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As a baseball fan, sitting through a game where one team can’t seem to make an out while the other team can’t seem to score a run can be not just exhausting but boring as well.
Not to mention how demoralizing it is for the players of the losing team to be on the receiving end of such a lopsided loss.
This is why many leagues, mostly at the youth level, have developed what is called the “Mercy Rule”. The mercy rule goes into effect when the run differential in a game gets so large that it results in an automatic end to the game.
While the rule mainly exists in little league, youth travel ball, and high school leagues, college baseball has had a mercy rule for quite some time although it was more widely employed this past season.
In college baseball, individual conferences are permitted to implement a mercy rule for its league games, and coaches are allowed to agree upon utilizing a mercy rule before a game begins. The mercy rule has not been used in NCAA tournament games.
Let’s take a deeper look into the mercy rule and why it exists.
What is a Mercy Rule?
A mercy rule automatically ends a game before the final out of the final inning has been made due to a large run differential. Most mercy rules are implemented when a team is winning by 10 or more runs.
Also, most mercy rules require a certain number of innings to be played before going into effect. For example, in a seven inning game, five innings are typically required to be played before the mercy rule can end the game. In college baseball, seven innings are required for nine inning games.
Some lower levels of baseball have mercy rules that require fewer innings if more runs are scored. For example, some leagues allow the mercy rule to go into effect after three innings if the run differential is 15 or greater.
What is the Purpose of a Mercy Rule?
The rule exists for several reasons.
One, it saves pitching for each team. Young pitchers can only pitch so many innings and keep their arms healthy. In fact, most youth leagues have pitching rules that limit the number of innings and/or pitches a pitcher can throw.
By ending the game early, the mercy rule allows for each team to save some of their pitchers for another game in the coming days.
Two, it saves the losing team some embarrassment. It is already embarrassing enough for players to get beat by 10 runs. The mercy rule allows the game to end early before the losing team gives up more runs and loses by an even wider margin.
At the youth level, it is important to keep kids’ spirits high as they play the game. There is no need to embarrass them more than necessary, and the mercy rule keeps some of the fun in the game.
Three, it saves everyone time. Let’s face it, once the game gets out of hand, everyone from players, coaches, fans, and umpires is ready to go home.
This is very important in travel tournaments in youth baseball because of limited time. When games run long, all it does is push back the start time of the next game scheduled to play.
It also saves teams from experiencing costly injuries in games that are out of hand. Some players naturally don’t play as hard once the run differential reaches a certain point, and that can lead to injury.
Also, umpires tend to widen their strike zone in blowout games and make calls they wouldn’t normally make in an attempt to end the game faster. The mercy rule allows them to maintain the integrity of the game and their practice.
How is the Mercy Rule Implemented in College Baseball?
According to rule 2-79 in the NCAA baseball rule book, “By conference rule, or mutual consent of both coaches before the contest, a game may be stopped only after seven innings if one team is ahead by at least 10 runs.”
Still, conferences have the choice to implement the mercy rule in its conference games, but during the 2021 season, it became more widely employed all across college baseball as part of some adjustments that took place after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before 2021, some coaches only agreed to the mercy rule on Sunday games or the final game of a weekend series. College baseball teams play 3-4 game weekend series, and 1-2 games in the middle of the week.
Using the mercy rule on the last game of a weekend series allows each team to save pitching. It also saves the visiting team time as they often have a long road of travel ahead.
Sometimes coaches would even agree to a mercy rule before the first game of a doubleheader in order to start the second game at a more reasonable time in case of a blowout.
Does MLB have a mercy rule?
Currently, the MLB does not have a mercy rule in place. However, some people in the game, like Yankees manager Aaron Boone, have suggested that the league consider implementing one. Teams often bring in non-pitchers to pitch at the end of blowout games to save pitching, and some believe the mercy rule would prevent this from happening.
Perhaps the MLB’s argument against the mercy rule is the fan experience. Fans pay a lot of money to attend a baseball game. Some may be upset if they come to a game that ends early. But with the league now adopting seven inning doubleheaders, one must wonder if the MLB would now be more open to a mercy rule.
Do other sports have a mercy rule?
Yes, most other sports have mercy rules at the youth level, but they rarely result in the automatic ending of a game like in baseball. In timed sports, the mercy rule may result in a running clock for large point differentials.
Mercy rules may often limit what the winning team is allowed to do. For example, in some youth basketball leagues, teams are not allowed to employ the full court press when they lead by several points.