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Rule Change Friday: Ground Rule Homers

Baseball sometimes seems as if it is the most unchanging of the major sports. Maybe that is the case now, but as anyone (like me) with even a slight interest in baseball history knows, baseball has made changes in its rules many times over the years. That is part of the reason discussions about potential rule changes are interesting — they not only stimulate the mind grapes, but also have a basis in the real history of the game. Moreover, some of the ideas are not necessarily new, but involve a hypothetical return to yesteryear.

In the wake of the concerns about home run records being “tarnished” by PEDS and, horror of horrors, the designated hitter, it is worth remembering that the home run rules, like almost everything else, have not always been the same. Certain older rules cost some hitters home runs. However, some rules also gave players more home runs. It is the latter I want to discuss today as a possible rule change. What do you think? Would you be in favor of allowing what are not ground rule doubles to be ruled as home runs?

Today, if a ball hits the ground and bounces into the stands, it is a ground rule double according to the Official Rules 6.09(e-h). The change happened prior to the 1930 season for the American League, and after that season for the National League. Without looking up various individual examples, I have read that when Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were engaged in their home run race in 1927, at least one of Gehrig’s homers was a hit that would have been ruled a ground rule double by today’s rules. What would it be like to go back to something like?

Various related issues would need to be sorted out. By the current rules, if a ball bounces off of a player’s head and into the stands, it is a home run. Along the same lines, if the rule is changed, baseball would need to decide what to do about situations where the ball hits the ground, then the fielder, and then goes into the stands. While that is worth discussion in the comments, in this brief post I want to focus on how going back to something like the old rule might make the game better or worse.

Obviously, it would lead to more home runs. Assuming I did the query correctly, there were 510 ground rule doubles in 2011, which would represent more than a 10 percent increase over the 4552 home runs that counted. It might also make fielding a bit more exciting. Would outfielders be more aggressive in playing certain batted balls off of bounces? I suppose it would vary from park to park depending on how high the wall is or how “bouncy” the turf is. Maybe in the future I will try and see which parks are most prone to ground rule doubles (if someone else wants to do that, fine). Would teams would respond to change by making their parks’ walls higher or lower?

There might be disadvantages, too. For example, fan interference (and thus replay) would have to be watched ever more closely, although that really would not be much of a change from the current situation.

When it comes down to it, this speculative exercise involves an aesthetic preference — what would give you the most pleasure when watching a game? That is not to say that there are no objective and/or universal grounds for aesthetics (that is a debate for another time and place), but rather that this is something that, even in principle, we cannot resolve be reference to numbers. Hey, I bet what would totally solve it would be a poll!

Change for its own sake is pointless, but would “ground rule home runs” make this game more enjoyable for you?