This Monday we saw how much fun a marathon inning game could be. We also saw how dangerous it can be for the players involved given that five players left that game with injuries with three of them ending up on the disabled list. It creates quite the moral dilemma. How can baseball balance the protection of the players while also keeping alive the tradition of the marathon game that fans every ilk can rally around?
With a few rule changes MLB might be able to have their cake and eat it too:
-Play extra innings with only eight men on the field. Stealing a page out of the NHL's book, MLB could hasten the end of these games by forcing teams to play the extra frames down one fielder. Teams would have to choose between a three-man infield or a two-man outfield. That should go a long way towards making sure teams push a run or two or seven across the plate before games run so long that fans miss the last train home as they did in Oakland this week.
-Start each inning with a runner on first base. Not unlike college football overtime where teams start on the 25-yard line, MLB could have each half inning start with a batter on first. This would not only promise earlier scoring in extras, but it would give fans the tension that comes with the looming threat of a run scoring every single inning which is the best part of extras, not seeing a long reliever go 1-2-3 through the bottom of the order.
-Forget about the batting order. If better players hit more often, more runs will be scored. So instead of rolling through the lineup as normal, let the manager for each team set the batting order anew each inning. How much fun would it be to see Bryce Harper bat every single inning? If the manager can make the lineup up as he goes (with nobody batting again until all nine batters get a plate appearance), it could create an interesting chess match element as the batting team could be the one trying to take advantage of the platoon advantage lest the opposing team dare to make a mid-inning pitching change in extra innings.
-Walks count for two bases. This wouldn't force any major strategic changes, but it would force pitchers to throw the ball over the plate more since a walk would be the same as a double. That would mean more men in scoring position and more hittable pitches for more extra inning firework displays. MOAR RUNZ!
-Position players must pitch after the 15th inning. This would help preserve the health of pitchers, but let's be honest, that is why we watch these interminable games anyway. We all want to see a position player pumping 78 MPH "heat" down the middle of the plate.
Some of these are a bit more practical than other though traditionalists will surely lose their mind over them but sometimes a sport has to evolve, especially if it wants to avoid another 19-inning game where players' hamstrings just start exploding at random.