When a mercy rule was proposed to Aaron Boone on Friday in the wake of first baseman Mike Ford’s emergency relief duty the previous night, I expected the Yankees’ manager to laugh off the suggestion.
But he didn’t.
Boone, in fact, liked the idea.
Just as in Little League, if a team gets too far ahead, the game gets called, sparing everyone further humiliation. At this level, it wouldn’t be about lessons in sportsmanship, obviously. Boone stressed the practical advantages of cutting off a lopsided game that neither team wants to continue.
“I think there would be a lot of benefit to that,” Boone said. “I think you’d probably eliminate a lot of the unwritten rules of people running, or swinging on 3-0 pitches. Just be like, hey, if you get to this point after seven innings or whatever, there might be something to that, some merit to that, and worth exploring.”
Sorry, Aaron. Not happening.
While Boone raised a number of valid points, including the protection of his relief corps and not putting position players at risk, MLB is committed to nine-inning games in these circumstances, a source said Friday.
The primary reason, of course, is money. Advertisers pay for the commercial breaks tied to a full nine-inning game, and suddenly lopping off a few, based on that night’s score, is not going to fly with sponsors. Broadcasters also are tied to the nine-inning product and fans wouldn't be happy to be shown the door after seven innings of a blowout.
From a competitive standpoint, it also was pointed out to me that teams should have to play the whole 27 outs rather than get a break for a poor performance. It’s also important to note that MLB believes that fans enjoy watching position players pitch, and we’d have to agree on that.
Boone sees the problem differently, however, as do his counterparts around the league, who seem to be calling on position players more and more this year in an effort to preserve their real relievers.
On Thursday, Boone summoned Ford — a former pitcher at Princeton — to mop up two innings of the Yankees’ 19-5 loss to the Indians, a game they trailed 7-0 after a half-inning.
Ford was the second Yankees position player to take the mound this season, after Austin Romine on July 25 in Boston. Ford allowed five runs, including a pair of homers.
The two-inning stint cost him 42 pitches, and Ford was wearing two giant ice packs on his shoulder and elbow after the game. The sore arm was the painful price for what some believed to be an amusing anecdote in an otherwise forgettable night for the Yankees. That’s why Boone thought it would just be best to avoid such an episode altogether.
“It’s not fun to have to put in a position player in that kind of situation,” Boone said, “even though I think for Ford and some of the guys, they can have some fun with that. But sitting in my chair, you worry about hurting someone. You hate throwing up a flag like that, and sitting there and getting kicked in the mouth is no fun.”
Ford was the Yankees’ white flag Thursday. But Indians manager Terry Francona also had to navigate through those meaningless innings, as another reporter mentioned, so why simply go through the motions?
“Correct, so there is some incentive to get to a certain point,” Boone said, smiling. “I like where you’re going with that.”
Boone cited the increased awareness of pitcher usage as a league-wide concern, but MLB has been in tune with that, based on the rule changes coming in 2020. Rosters will be expanded from 25 active players to 26, with a 27th man for doubleheaders. That number increases to 28 for the month of September.
The catch? MLB is going to designate a set number of pitchers on the roster (yet to be determined) and those are going to be the only players allowed to throw a pitch — with three exceptions. One is a “two-way player” designation (20 innings pitched/20 starts at a position). Also, a position player can pitch after the ninth inning, or in a situation in which either team is ahead or behind by more than six runs.
Either way, everyone is going to get their full nine innings, or more. And Boone’s plea for mercy will go unanswered.