Tracy Ringolsby

Some rules changes turn out to be no big deal

Some rules changes turn out to be no big deal

OK, take a deep breath. Exhale. Relax.

Yes, Major League Baseball is kicking around some rules changes, including two that are being put in place for the coming season -- managers will have two minutes to decide if they want a replay review and they also will signal from the dugout for an intentional walk instead of a pitcher having to throw four pitches.

Good? Bad? Indifferent? Time will tell.

What time, however, has already made clear is that while there are those up in arms, traditionalists who don't want the game tampered with are off-base themselves. A part of baseball's tradition has been an ever-evolving game, from one that was born in the 1850s in which the winning team was the first side to score 21 aces to what is now a nine-inning game with the team that scores the most runs declared the winner.

Not everything works, but that's the beauty of the game. Mistakes can be removed without a long-range impact.

So don't get too worked up over the potential of a pitch clock being installed, a limited number of times a mound visit can be made, a raised strike zone or even the experiment of extra innings beginning with a runner on second base. The latter will be tested in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast and Arizona Leagues this season.

Shoot, even Commissioner Rob Manfred admits that extra-inning gimmick isn't likely to make its way to the Majors, but what does it hurt to give it a look at the Rookie level, where attendance is minimal and the teams are owned by their big league affiliates?

The most interesting of the proposals might be raising the bottom of the strike zone from the hollow of the knee to the top of the kneecap. MLB took a shot at shrinking the strike zone back in 1969, changing it from the armpits to the top of the knee, but it didn't work. Umpires and batters make split-second decisions, and they have been trained with a certain strike zone. It's not easy to adjust.

Change is usually met with skepticism but is quickly accepted, and fans learn to embrace the rules as they impact their team. Consider that the debates over the designated hitter are strong along league lines -- American League fans love it and National League fans hate it.

Baseball has survived expansion from the original 16 teams to the current 30, realignment that has created three divisions in each league, leading to the addition of Wild Card berths. What once was an October reserved for the World Series now includes Wild Card playoff games, Division Series and League Championship Series in advance of the World Series.

Here are eight noteworthy rules changes that have come to be embraced by traditionalists over the decades:

• Bob Gibson rule. Pitchers dominated in the 1960s, culminating in a 1968 season in which the combined Major League ERA was 2.98, the lowest since 1918. That was underscored by Gibson's 1.12 ERA, the third lowest by a qualifying pitcher since 1901. Baseball addressed the lack of offense by lowering the height of the mound from 15 to 10 inches.

• Larry Walker rule. After suffering a knee injury playing winter ball, Walker missed the entire 1988 season, spending it on the big league disabled list. Walker finished seventh in NL Rookie of the Year Award voting in 1990, but only after the Commissioner's Office ruled that time spent on the disabled list should not count as active-roster time.

• Ted Williams rule. Williams was such a discerning hitter that he drew walks at the rate of .882 walks per game, just ahead of the career figures of Barry Bonds (.857) and Babe Ruth (.824). In 1954, Williams hit .345, but Bobby Avila of the Indians won the AL batting title with a .341 average. At the time, the rule to qualify for a title was a player had to average 2.6 at-bats per team game, and Williams had 386 at-bats, 14 shy of the qualifying mark, while leading the AL with 136 walks. In 1957, the requirement to qualify was changed from at-bats to 3.1 plate appearances, which include walks, for each team game.

• Tony Gwynn rule. This change was made long before Gwynn, but in 1967, the batting-title rule was amended to allow that if a player did not have the qualifying number of plate appearances, he could still win the title if he still would have had the highest batting average if at-bats were theoretically added to his total. Gwynn became the first player to benefit from the rule in 1996, when he hit .353 but only had 498 plate appearances. With an 0-for-4 added in, he would have hit .349, five points higher than runner-up Ellis Burks, and was awarded the title.

• Hal McRae rule. McRae was known for his roll block into infielders covering second base on potential double plays, and after he took out the Yankees' Willie Randolph in the 1977 ALCS, the roll block was outlawed.

McRae's takeout slide

Chase Utley rule. This took the McRae rule a step further. After Utley, with the Dodgers, roll-blocked Mets infielder Ruben Tejada in the 2015 NLCS, resulting in Tejada missing the World Series with a broken leg, MLB ruled that a baserunner is to be called out if he does not slide directly into the base.

Buster Posey rule. In 2011, Posey suffered a broken leg in a home-plate collision with Scott Cousins of the Marlins, who took an inside-the-foul-line route from third base. MLB eventually ruled that a baserunner must take a direct path to the plate, a catcher could not block home plate without the ball, and a baserunner cannot lower his shoulder or attempt to push through the catcher with hands, elbows or arms in attempting to score.

• Ray Chapman rule. Chapman, an Indians infielder, was hit in the head by a spitball from the Yankees' Carl Mays during the 1920 season and died. After the season, throwing a doctored pitch was outlawed, although 17 pitchers who were considered true spitball pitchers were given an exemption. Hall of Famers Burleigh Grimes, Stan Coveleski and Red Faber were among the 17.

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