Did You Really Think the International Rule Was Going Away?

Did You Really Think the International Rule Was Going Away?American Association Daily provides insights and features on the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions going on with teams around the league. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier discusses the potential return of the International Rule to the American Association after minor league baseball implemented it this season.

Forgotten But Not Gone

Three seasons ago, the American Association flirted with the use of the international rule. It did not go over well. Most managers around the league really did not like the rule at all and it was scrapped after just one season. However, minor league baseball has opted to implement the rule this season, despite strong opposition from fans.

What Is the International Rule?

For those who have managed to eradicate the rule from their memory, here is a quick refresher for you.

Under the American Association rules, if a game was tied heading into the 11th inning, each team was allowed to have a runner at second base to start the frame. Whoever was the last batter to get out in the previous inning would start at second.

The rule was not popular because the strategy seemed to favor the visiting team. In theory, all they needed to do was to bunt the runner to third, then look for a sacrifice, wild pitch, or a hard ground ball and the visiting team had the lead. Then, they could bring in their closer and the game would be over.

While owners seemed to favor the idea, managers did not. Former Wichita Wingnuts Manager Kevin Hooper was one of the most vocal in opposition to the rule. While it did reduce the length of games, most managers don’t care. How one uses his bullpen, unsure of if a game will go 11 innings or 19, was part of the strategy. It lasted one year in the American Association and was out.

Minor League Baseball Adds It for This Year

Most in the American Association may have found the rule foolish, but that has not stopped minor league baseball from using it. As part of a set of rules meant to speed up the game, including a 15 second pitch clock, the minors have instituted the international rule for this season.

However, instead of using the format that the American Association employed, MiLB went a step further. Starting in the 10th inning, a runner is placed at second base and this continues in each subsequent inning until someone wins.

The rule has gained full support of Major League Baseball, who was looking to reduce the number of pitchers used in extra inning games. Extra inning affairs not only affect that contest, but subsequent ones where a depleted bullpen risks the likelihood of injury as relievers may have to remain in games for a longer durations of time if a bullpen is wiped out by a 17 inning affair a day or two before.

The implementation of the rule is part of a grander scheme to speed up games. Baseball owners and executives are worried that younger fans are not as interested in the sport because of how slow it can seem. To combat that, the extra inning rule was implemented as part of three rule changes, including that pitchers have 15 seconds to make their next pitch when no one is on base and that a team is limited on the number of mound visits they can make per game, with the limit based upon the level of ball.

Is a Return Imminent? 

It was not surprising that when the baseball announced the rule change in February that it was met with outrage by many fans. Twitter was sent ablaze by complaints about the rule, calling it “stupid” and “idiotic.” All things that American Association fans and managers already knew.

However, it is important to recognize that MLB does not make rule changes at any level looking to just “test it out.” When they make dramatic changes to the rules for the “betterment of the game,” they are permanent.

What that means is that this will likely be a part of the Majors one day. Purists explain that this is a rule for the minors that will never be imposed at the Major League level, but why not? In four or five years, the vast majority of the players at the upper echelon of the game will have played under this rule. All minor league fans will have become accustomed to it, and so it will make sense that MLB implements it as well.

What that could mean is that independent leagues will likely be taking a look at it again as well. While the American Association has marched to their own beat, over the years they have come around to making many of the changes that MLB has. For example, this season players are not allowed to bowl over catchers after Josh Romanski seriously injured Tanner Lubach last season in St. Paul. Players safety was the primary impetus behind the change, but so was the fact that all of these players want to return to affiliate ball, and so implementing rules that they would be forced to adhere to makes them more marketable. So, why not a return to the international rule?

American Association Daily Notes

The Kansas City T-Bones traded RHP Jake Matthys to the St. Paul Saints for future considerations. Matthys pitched for the Gary Southshore RailCats last season, where he was 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA in 20 appearances. The T-Bones also announced that they had released Kevin Keyes…The Texas AirHogs signed catcher Ryan Wagner. Wagner has played both years of his professional career in the American Association, playing for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks in 2016 and the AirHogs last season. He hit .256 in 77 games in 2017, with 3 homers, 35 runs scored and 22 RBI…The RailCats added RHP Yasutomo Kubo. Kubo has been in the Japan Pacific League since 2005 where he has amassed a 97-86 record in 304 appearances. His best season was in 2014, when the righty was 12-6 with a 3.33 ERA…The Cleburne Railroaders announced that RHP Cortland Cox will return to the team, as well the signing of C Michael Pair and LHP Michael Gunn. Pair last appeared in professional ball in 2016, splitting time between the Sioux Falls Canaries and Joplin Blasters, making him a known commodity to new Cleburne Manager Shelby Ford. He hit .229 in 39 games combined with 16 RBI. Gunn was with the Boston Red Sox organization until 2015. The lefty spent 2016 in River City (Frontier League) and 2017 in Pittsburg (Pacific Coast League). Last year, Gunn was 5-4 with a 4.41 ERA in 16 appearances (12 starts)…The Sioux City Explorers added RHPs Andrew Thurman and Parker Markel, traded OF Levon Washington to Sussex County, and announced the release of RHP Brian Ernst and OF Joe Jackson. Thurman has been in the minors since being drafted by the Houston Astros in the second round in 2013. The righty was in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization last season, splitting time between High-A Rancho Cucamonga and AA-Tulsa. Combined, Thurman went 2-1 with a 1.91 ERA in 17 appearances. Markel has been in the Tampa Bay Rays system since 2010. The righty split time between AA-Montgomery and AAA-Durham last year, where he was a combined 7-3 with a 2.70 ERA.

By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA