The independent Pioneer League has baseball teams throughout the Rocky Mountain region, with teams in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Utah. The league is making a big, explosive change to how extra innings work.
Per Field Yates of ESPN, the Pioneer League is instituting a change to how games end if they extend beyond nine innings. Baseball as a whole has struggled with this, looking to prevent the occasional endless games that can near 20 innings. In the MLB, they've utilized a change where a runner begins each extra inning on second base in an attempt to lead to earlier extra inning runs. This is not a particularly popular change among many fans, especially purists.
Rather than alter extra innings, the Pioneer League is doing away with it altogether. Instead, they're taking a nod from shootouts in ice hockey and soccer, and going with a head-to-head, sudden death home run derby.
It's a pretty wild idea, and it almost definitely wouldn't fly for a version of baseball with higher stakes. It will, in all likelihood, be a lot of fun, and for an independent league, that's the name of the game. We're excited to see how it works.
"To avoid the excessive strain on our pitching staffs, the Pioneer Baseball League will not have extra innings, but rather will employ a first-of-its-kind 'Knock Out' rule that resolves tied games with a head-to-head, “sudden death” home run duel," the league says in a release about rule changes for the 2021 season.
"Under the rule, each team designates a hitter who receives 5 pitches, with the game determined by the most home runs hit. If still tied after the first 'Knock Out' round, another hitter is selected for a sudden-death home run face-off until a winner is declared.
“I’m thrilled to see these exciting rules changes implemented for this season,” said Pioneer League president Michael Shapiro. “The Pioneer Baseball League is committed to developing ideas that enhance the strategy of the game, protect the safety of our players and add to the fun and engagement of our fans. We believe this focus will help assure the future of the game among a broader and more diverse audience.”
In the MLB's "Home Run Derby," the batter selects a friendly pitcher who serves up easy pitches to hit out. While it isn't clear here, one assumes that opposing pitchers will be trying to get batters out, so while this is fun, it does seem like this could drag on for a bit. Home runs aren't so frequent in baseball that there is a guarantee to get one in the first few batters.
An independent league like this is the right place to try out bold new rules like this. Hopefully they find some success with it.