With COVID-19 still raging across the country and vaccine rollout being much slower than perhaps was expected, Major League Baseball is talking with the players association once again to try and change some of the rules for games in the 2021 season. The universal designated hitter, as well as the 7-inning double headers and runner starting on second base in extra-innings rules are on the table. All of these rule changes need to be approved by the MLBPA. Bob Nightengale of USA Today was the first to report this.

In 2020 we saw the National League adopt the designated hitter for one season. For the Cincinnati Reds that worked out about as well as possible because it allowed a crowded outfield that would have otherwise led to some problems finding enough playing time for everyone. Manager David Bell, however, used the designated hitter role to place Jesse Winker into the lineup nearly every day. If it returns for the 2021 season it would likely help the Reds more than most other teams in the league.

The double-header games being 7-inning affairs is new to the Major Leagues, but they’ve been happening in the minors for a long time. As noted above, with vaccine rollout being a bit slower than expected, there could still be some postponements and rescheduled games during the season. While the plan is for a full season, and that would give teams more chances to spread out make up games, it’s better to have a plan that works than trying to make it up as you go. If a team needs to make up too many games later in the year, a 7-inning double header set is going to help keep the team’s pitching staff from being overworked, hopefully.

Perhaps the biggest issue that is being discussed is the expansion of the playoffs. This issue is a big deal because during the playoffs an overwhelming majority of the money made goes to the teams and not to the players. With more games and more rounds, there is more television money coming in and the players, rightfully, want their share of that. The owners are trying to trade the universal designated hitter, which the players want, for expanded playoffs on the same terms as they stand now, which doesn’t share a proportional share of revenue, which the players don’t like. This all feels like early collective bargaining agreement negotiations, which aren’t expected to be a friendly negotiation following the 2021 season.

28 Responses

  1. Sliotar

    Excellent post, Doug … especially about early negotiations.

    This time was always coming … do the players have the strength to sit out a full season (or more) and stop the owners steamrolling them, heightened by the pandemic?

    The players are very talented … but they have been sold a “bill of goods” IMO … by MLB, by Scott Boras, by the MLBPA.

    No salary cap so a few guys can land a mega deal … instead of a salary cap/salary floor/percentage of revenues/ending 6 years of control … any number of solutions.

    Not so good for the rank-and-file player.

    A broken system needs changed … but can the players unite?

  2. LDS

    Sad day for baseball, 7 inning games, free base runners, expanded playoffs. The regular season becomes less and less meaningful as does the history and traditions of the game. It’s getting to the point where a decent computer simulation would probably be more fun and cheaper too.

    • CR76

      Good news for you is that Xbox and Playstation do that now

      • LDS

        HaHa, I don’t own either and now that I’m retired, I’m not taking it up. But it’s good to know that everything is virtual these days.

    • 2020ball

      Theres nothing they can change that will get me to stop watching, lucky for them I guess, but that doesn’t mean I’m always happy with the changes. Really hoping the free base-runners are at least moved back a few innings.

      • Mark Moore

        +1,000 and I’m with you on this point

    • Bob Purkey

      Next, we’ll add a short centerfielder like softball!

    • Jay

      If the MLB is going to jerk us around for the next three months i swear i will lose it. We’re just now talking about seven-inning games and other shenanigan? This should have been discussed and planned for once the 2020 season concluded. How did the NFL and NBA figure this out while the MLB is still struggling? I care about two things: a full season of baseball with 162, NINE inning games, and being able to plant my butt in a seat at the ballpark even if GABP is at 1/4th capacity. This needs to get fixed ASAP!

  3. rednat

    I could see a day where half the games are computer simulated and half the games involve real live players to keep everybody safe

  4. 2020ball

    It boggles my mind why these negotiations have taken this long, other than both sides posturing and it taking until the last second for anything to happen. Seems this will continue to drag out to the bereft of NL teams. Hopefully we know before spring training.

  5. Mark Moore

    Color me not very surprised …

    I personally thought the DH was going to happen. Not sure why nothing was overtly public about it until now, but what do I know? I’m just a dumb fan.

    7-inning games aren’t the end of the world. I’m not the biggest fan of them, but that’s a manageable thing. It impacts a fractional number of games.

    The Little League/Beer League way to play extras? Not a big fan at all. At minimum if it happens, I’d prefer to see it after several “regular” tries first. In the end, it still doesn’t impact a huge number of games and we’ll all learn to live with it.

    I’m not confident they will open ST camps on schedule or play 162 games. I think they all knew that, but nobody wanted to “jinx” it all by saying it.

    Logistics of the vaccine roll-out have always been challenging. And that’s what it’s going to take in order to exercise any control over the pandemic.

    • Joe D

      I agree with you about the DH. It was going to happen sooner or later. It should not be a surprise to anyone at this stage.

      And that’s a good point about the double headers. After Covid postponements go by the wayside, it should only affect a small number of games.

      I maybe setting myself up for excommunication by saying this, but I liked the extra inning rules. I thought it added extra excitement like NHLs shootouts.

