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Understanding the Pioneer League's New Rules

May 16, 2021

Much has been made of the Pioneer Baseball League’s new rules for 2021. Most of the media and fans we’ve heard from have reacted with curiosity and openness. Some in the baseball world have bemoaned the further erosion of some idyllic notion of baseball “purity” as if that horse were

Much has been made of the Pioneer Baseball League’s new rules for 2021. Most of the media and fans we’ve heard from have reacted with curiosity and openness. Some in the baseball world have bemoaned the further erosion of some idyllic notion of baseball “purity” as if that horse were still in the barn.

But the PBL’s new rules have much less to do with publicity hunting or making changes for the sake of making changes that make a mockery of the game. Far from it – there are real, practical reasons that, as an ancillary benefit, may also increase revenues, expand baseball’s audience, and reinvigorate waning interest – all laudable goals in our opinion.

Let’s take the “Knock Out” Rule for example, as this concept has garnered the greatest degree of interest. Our intent was very pragmatic and needs some understanding of the nature of running a minor league club, albeit a lower level/independent league club. It’s based on the simple truth that extra innings cost team operators real money. By the time a game reaches late innings there are generally few patrons left in the stands, beer service was already shut down by the 7th inning and the cost of keeping on staff far exceeds the potential revenue from those remaining for “free baseball”.

Further, as a matter of Minor League Baseball Economics 101, the loss of baseballs to the hungry monster of “Foul Ball Hell” is a real point of agony when watching $5.00 per ball fly away into the dark of night. This isn’t Major League Baseball when every ball that touches Earth is exiled into a BP Ball Bag. For the minor league operator, the costs of keeping the gates open for some indeterminate number of “extra” innings far outweigh any “purity test” conceived of way back at the dawn of Baseball.

Aside from these pressing economic issues is an abiding concern for the health and safety of our players, particularly pitchers. Clubs of the PBL don’t have a near infinite supply of replacement players. They can’t dip into a minor league system if there’s an injury or even a tired arm. Extra innings have a nasty way of wearing out already depleted pitching staffs (bullpens are overstressed enough as starters rarely go much beyond 5 or 6 innings) to the point there is a real fear of jeopardizing the health and safety of these young kids.

Then there’s the matter of the dreaded “checked swing” for which, by the way, there is no definition in the Official Rule Book, that sacred text guiding the conduct of our game that in its infinite wisdom somehow forgot to give us any idea when a swing is a swing or not a swing. Be that as it may (although one can add this to the array of umpire discretion rules in desperate need of surgical removal), if the umpires can decide for themselves what they want to call a swing or not a swing then why is it that only the catcher can ask for an appeal and not, by a specific rule, the hitter? Why is it that the home plate umpire, who arguably has the worst view of whatever definition of a swing that he or she wishes, gets unfettered authority over the hitter for determining a transgression? What happened to Equal Protection Under the Laws? Where is the Justice in allowing only one party the right of appeal?

The PBL has made a stand for American values by granting the hitter the same right of appeal as the catcher. Under the PBL rule, the purity of the game as a symbol for all that’s right with our great country, is preserved!

What then of this “designated pinch hitter/runner” rules of ours? Where, you may ask, is the economic or health and safety value of this? What pressing need to right an egregious wrong does this address? Fair questions, but this brings us to Part III of the PBL’s trifecta of game enhancements: the loss of strategic innocence. There was a time, seemingly very long ago, when a player in the lineup played defense and offense, when “shading” a player and pitching against his strengths were subtle nuances compared to the sledgehammer of analytically imposed shifts, and when a manager had to actually think through his options for replacing a pitcher with a pinch hitter. Talk of losing the “purity” of the game…where are those crying foul for these derisions of the Game’s sanctity?

Our DPH/R rules are intended to bring back a modicum of strategic thinking to replace that which was lost with the DH. Now we’re giving managers a couple of new tools to tinker with. If the game allows for the elimination of an entire player from the burdens of facing a bullpen full of 95-milers (referring to the dreaded DH), then why not let the manager also decide if he’d like to once a game replace a base-clogger or a light hitting shortstop without depleting his roster (setting up the dreaded pitcher playing the outfield or dreaded outfielder having to embarrass/harm himself as a pitcher). Again, at the PBL level of the Game, there isn’t a supporting cast of understudies within a commuter train ticket away.

Say what you will, but we of the PBL are hoping to bring some sustainability to our business so we can keep offering fans in the Mountain States communities the joy of pro baseball; we’re trying to right some wrongs and preserve the American Way; save some kids’ careers and, yes, bring some thinking back into the lost art of the Game.

What can be “purer” than that?