Could International Rule Be Returning to American Association?

In American Association Daily, the Minor League Sports Reports’ Robert Pannier examines the possibility of the International Rule returning to the American Association. With the Atlantic League implementing the rule this season, it won’t likely be long.

Extra Inning Rule Gaining Momentum

In 2018, Minor League Baseball (MiLB) adopted a new set of rules in an effort to speed up the game. There has been considerable concern at the highest levels of the sport that the slow pace of America’s Pastime is losing followers among the younger generation and actions had to be taken to try to shorten games to make it more palatable to Millennials.

Rule changes included such things as limiting mound visits and setting a timer between each pitch. It also meant trying to reduce the chance of 17 and 18 inning games by adding the International Rule.

What Is the International Rule?

If you are unfamiliar with this rule, it is meant to reduce the length of extra inning games by adding a base runner at second base to start each half inning beginning in the 10th. According to former Wichita Wingnuts Manager Kevin Hooper, this rule heavily favors the visitor.

The strategy, according to the former Wingnuts Manager, is that the visitor would start the inning by bunting their runner over to third from second. Then, all they need is a sacrifice fly to score their run. In the bottom half of the inning the visiting team sends in their closer and nine times out of 10 the game is over.

Coming Around Again

The rule was actually part of the American Association in 2016. Hooper, as well as many other managers in the league, were not fans of the rule at all. However, there were a couple of reasons why it made sense to implement.

First of all, the American Association played cross league games with the Can-Am League that year, a league that had already been using the International Rule. It made sense to have the same rules in both leagues. However, in these two leagues, the runner did not begin on second base until the 11th inning.

It also made sense from a roster stand point. With teams only able to carry 23 players at most, it seemed logical to reduce the length of games to save a bullpen. If, for example, the Sioux City Explorers and the Sioux Falls Canaries played a 17 inning affair in the final contest of a three game set, they would each be at a huge disadvantage in their next series. If the Explorers moved onto play the Lincoln Saltdogs, Lincoln would likely have a rested bullpen while Sioux City would have to go with a starter for much longer just because they could not affair to use their relievers.

One and Done

The rule may have made sense, but few managers actually liked it. The following year the American Association ended their interleague series and the International Rule hit the scrap heap as well.

Yet, MiLB saw fit to start implementing it last year, and they have 25 man rosters, plus a whole crew of guys to pull from their lower levels to compensate for an overused bullpen. Major League Baseball wants to make the game more “enjoyable,” and this rule was implemented last season in an effort to achieve that.

Now, the Atlantic League will be using the extra inning rule this season. Protecting pitching staffs seems to be the call around baseball, and so now two of the premier leagues in independent baseball will be using this rule.

One has to wonder how long it will be before the International Rule creeps back into the American Association. While there are still managers who are opposed to it, some embrace the idea. They want to protect their staff, and an 18 inning game does not do that. Actually, a 14 game doesn’t either.

To be honest, it will not be long before this rule is in the Majors. There is no doubt that purists are clutching their chests, but MLB would not implement this rule if they were not intending to feed it to the Big Leagues some day. In five years, 75 percent or more of those playing in the Majors will have played under this rule in the minors, and the outrage will be minimal. Players and fans will be used to it at that time.

If the American Association is still a hold out by the time that happens, then one must believe that they will have to accept it. Baseball is changing, and maybe not for the better, but it is changing. One has to think that it won’t be too long before the American Association is playing by these rules. Will pitch clocks and limiting mound visits be too far behind?

By Robert Pannier