Let me preface by saying that I’m not a baseball alarmist. I understand the concerns people have about the game, but I don’t think they rise to the need of emergency repair. So I’m not invested in this idea any more than I was when I suggested a couple years ago that baseball games might, on some far away day, go from nine to seven innings.
But it does occur to me that, for those who are concerned that baseball has become all about home runs and strikeouts, there is a pretty simple way to incentivize baserunning and putting the ball in play.
Change the distance between the bases from 90 feet to 88 feet.
Or 89 feet. Or 87 feet. Or 26 meters. In other words, whatever. I mean, I chose 88 because it’s probably the coolest number in the 80s, whether for the way it sounds or as a tribute to the Stanford Cardinal and Dodgers’ most recent World Series titles or to Lynn Swann. But somewhere, there’s a sweet spot for a number that would galvanize the risk-reward scenarios for stealing a base, that would make the hit-and-run worth teaching again and that would reward players for hitting ground balls and even (gasp) bunting.
It’s not a radical change, not in my mind. Yes, there’s something fine in a nice round number like 90, but in a sport that has literally no standard for its outfield dimensions and places its most important on-field object, the pitchers mound, at the accidental distance of 60.5 feet, the 88-foot basepath is more than palatable.
Nor is this a cure-all for what ails the sport, which I would say above all else is the fragility of player health, particularly pitcher health. But it doesn’t make things any worse.
Maybe the switch to 88 feet increases offense, and in turn makes it harder for pitchers to do their job. Smarter minds than mine can study that — and again, I’m only proposing this, not endorsing it. But it seems more likely to me that shorter basepaths would affect the style of the game on an incremental level, but not the overall substance of its scoring.
Homer hitters won’t stop swinging for the fences, but for the vast majority of times when a home run isn’t in the offing, you might have a greater hint of the action many fans seem to miss.
Finally, some Old School traditionalists might scoff at the idea and say that we’re making things too easy for the younger generation, but they are getting the stolen base back, so it seems like a good compromise. Plus, I’m pretty starkly traditionalist when it comes to baseball rules, and somehow I’m not bothered.
Is there an argument against reducing the basepaths to 88 feet other than the idea that we’re used to 90?