What is a ghost runner in baseball ? During the pandemic-shortened 2020 MLB season, the league office put into effect a new rule that introduced most fans to the “ghost runner.” The rule was meant to be temporary, but the ghost runner is still in effect three seasons after it was first put into place. So, what exactly is the ghost runner rule, and is it now a permanent fixture in Major League Baseball? Here’s what we know.
How is the ghost runner rule different from your backyard rule?
You probably didn’t have enough players to field a team when you were a kid playing in your backyard or local sandlot. To alleviate a lack of players, you probably replaced base runners with “ghost men.” And then there were probably arguments about how fast the ghost man was and whether or not they slid under a tag. The backyard ghost man was not an efficient substitute.
The MLB ghost runner is different. For one thing, it is actually called the “Designated Runner.” Many fans will refer to it as the “ghost runner.” Once a regular season game hits extra innings, a runner is put on second to begin each half-inning. The designated runner is determined by designating the hitter in the batting order before the hitter comes up at the beginning of the inning.
What is the purpose of the designated runner?
The designated runner rule was first adopted as part of Major League Baseball’s safety and protocol rules following COVID. The goal was simple–to shorten games that went into extra innings.
By placing a runner in scoring position at the beginning of each half inning after the ninth, the belief was that this would increase the odds of teams scoring and limit the number of extra innings played. This would limit exposure on the field, but it would also decrease, in theory, the need for pitchers in extra innings.
How does the designated runner work?
At the beginning of each half-inning after the ninth, a runner is placed on second. There are no outs in the inning, and the offensive team continues to follow its offensive lineup. The runner is the player in the batting order before the first hitter is due up that inning.
If the inning ends with the runner stranded, it is like any other scoreless inning. However, if the offense bats the runner in to score, that run does count in the official score. It should be noted that this particular run would not count against the ERA of the pitcher of record.
Like in any other game, if the visiting club scores a run in the top half of the inning, the home team has an opportunity to tie or win the game in the bottom half. However, if the visiting team fails to score a run in the top half of the inning, but the home team scores a run and breaks the tie in the bottom half, the game is over. Again, it is important to note that if a designated runner scores, it does not count against the pitcher of record as an earned run.
What is the ghost runner rule?
In the mid-2010s, MLB began experimentation with the “ghost runner” in the Minor Leagues. The rule involves putting the player that was last up at the plate in the ninth inning on second base to start the 10th inning. This rule — which applies to both the home and road teams — was looked at as a way to speed up games.
Major League Baseball added the rule and put it into effect in 2020, during the COVID-shortened season. The rule gave the league chance to quickly decide extra inning games, and limit the possibility of injuries during such games. The rule was kept into effect on a temporary basis for both the 2021 and 2022 seasons in the regular season, as well.
Is it permanent?
As of now, that appears to be the case. In February 2023, the MLB’s Joint Competition Committee voted unanimously to keep the rule for the 2023 season and beyond. But much like in prior seasons, the ghost runner will only be used in regular season games. For postseason extra inning games, each extra inning will start with a clean state on the bases.
The rule has been somewhat divisive, given that fact that MLB has overhauled decades of precedent, in terms of how extra inning games are decided. On the other hand, the rule has reportedly received support from both the league and the players.
MLB’s extra innings ‘ghost-runner’ rule, explained
In the past, MLB games would be played as long as possible if two teams are tied after the ninth inning. Sometimes, these games could go another nine innings! But that all changed in the 2020 season.
With MLB and the Player’s Association (MLBPA) agreeing to terms on starting the 2020 season in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, one aspect they agreed to was the “ghost-runner” rule. Considering they didn’t start the season until that July and that the team’s had spring training cut short, they agreed to the rule of starting a frame of an extra inning with a runner on second to mitigate injuries to players. With that, a player is less like to get injured and the game would end quicker.
The rule was in effect until the conclusion of the 2021 season, when the collective bargaining agreement between the league and players union ran out. But when both sides agreed to a new deal, the “ghost-runner” rule was brought back for the 2022 season. While it’s not popular among fans, it is liked by players, managers, and executives.
With this latest vote, the man on second base to start extra innings rule is in effect for all regular-season games for the foreseeable future. For fans wondering about postseason games, the old rules will be in effect. As in, no runner will start at second base for the start of a frame in each inning. Instead, the game will take as long as needed. Look no further than the Game 3 of the 2022 ALDS between the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners, which took 18 innings to complete.
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