My Twitter feed these days is awash in baseball fans bashing the “ghost runner” placed on second base to start each half of any extra innings in baseball games. If anyone has posted in favor it, I have seen no evidence.
This man-in-scoring-position “enhancement” is designed to shorten the games. To me, this strange maneuver is akin to putting rouge on a corpse: it may look better, but it’s still a dead body.
I have screamed into the void previously about the insufferable length of today’s ball games, but I don’t want to be typecast as a frumpy traditionalist with no tolerance for change in what once was America’s pastime.
So to bridge the gap between those of us who only grudgingly accept the Angels and Mets expansion teams and those who revel in exit velocity and wins-over-replacement-multiplied-by-pickoffs-eluded metrics, allow me to propose a sensible compromise.
Start each extra inning not with a ghost runner but with an invisible man on second base.
When I was a kid in Cleveland, an invisible man running the bases was an essential aspect of every sandlot or city streets game in which we didn’t have enough players to field a full nine, let alone two. The fewer the players, the more likely we were to have one, two or even three invisible men on the base paths.
It worked like so:
If just four kids showed up at the diamond, we’d make two, two-man teams. A two-man batting order would face a pitcher and a shortstop, or a pitcher and a second baseman in the rare case of a lefty batter among us.
Typically these games used a “pitcher’s poison” rule: if the infielder’s throw after fielding a ground ball got to the pitcher on the rubber before the batter reached first base, the batter was out.
But what happened when the first batter reached on a single and the second batter also singled, moving the runner up to second?
It was the runner-on-second’s turn to bat, and as he jogged back to home plate he’d call, “Invisible man on second!”
He’d swing the bat again, and if he socked a ball into the outfield, the infielder would chase it down and hurl it back to the pitcher.
The speed of the invisible man was in sync with the visible man behind him on the base path. If the batter managed to chug into second base with a double, just ahead of the throw, then the invisible man also made it safely home.
And they say soccer is the beautiful game!
So, Major League Baseball, let’s get rid of the scourge of the ghost runner in extra-inning games and replace him with an invisible man.
This move has several advantages, chief among them it negates any chance of instant replay. The invisible runner is also a nod to our sandlot heritage from simpler times (not that the 60s were by any means simple in rapidly deteriorating Cleveland).
One more thing: official games are nine innings — even in double- and triple-headers — with one exception: if Mom says dinner is at 5 o’clock, then, by gum, the game is over at 4:45, no matter what the inning. You’ve got 15 minutes to hop on your bicycle and race home — that was the only exit velocity that mattered!