MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

When it comes to change, MLB walks the walk

Proposed rule for intentional passes a sensible timesaver with little impact on game

When it comes to change, MLB walks the walk

Commissioner Emeritus Bud Selig oversaw the biggest overhaul in the history of Major League Baseball, underscored by realignment that moved the Brewers to the National League and the Astros to the American League, Interleague Play, a three-divisional alignment, revenue sharing and the addition of the Wild Card.

"I consider myself a traditionalist," said Selig, "but things are constantly changing, and you can't ignore that."

Rob Manfred, who succeeded Selig as Commissioner, also has taken an open-mined approach when it comes to considering recommendations to adjust the game, including starting off each half of an extra inning with a runner on second, which has been adopted in international play and will be experimented with this season in the Rookie-level Arizona League and Gulf Coast League.

The idea will spark plenty of debates.

However, there is one proposed change that would have minimal, if any, impact on the way the game is played, and it could shave time off the length of a game: automatically sending a player to first base if a team wants to issue an intentional walk.

This comes at a time when the intentional walk is being employed less than at any time since 1955.

Ortiz draws an intentional walk

Each of the past five seasons has established a new record low of intentional walks per game.

The fewest intentional walks overall were 732 in 1961, the year the AL welcomed the first expansion to 18 Major League teams, and 819 in 1962, the year the NL expanded to give MLB 20 teams.

The most recent expansion, in 1998, increased the number of Major League teams to 30, but it has resulted in a decline in the use of the intentional walk. There were 932 issued in 2016, the third-lowest total in the 162-game era, but an average of only .384 per game, the lowest average overall.

It was the fifth consecutive record-setting year, following an average of .392 walks per game in 2015, .405 in '14, .416 in '13 and .434 in '12.

Barry Bonds retired after the 2007 season; he holds the career record for intentional walks with 668, which is more than No. 2 Albert Pujols (302) and No. 3 Hank Aaron (293) combined.

D-backs intentionally walk Bonds

Bonds was intentionally walked a record 120 times in 2004, which did at least create a marketing opportunity for the Giants, who sold a rubber chicken named "Walk'er" at AT&T Park. Fans dangled the chicken over the outfield walls when Bonds was given the intentional pass.

Now there are some interesting twists during efforts to issue an intentional walk, but they are so few and far between they don't really add much to the game.

Buck Showalter, then-manager of the D-backs, once ordered an intentional walk to Bonds with the bases loaded in 1998, one of five such walks since 1901, when Nap Lajoie was given a free pass with the bases loaded. The others were issued to Del Bissonette in 1928, Bill Nicholson in '44 and Josh Hamilton in 2008. In all five instances, the team issuing the bases-loaded intentional walk won the game.

There have been at least 12 times when a batter has swung at a pitch during an attempted intentional walk, including at least nine when the batter reached base -- six times on a hit, once on a fielder's choice and twice on errors.

Cabrera singles on attempted IBB

To put that in context, consider that since 1955, there have been 73,271 intentional walks issued, according to STATS, Inc.

The intentional walk did lead to one major rule change in 1955 -- the 43-inch wide catcher's box was instituted, where a catcher must have his feet until a pitch is delivered.

That's a legacy that will go unchanged.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.