One of the more polarizing MLB rule changes over the past few seasons was starting off extra innings with a runner automatically on second base. The rule was first implemented by the league and Players Association (MLBPA) during the pandemic-shortened season to reduce health risks.
It was then done away with for postseason play. But despite an expected return to normal play for extra-inning games during the 2021 season, the ‘ghost runner’ rule returned for another year. Though once again it was eliminated for the playoffs.
This past offseason brought about a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and discussions of potential rule changes, such as a pitch clock, larger bases and ban on defensive shifts. It was agreed to those possible adjustments — and others — will not take effect until 2023 at the earliest.
However, according to Jayson Stark and Matt Gelb of The Athletic, MLB and MLBPA are likely to agree on keeping the designated runner for extra innings during the 2022 regular season:
As part of their negotiations on health and safety protocols, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are discussing restoring the rule that placed a runner on second to begin extra innings, sources on both sides told The Athletic on Monday. No agreement has been reached. But several players said they expect the rule to be enacted once the protocols are announced in the next 24 to 48 hours.
In addition to providing some health benefits, the extra-innings rule also helps shorten the length of games. That’s been a focal point for MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, and remains at the heart of the league seeking further rule changes in the years ahead.
Player and fan reaction to the automatic runner on second base for extra innings was wide-ranging, but most agreed it became somewhat of an afterthought once games were played.
Betts embraced ghost runner
Toward the end of the 2020 season, Mookie Betts was among those to give a stamp of approval on what was a new rule that year.
“It’s whatever. The games seem like they go a little quicker,” Betts said of the automatic runner in extra innings. “It’s not 15-inning games and we’re not all just trying to hit home runs.
“I think it definitely brings different aspects of the game back into the game, like the bunt and moving runners, guys trying to put the ball in play in different areas and whatnot. It’s definitely a pretty cool experience, for sure.”
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