As a player, coach, and fan of all levels of baseball, I have witnessed some incredibly lopsided wins (or losses depending on how you look at it.) Wins and losses are part of sports, especially baseball. Your goal is to score more runs than your opponent. You don’t get credited with a win if you merely hit the ball hard or strike out a few batters. Your team has to score runs on offense and prevent the other team from scoring when you are in the field on defense. Pretty simple.
Here is where it gets complicated – when you involve youth baseball players, their families, their leagues, and their coaches. Anyone with even a small baseball IQ can watch a game between two unevenly matched youth baseball teams and know which one is the superior team. The superior team has consistency in the pitcher, hitters make good to excellent contact with the baseball, fielders can make all of the routine plays, baserunners take extra bases on throws, and establish a dominance on the scoreboard. The less skilled team has trouble throwing strikes, misses routine fly balls and ground balls, makes overthrows causing runners to move to extra bases, gets down mentally, and ultimately digs itself a huge hole on the scoreboard. I have seen it and coached in games like this and it can be very difficult to watch – as a parent, as a coach, and as a youth baseball player.
The saddest part of this is that the players are merely doing what their coaches ask of them. After all, it is fun to hit the ball and run and run until your coach tells you to stop. A hit is exciting, a double is thrilling, and a home run is memorable for a youth baseball player. I coached in a game (a few years back) where a ball was merely hit out of the infield, the batter ran to first and then took off for second (with the coach yelling instructions) due to a defensive lapse. The shortstop, finally getting to the ball, overthrows second base, the batter continues to third. Then, the pitcher, backing up the throw to second, fires the ball over the third baseman’s head and the batter then scores easily. The batter was greeted by his fellow teammates, his team’s cheering section applauded, and the batter had a huge smile on his face. All while the score was already 10-0 in that team’s favor. All while error after error had been made in the field all game, clearly establishing that the losing team was struggling to make plays defensively. Again, the player was simply following the instructions of his coach to keep running and to score. Not the player’s fault, here.
In youth baseball, especially Little League®, the 10-Run mercy rule was established to end an overly lopsided baseball game. Rule 4.10e in the Little League® 2018 Rulebook establishes the basis of the mercy rule as it pertains to a youth baseball game. Per the Little League®’s official website, www.littleleague.org, “Little League® rule 4.10(e), more commonly referred to as the “10-run rule,” was written to establish an accepted way for leagues to end games if the conventional means of recording outs proves to be a challenge.” If you would like to read the long version, click this link – Mercy Rule – to be redirected to Little League®’s official website. Every division of youth baseball has some form of the mercy rule. The mercy rule in my local Little League® (North Kingstown Wickford) Major’s division is 10 runs after 5 innings played.
So I did some research online for the past month on the 10-run mercy rule. Granted, professional sports do not have a mercy rule. I’m not 100% certain but collegiate sports do not have one either. These professional and collegiate teams simply play until there are 27 outs recorded, no matter how lopsided the contest maybe. So, the focus of my research for the mercy rule was youth baseball. I conducted a poll on Facebook and the results were overwhelming – 100% believed that the mercy rule was good for youth baseball. A few parents and coaches chimed in with comments. Here are some comments:
“Its a good rule. 1 you need it to stop the bleeding sometimes. If your outmatched sometimes its better to just end the game earlier than go another couple innings and really get embarrassed. No players or coaches want that. 2 it gives the players a goal to reach for sometimes. That goal can keep a fire in their belly that ignites them inside and drives them to win. As long as they win with respect of coarse. This rule is good and needs to stay for the good of baseball.”
“Look at all the tournaments kids are playing in the mercy rule can be really good or really bad. The players are getting overused and its helpful to save a pitchers arm or using multiple players likes pitchers and catchers too much in a weekend then the bad part is they pay to go win a trophy and want to battle back if the fall behind. It should always be about safety or player development at young ages.”
“It is a good thing. Either mercy rule the game, stop keeping score, or officially call the game over and give the other team extra practice at-bats.”
“Stop the scoreboard(turn off) and just finish the game…they have been doing forever, so hopefully no one will say, ” When I was a kid they didn’t do that..” No they did.”
To me, it is a rule put in place for the safety and well being of the players on both sides. Players on a superior team, up by a huge amount, tend to relax, take plays off, leading to a lack of focus in the field. Bad things can happen when players are not paying attention in the field, clearly a very important safety concern. And, players on the losing end of a lopsided win get down mentally and also lose focus. Further, players on a losing team can lost interest in the sport of baseball altogether, which is disastrous for youth baseball in general. With the 10-run rule in place, youth baseball players can rest their throwing arms, which is very important in youth baseball. Ideas like turning off the scoreboard or switching positions or putting in a less experienced pitcher to level the playing field are all good suggestions. Ultimately, we must follow the lead of Little League® rules and end the game via the 10-run rule should that occur under the rule’s guidelines.
So, how do you avoid being 10-run ruled in a youth baseball game? Well, that is an article for another day.