1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Rays

Changes baseball should and shouldn’t make

Some of the proposed changes are bureaucratic; others seismic
Pitchers Brent Honeywell and Yonny Chirinos practice pitching during a Tampa Bay Rays voluntary workout at Tropicana Field. TAILYR IRVINE | Times
Published Feb. 7

Baseball’s career home run record was set by Babe Ruth in 1935. It stood until 1974 before Henry Aaron broke it, and then again until 2007 when Barry Bonds broke it.

The NFL’s career rushing record was set by Cliff Battles in 1937. It stood until 1941 when Clarke Hinkle broke it, and has since been eclipsed by 220 other running backs.

The point is simple. As much as the world and other sports have changed, baseball has remained remarkably consistent for nearly a century. Ted Lyons tied for the American League lead in wins in 1925 with 21, and Blake Snell led the AL in wins in 2018 with 21. Baseball has a sense of symmetry and familiarity in numbers. It’s part of the game’s allure that most other sports cannot match.

So be careful, baseball. Be very, very careful.

In case you haven’t heard, The Athletic has reported the commissioner’s office and the union have traded proposals with a lot of potential rule changes. Some are bureaucratic; some are seismic.

From the league’s point of view, the changes would speed up the pace of play and cut down on the number of strikeouts. The players’ union wants more competitive teams and roster spots.

Those goals are not the problem. It’s what might get lost in the process.

So maybe we should start with what should be the non-starters:

Moving the mound back

Hall of Fame journalist Jayson Stark says baseball is considering a proposal to lengthen the distance between the pitcher’s rubber and home plate. The motivation is that pitchers are throwing harder than ever, and strikeouts have overtaken hits as the more likely outcome in an at-bat.

This idea has some problems. Mostly, that it’s bonkers.

The distance of 60 feet, six inches is sacred, and I’m not sure that’s hyperbole. Change that distance and you fundamentally change every pitch of every game that follows. You’re not just giving batters an extra fraction of a second, you’re changing the geometry of breaking pitches.

Incentivizing the draft

The union is justifiably concerned with the number of teams in rebuilding modes, so the players are suggesting the draft order not be automatically tied to winning percentage. In other words, teams can’t count on high draft picks if they lose year after year.

This seems counterintuitive. For low revenue teams such as Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and, yes, Tampa Bay, the draft is a critical way to level the playing field with baseball’s big boys. Tying payroll requirements or revenue sharing to the draft, as the union seems to be suggesting, is not the way to go.

Extra inning baserunners

This would be baseball’s version of hockey’s shootout or college football’s overtime tiebreaker. Beginning with the 10th, every extra inning would start with a runner on second base.

Yeah, stupid.

Extra innings do not need artificial excitement. And it’s not like they’re going on for hours every night. Less than three percent of games were 12 innings or longer in 2018.

Baseball is supposedly considering testing this idea in spring training.

Lowering mound/changing strike zone

Two other ideas to help hitters and, thus, increase offense. Baseball has tinkered with this before. The mound was lowered five inches following Bob Gibson’s historic 1.12 ERA in 1968, and scoring jumped more than a half-run a game in 1969. Would another five-inch drop have a similar impact? That’s debatable, but at least it’s not as drastic as moving the mound backward.

Raising the strike zone above the knee is another idea talked about often. Pitchers won’t like it, but it’s probably an easier sell than changes to the playing field.

Three-batter minimum

Another pace-of-play idea. Pitchers would have to face at least three batters during an appearance, which might make the left-handed specialist a vanishing breed. The idea is to cut down on the number of lengthy delays with multiple pitching changes in an inning. Hard to get worked up either way over this one.

Universal designated hitter

The union has long wanted the DH in the National League, and baseball may finally be willing to use that as a bargaining chip to get other concessions. It would eliminate a link to baseball’s past with the strategies involving pitchers in the lineup, but it would increase offense and reunite AL and NL rules for the first time since 1972.

Pitch clock/mound visits

Baseball instituted restrictions on mound visits last season and it didn’t seem to have an adverse effect. The pitch clock has also been used in the minors and could be popular with fans. If you’re looking for ways to speed up the game, this could work with a minimal impact on player performance.

Contact John Romano at Follow @romano_tbtimes


  1. Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Matt Duffy (5) singles in the fourth inning against the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the American League Division Series Monday, Oct. 7, 2019 in St. Petersburg. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Jose De Leon is traded; Vidal Brujan, Jake Cronenworth, Lucius Fox, Ronaldo Hernandez, Kevin Padlo are added to roster.
  2. The home page for the website, launched this week after an announced effort to try to attract a Major League Baseball team to Orlando.
    Longtime sports executive Pat Williams’ pitch to get an MLB team starts with fans showing interest. Stadium, owners ‘"not pertinent right now."
  3. Catcher Ronaldo Hernandez, shown at the 2019 All-Star Futures Game, is one of the Rays top prospects. MARC TOPKIN  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Teams have until 8 p.m. Wednesday to decide which prospects are added to 40-man roster and protected from Rule 5 draft.
  4. Pat Williams is the former GM of the Orlando Magic basketball team and was involved in unsuccessful efforts to lure an expansion team in the 1990s. JASON DECROW  |  AP
    Longtime sports exec Pat Williams is holding a news conference Wednesday to talk about getting a team.
  5. Tampa Bay Rays' Carlos Pena hits a sixth-inning solo home run off New York Yankees pitcher Sidney Ponson in their baseball game at Yankee Stadium on July 9, 2008. KATHY WILLENS  |  AP
    Just the other day, Pena’s son asked him about being considered for the Hall.
  6. FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2019, file photo, Miami Marlins CEO Derek Jeter smiles as he speaks during a news conference in Miami. Derek Jeter is among 18 newcomers on the 2020 Hall of Fame ballot, announced Monday, Nov. 18, 2019, and is likely to be an overwhelming choice to join former New York Yankees teammate Mariano Rivera in Cooperstown after the reliever last year became the first unanimous pick by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File) WILFREDO LEE  |  AP
    Former Rays Carlos Pena and Heath Bell are also among the 18 up for election for the first time.
  7. Long faces dominate some of the remaining Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans during the fourth quarter of the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, November 17, 2019, in Tampa. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: What remaining game will Tampa Bay be favored to win?
  8. The cover of the book Grassroots Baseball: Where Legends Begin Courtesy Jean Fruth
    The 224-page book features a chapter on Tampa, and an essay by Hall of Famer Wade Boggs.
  9. Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) delivers a pitch in the fourth inning against the Houston Astros in Game 5 of the American League Division Series on Oct. 10 in Houston. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Rays Tales: Team execs on Houston’s big problem, a base for winter acquisitions, trophy time and an upcoming owners meeting.
  10. Jameis Winston (3) points to fans after the Bucs' 2017 victory over the New Orleans Saints. Tampa Bay Times
    Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Previewing Bucs-Saints, justice for the Astros, answers for the Lightning.