If interested in mastering the art of slipping clichés into sentences, there are few places that offer an education on par with the level provided in a baseball clubhouse.
From taking it one pitch at a time to focusing on a day-by-day approach, from seeing hard work pay off to giving credit to the other team, many baseball players are well-versed at saying a lot without really saying anything.
Jeff Samardzija is not.
The Giants starting pitcher is thoughtful, reflective and almost always honest. When asked a question, Samardzija provides an authentic answer, even if it subjects him to disagreements.
An answer he gave Friday was an open invitation for controversy.
When asked about rule changes Major League Baseball is planning to implement over the next two years, Samardzija offered his thoughts and then added his own idea for a rule he thinks the league ought to consider.
“I don’t think we need to play extra-inning games,” Samardzija said. “We want to keep the game times down. End them in a tie, everyone gets one point like the Premier League (soccer). A win gets three points. Just end it at nine.”
Fans couldn’t believe it.
Even if it takes 18 innings, even if a game doesn’t end until 2:36 in the morning and even if the quality of at-bats become so poor that it’s hard to consider the on-field product “entertaining,” many baseball fans believe ties belong elsewhere. Anywhere but baseball.
“We’re playing 162 games,” Samardzija said. “Over that course of games, you should be able to tell who the best team is. That makes the ninth inning exciting all the time. And really, who wants to go out there and play 15 innings? The relievers don’t want it. The position players don’t want it. The managers don’t want it.”
Samardzija’s manager, Bruce Bochy, may not desire extra-inning games, but he sure enjoys them when they end with a victory.
“I think some of the greatest games have been extra-inning games,” Bochy said. “Epic games. You go back and look and we’ve been part of them. No, that’s an exciting part of baseball so I’m not into the tie deal.”
One Giants veteran was told of Samardzija’s proposal in the clubhouse Saturday and asked, “Was he just messing with you?”
Most baseball players can’t fathom the ideas of ties infiltrating the sport. But consider the alternative, a proposal that’s been tested in the minor leagues.
After nine innings have been played, all extra innings begin with a runner standing on second base. A pitcher could face three hitters, record three straight outs and still lose a game as a result of the rule. A sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly are enough to get a run home and potentially decide an outcome.
If that’s preferable for the baseball purists out there, so be it. But if sending a runner to second base is the only proposal Major League Baseball has considered to limit the number of extra innings, Samardzija’s idea shouldn’t be dismissed outright.
Ties have the potential to benefit the overall quality of play. If a club has seven relievers and exhausts them in a 14-inning marathon, they may need to send a pitcher deserving of a roster spot down to Triple-A to call up a fresh arm who can simply eat innings. If a franchise catcher squats behind the plate for 15 innings on a Tuesday night, fans who bought tickets to see that player on Wednesday will almost certainly be out of luck. If a position player must take the mound – as Dodgers utility man Kiké Hernandez did in the 16th inning of a game last season – a game that could make a huge difference in the standings will be decided by a bartender coming back to the kitchen to cook the main course.
“Obviously every game is important now with the extra wildcard,” Samardzija said. “I just think it keeps every game important and again, it just kind of eliminates some innings that a lot of guys don’t want to play.”
I am no advocate of ties in baseball. I am not a fan of the three-batter minimum MLB plans to implement and I don’t like the concept of a universal DH, which could be the norm within the next five years. But I do not play the game for a living.
Neither do the folks in suits who dreamed up the “runner on second in extra innings” idea.
Veterans like Samardzija are being forced to adapt to rules that weren’t even on the radar when they made their big league debuts. They can feel the way a limited number of mound visits and a pitch clock changes the game, and they have at least a general sense of the way the on-field product can be improved.
Perhaps there’s a happy medium that can be reached. The NFL doesn’t have ties at the end of regulation, but if a score remains deadlocked after an overtime period, the result is final.
Roughly one in 10 MLB games go to extra innings, so a 12-inning limit on games might make sense. The true depth of a team can still be tested over 12 innings, but it wouldn’t have the long-term ramifications of a five-hour, 18-inning showdown.
It appears the league will attempt to continue tinkering with rules, much to the disappointment of many players and loyal fans. Anyone who believes that change is unnecessary must also acknowledge that change is simply inevitable. At various points in time, the mound in baseball was flat, the forward pass in football was outlawed and the three-point shot was non-existent in basketball.
No idea will receive universal support. No proposal will satisfy players, executives, owners and fans alike. But to dismiss a proposition without trying to understand the perspective behind it is wrong.
Samardzija knows fans will be quick to judge and he knows that many of his teammates and peers in the sport will be quick to shoot down the idea.
“That’s a little wild for people,” he admitted.
It may be wild, but it shouldn’t stop Samardzija and others from bringing their voice into a conversation that directly impacts their careers.