  6. Hotto4Votto

    Guess I’m in the minority, but I don’t really mind any of the changes. I thought it led to more excitement in the games. I’d rather watch Winker hit than a pitcher, or the #8 batter get walked because the pitcher’s spot is coming up. I’d rather see scoring happen rather than watch extra inning after extra inning go by scoreless after the best bullpen guys are used. I also thought the 7 inning complete games we saw last year were pretty fun. It upped the stakes knowing you had to less innings to rally or shut down the competition.
    But I get that some are more resistant to change and like their traditions. To each their own.

  7. Roger Garrett

    Not a fan of the DH but it does help the Reds or it should at least.We had 9 hitters last year and well you know how well that worked.Don’t like the expanded playoffs even though that helped us to make it in but gee are we going to next have designated runners.Old school guy here that well remembers how it used to be but I do realize changes are going to happen.So be it I guess and I will always check in to see whats happening.

  8. MBS

    Having the DH makes both leagues equal, and that’s a good thing. I would be just as happy if MLB announced neither league will have a DH.

    I am going to say something that I am sure 95% will not like. I am ok with a tie, in a non playoff game. Forget the man at 2B, Reds tie the Cubs today bringing their record to 81-72-9.

    The 7 inning double header is just MLB hedging their bets against more COVID outbreaks that could pile up like the Cards had last year

    • Mark Moore

      Very true on the 7-inning idea. It’s a hedge.

      As for a tie … maybe. You’d still need to set some boundaries like 11 or 12 innings max (or 2-3 beyond the scheduled “full game”).

  9. west larry

    I’m probably one of only a few bloggers that support most of these changes. The seven inning rule-if it only applies to double headers, I’m in favor of it. The D H- I opposed this for decades, but now feel it will be inacted in the N L soon, and it appears to be an advantage to the reds, under their current rooster shape. I’m definitely in favor of expanding the playoffs, even to the drastic playoff system we used last year.

    • MK

      I did not hate the DH like I thought I would. 7-inning doubleheader changed game strategy which added new thinking for fans. I really like the new extra-inning rules as the offensive and defensive strategies involved was also entertaining.

  10. Kevin Patrick

    Sports are changing because of TV… I don’t know how to feel about it. But watching Ohio State Illinois basketball yesterday (just showing how long since I’ve watched college ball lately)…I was floored when I saw the officials call a “flopping” call. So many of my most beloved sports villians were experts at this. Changing the rules for disease is one thing I guess… but changing the rules because of TV kind of bothers me. Most of my baseball experience is on the radio. The drone of the announcers is the soundtrack to my summers… I don’t mind them complaining about calls… but replay has taken all the justified frustrations of the losing fan base and instead placed it on faceless officials in TV studios. Does anybody else think the NFL has come to a series of arbitrary pass interference calls? How many relievers in baseball have gotten an initial call-up after a series of several extra innings games spent a teams durability? I would also like to remind everyone that perhaps the most famous hitter in baseball was a pitcher. Assuming baseball can’t survive without TV, which is fair…the approach should be how to change it with as few rules changes as possible. Forgive my ridiculous suggestion… every foul ball is a strike. It would take away sitting on homers, the shift, hoping for a walk… you would have speed and contact valued more again and the little things that make baseball great would be more often practiced and the game speeded up to fit in a time slot. Sad… but I think the most effective.

  11. MK

    The thought that playoff money goes to teams not players is a sticking point is laughable. Where do the players believe their salaries come from? Players from teams like Tampa should pray their team has an additional revenue source because they are not getting it from selling tickets.

    • Old Big Ed

      MK, the players’ argument on that issue is that expanded playoffs put less of a premium on winning the division, and thus the better teams have less incentive to have big payrolls to start the season. The Yankees, for example, may not spend an extra $12 million on their fourth starter, and instead just wing it with what they have, knowing that they will make the playoffs in any event.

      I don’t necessarily agree with that logic, because expanded playoffs make a marginal team like the Brewers or Diamondbacks a little more likely to improve at one or two more spots on their roster.

      In any event, they oughta be able to resolve this by adding an extra guy to the rosters, or by bumping up the minimum by another 5%, or whatever works. To me, it’s not such a clear-cut advantage to one side or the other so as to justify not making a ruling on the DH, so teams can make rational roster decisions.

    • Frankie Tomatoes

      Forbes had the Rays with $150M in profit over the last four years. The problem isn’t that the Rays aren’t making money, it’s that they are pocketing a whole lot of it.

  12. Steve Schoenbaechler

    I like the DH for the NL. I believe all of MLB should go back to the back-to-back doubleheaders. Then, I would be for the 7 inning double headers.

    They only switched off this, I believe because it meant more money for the clubs to have 2 separate games, I believe. The entire reason why they have the “2 game days” now, one starting at 12 noon and one at 8. If like that, I have no problem with the 7 or 9 inning games.

    I’m willing to experiment with the “runner on 2nd” extra inning games more. But, again, experiment.

    The expanded playoffs, I’m entirely against. There needs to be some sort of semblance, a “success factor”, for a team to make the playoffs. I mean, if you are going to simply keep expanding the playoffs, just include all the teams and make each bracket a best 2 out of 3. Ridiculous. Division winners and 1 or 2 WC’s, nothing more.

  13. Jimbo44CN

    I like the expanded playoffs but not the DH in the National League. It takes something away when a pitcher doesnt have to hit, especially when the inning before he (intentionally?) threw at an opposing player. Now he is just as vulnerable as the resto fo the players. To me it’s much more interesting.