home run derby with the first 4 in the order? Not much more nonsensical than the ghost runner. Yippie-Yi-yo, Yippie-yi-yay, ghost runners on second base.

  2. If baseball wanted to shorten the game, they might try something to keep the preening morons from stepping out of the box after every pitch to adjust any number of things, the amount of time they give relievers to “warm up” on the mound after they’ve spent the past 3 months warming up in the bull pen, etc, ad nauseam…

    I really enjoy the game of baseball, but I can’t sit for the average 3 to 3.5 hour 9 inning game anymore.

    My lack of viewing anymore has ZERO to do with extra innings.


    • That and commercial breaks.

      If their excuse for not wanting to break the rhythm of the players held any water, obligatory breaks for TV would be the first thing to go. Even soccer with continuous 45-min halves was able to figure that one out.

  3. Also…

    “Has any modern phenomenon been such a wonderful excuse for so many incompetent leaders to exercise destructive and idiotic power making decisions with lasting consequences in so many sectors and pursuits as the Wuhan virus?”

    As the kids would say, FTFY

    (fixed that for you)

  4. As I am sure you are also aware, MLB is implementing the pitch clock this year as well as a rule against more than two pickoff attempts per batter.

    Pitching coaches are going to have to be on the ball to get the pitch calls to the catcher in time for him to radio them up to the pitcher. Can’t have the players exercising judgement, now, can we?

    I think that MLB is trying to drive out the historic baseball fans who enjoy all the various strategies and stratagems that make the game so interesting — that made it America’s pastime.

    I also think that for the vast majority of those people who gripe that the game is too slow and takes too long — these changes will not cause them to watch more baseball. I think they’re not fond of the game, so they make up reasons to dislike it.

    Ick to MLB, and double ick to Manfred.

    • The pitch clock, unfortunately, is necessary. TV commercials have added about 30 minutes to all games, which used to last 2 hrs and 20 minutes. The pitch clock will shave at least 20 minutes off the games, and it’s all dead time.
      Bill James recommended the pick-off rule, which actually adds strategy: that one is OK with me too.

      • So, I’ll see how the pitch clock works in practice — it may be all right, but I still have my doubts that it’s not an answer to a non-problem. If the purpose is to attract more fans, I really doubt it will have much effect.

        I will note that, relative to an earlier comment, there already is a rule against the batters constantly stepping out of the batter’s box. But it’s not enforced so what’s the point? And it seems that almost every batter still has to adjust their batting gloves after every single pitch. I don’t think that is allowed either.

        As far as the pickoff rule, I can see some strategy involved with that. It’s got to be a tradeoff as to if and when to make a third pickoff throw. The runner can get a nice lead, but if he goes too far he can still get picked off. We’ll see.

        I am also really annoyed with the class of ‘professional’ hitters. I continue to believe that, if they were truly professionals, they could easily have done away with the shift without MLB raising a finer. After all, if you use the shift against a batter and he gets 20 hits in a row by hitting to the opposite field — are you going to stay with the shift? But no, hit it where they ain’t is apparently too big a task for modern hitters. Their answer was to whine to MLB and the media until they changed the rules.


        In general regarding the rule changes, yes there may be some that will work out all right. But I look at MLB and Manfred’s track record, and I am not inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

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