Taking a red pencil to the game's rules for the first time in more than a decade, MLB's Playing Rules Committee has enacted several changes for the 2007 season. Relax: It's still the game you know and love. Committeemen haven't messed with the game's guts. In fact, although some of the changes are substantial, the most significant aspect of Friday's announcement is that it introduced the first alterations to the Official Baseball Rules since 1996. Potentially most consequential is the manner in which games that end in a tie, due to weather or other uncontrollable elements, will be resolved. While previously such games were considered official and replayed in their entirety from the beginning, hence they will be "suspended" and resumed at the point of stoppage.
Addressing issues relating to the pacing of games, fair play -- and even the fairer sex -- other rule changes highlight: Time between pitches: The allotment for delivering the ball with no one on base has been reduced, from 20 seconds to 12. The price for each violation is a ball. Batter's box presence: Conversely, an automatic strike will be assessed each time a batter violates the rule requiring they keep one foot in the batter's box throughout his at-bat, except for certain game-play conditions -- during which he is still not allowed to leave the dirt area surrounding the plate. Ball scuffing: Rule 3.02 now calls for an automatic 10-game suspension for any player who intentionally defaces the ball. (Previously, a first offense led to the pitch being called a ball, a warning to the pitcher and an announcement of violation.) No reason for rosin: The same Rule 3.02 now specifically prohibits placing "soil, rosin, paraffin, licorice, sandpaper, emery paper or other foreign substance" on the ball. The rule's penalty phase dictates, "The umpire shall demand the ball and remove the offender from the game. In addition, the offender shall be suspended automatically for 10 games." Gender objectivity: The rulebook now includes the disclaimer that references "to 'he,' 'him' or 'his' shall be deemed to be a reference to 'she,' 'her' or 'hers'" where applicable. In addition, in a significant sidebar, the guidelines by which official scorers perform their duties have been dramatically clarified and specified, at the behest of Phyllis Merhige, MLB vice president of club relations. The pace-of-game regulations had been in effect on a trial basis during the 2005-06 seasons in the Minor Leagues, where they gained acceptance. The revisions reflect the collective input of people in the game during the Playing Rules Committee's long layoff from actively voting on possible changes. These are the first amendments to the rules since interpretation of the strike zone was changed in 1996. "It's been a number of years since they've taken stock, so they rolled up their sleeves and attacked a number of issues on which they'd been taking notes," said Ed Burns, vice president of MLB's Baseball Operations Administration. "New members joined the committee in the interim," Burns added, "and the first thing they did in 2005 was institute the experimental pace-of-game rules for the Minor Leagues, with a degree of success." The treatment of tie games could be quite consequential. Not because tie games have been so prevalent in the past; occasionally, players have logged 163-game seasons due to an official tie, and there have been three ties in pre-1930 World Series games halted by darkness. But the revised rule will perhaps permit umpires to react more decisively to adverse conditions, knowing that halting a tie game will not force managers to invent pitching for an unexpected extra game. "The general managers questioned whether it was good policy to replay games," Burns said, "and asked, 'Why not just pick up where they stopped?' This will keep managers from having to use their entire bullpen to cover for an additional game." Tie games will resume prior to the next scheduled game between the teams, in the visitors' park if no more games are scheduled at the same site. If no more games are scheduled between the teams, the tie would stand unless an outcome would decide a playoff spot -- in which case the game would be replayed in its entirety. At the very least, the revisions and clarifying examples included in the rule book will enable umpires at all levels to conduct games according to a uniform set of rules. Said Sandy Alderson, the chief executive officer of the Padres, who doubles as chairman of the Rules Committee: "A number of issues about the playing rules, some more technical in nature than others, had accumulated among umpires, clubs, players and Major League Baseball for some time. The Playing Rules Committee hopes that these amendments will serve to clarify these issues and, by doing so, benefit all who play and umpire the game at all levels." The changes to Rule 10, governing official scoring, may have the most direct bearing on fans' perception of the coming season by affecting the game's lifeblood: statistics. For instance, the guidewords for deciding whether to credit a batter with a sacrifice bunt have changed from him being possibly retired on a "perfect play" to "ordinary effort" by the defense. And fans weary of hearing "defensive indifference" on stolen-base attempts will be heartened to learn that the scorer must now base that call on all game circumstances, not merely on whether someone covered the base or the catcher got off a throw. Merhige, who oversees all official scorers at big-league parks, had noted several areas that needed to be improved and standardized. The work of the committee she assembled "came up with a substantial rewrite of Rule 10," Burns said.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.