The next stage of baseball’s evolution is here, and at least two former Mets say we might as well make the best of it.
Though recent rule changes have irked many a traditionalist, Ron Darling and Howard Johnson — purists in some regards — are ready to roll with what’s next. For now, this means making peace with having a runner on second base to start extra innings and acknowledging that the universal designated hitter likely will be part of baseball’s future this year and beyond. t
That doesn’t mean Darling and Johnson — both of whom were on the Mets team that played an epic 19-inning game on July 4-5, 1985, in Atlanta — are thrilled by every aspect of it.
“I’m kind of a stickler for extra-inning games,” Darling said. “Being an announcer, you’d think I’d want to get out of Dodge as soon as possible, but I think extra-inning games are a great part of the history of our game and you never know what’s going to transpire in a long game.
“That being said, with this truncated season, I’m so open- minded about doing whatever . . . I have no predilections about being angry about [how we’re playing] extra innings. It’s a different kind of season. Let’s experiment with anything to see if it sticks and it makes sense.”
According to the new rules, beginning in the 10th, the batter who made the last out in the previous inning starts the next inning on second. Darling doesn't agree with that.
“What if it ends up being like a Rene Rivera?" he said. "You pinch run for him, and you’d have to put in your third catcher . . . Honestly, I think if they’re going to have a runner on second, use whoever you have on the roster that you think is fastest. Let’s have a pinch runner on that second base. That’ll make it fun.”
Johnson was the hitting instructor for the Astros' Triple-A team when minor-league baseball implemented the same extra-inning rule, and he said he hasn’t minded it a bit in the intervening years.
“There’s a strategy behind it,” he said. “You have to be smart. If you’re the visiting team and you put that guy on second base, you have to put [another] guy on base and force the situation and load the bases . . . One run is not going to help you that much.''
Neither Darling nor Johnson is particularly fond of the universal DH, though both expect it to be a permanent change.
“I think it sets the National League apart," Johnson said. "I like the way the National League plays. I think the layer of strategy, the double-switching, I think from a bench standpoint, I think there’s a specific kind of bench in the National League [that you don't see] in the American League. But everyone is for it, so I guess that’s probably going to stay.”
As for Darling, “I think pitchers hitting is a thing of the past.”
He added, “People want to see DHs. They don’t want to see pitchers hit, but I prefer to have pitchers hit. I think that’s a disadvantage for the Mets club because they have very talented athletes, but people want to see more offense, and the best way to produce more offense is to have an extra hitter.”