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Hot Take: Ghost runners make extra innings baseball fun

The automatic runner rule is something everyone loves to hate, despite its benefits.

Oakland Athletics v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

After further thought and review, the automatic runner on second base in extra innings is an awesome addition to baseball.

I know this might be a very unpopular opinion among fans of the game but hear me out on this. If fans remove the emotional ties to the notion of “how the game should be played” and you step back, the rule makes plenty of sense, and we saw it play out last night in the Tampa Bay Rays 10th inning 9-8 walkoff victory over the Oakland Athletics.

I was initially opposed to the rule, but as time has gone on I’ve come to appreciate the positive effects it can have on the game.

If I was drafting the rule I probably would not start the 10th inning with the free runner and reserve it for the 11th or a later inning to move the game along, although I’m okay with the rule as it is for regular season games.

Last night’s game was not any less interesting, fun, or exciting just because each team scored an unearned run from the automatic runner in the tenth inning. In fact, I would say the automatic runner added much more excitement to the game by creating the drama that can only come from runs scoring in extra innings.

You see, after nine innings of baseball what is not entertaining is a continued defensive battle, particularly when you're approaching or beyond the four hour mark of playing time on a Tuesday night. (Editor’s Note: Last night’s game finished with a time of four hours and twelve minutes, just over an hour longer than the average time for a game in the 2021 season.)

Instead, we got offense.

In the top of the 10th inning, ghost runner Chad Pinder scored for the A’s on a Billy McKinney single to give the A’s a 8-7 lead at the time. The drama and intensity created by that run then increased the excitement and anticipation in the bottom half of the inning when the Rays come to the plate. Ghost runner Brandon Lowe coming across the plate to score the tying run for the Rays was no less an exciting moment, and the walk off by Manuel Margot was just as exciting as any other walk off in a traditional game.

Why is offense so offensive?

The standard argument that the beauty of baseball is that the game has no clock, but that is partially outdated and archaic. Yes, there is beauty that you have to earn a win and cannot sit on a lead until the time expires; however, when you look at how the rest of our society has evolved, the one thing that is prevalent in innovation is reducing wait and idle time. There is a reason two-day delivery was a hit for Amazon and that has now evolved to same-day for some items as well as mobile ordering in the ballpark so you can go get your concession without having to stand in line.

Right or wrong, the growth of the game cannot be sustained if the product takes longer to consume and adds additional wait to get to the final result, period.

I've been to numerous games that have gone 14 innings or longer. The first time I experienced the 14th inning stretch it was fun, cute, and a great novelty moment to remember and post to social media. It's also draining the following day when you have to try and be productive at work or try to get other things accomplished and you're running on fumes because the game but started just after 7 PM and it just before 2 AM.

Extra innings games are just one piece of the pace of play pie that MLB has to improve on. There is no reason that with athletes that have become bigger, stronger, smarter, and faster with time that we cannot get baseball back to being an under three hour experience.