Is baseball’s most debated rule on the brink of extinction? It’s possible. The MLB Joint Competition Committee has put forth a formal proposal for review, and if all goes well, the controversial running lane rule could see significant changes by Christmas.
The running lane rule, known as Rule 5.09(a)(1), has long been a source of confusion and disputes among umpires, managers, and players. Currently, it dictates that a runner is out if they interfere with a fielder’s ability to catch a throw by running outside of the 45-foot lane on the foul side of the first base line. However, veteran umpire Bill Miller has suggested a change that would allow runners to use the entire width of the dirt path between home and first base.
This proposed amendment aims to simplify the rule and eliminate interpretation issues. While the running lane would still be chalked before games, it would serve as the right boundary to prevent runners from straying too far into foul territory on specific plays, such as dropped third strikes.
The Competition Committee, comprised of MLB representatives, players, and an umpire, has also proposed other rule changes primarily related to the pace of play. These proposals will undergo a 45-day consultation period, and any changes must be announced before the mandatory spring training reporting date for players.
One of the key proposed changes is a reduction in the pitch timer with bases occupied from 20 seconds to 18 seconds. This adjustment aims to keep the game on track, as average time of game increased as the 2023 season progressed. The MLB is keen to move closer to the preferred 2:30 time of game from its fan polling.
Another proposed rule change addresses infielders blocking bases. This player safety issue suggests that infielders should not be allowed to block a base with their leg, especially since most runners slide headfirst due to replay rules. This change would bring more clarity and safety to the game.
However, a proposed rule change related to pitchers using a “hybrid” delivery has garnered mixed opinions. It seeks to limit pitchers’ ability to switch between the stretch and windup positions in certain situations, a choice many pitchers prefer. Critics argue that this restriction is unnecessary and shouldn’t interfere with how pitchers compete.
As the review process unfolds, baseball fans and players will keep a close eye on these proposed rule changes and their potential impact on the game. Whether the running lane rule faces a major overhaul or just minor tweaks, the goal remains to improve the clarity and fairness of the game.