For many years, the word “Mercy!!!** was employed by the great Boston Red Sox broadcaster Ned Martin. The ex-Marine was a fixture in New England homes from 1961–1992. In the 1970’s he got a few chances to be heard coast to coast. This survivor of Iwo Jima knew when to say “Mercy!!” Only the most special plays, good or bad brought that word to his lips. Now, the manager of the Sox’ archrival Yankees is using the word in its worst way. He’s suggesting a “mercy rule” at the highest level of play.
In amateur ball, especially Little League and high school ball, if a team is ahead by 10 runs after 4 innings or up 15 runs through 3, the game is said to be complete under the mercy rule. While some colleges use it, the NCAA has made it clear they’d prefer games to go the full 9 innings.
Here is the difference as I see it. Most games where the mercy rule can be applied are free. Far from being free, the major leagues charge fans outrageous prices for tickets, parking, food and drink. These fans aren’t paying to see 5 or 7 innings. More often than not, they want the whole 9, no matter the score.
There have been blowouts going back to baseball’s beginnings. In 1912, the Athletics beat the Tigers 24–2 when most Tigers went on strike over Ty Cobb’s suspension. Last year, the Mets gave up 25 runs in one game, then scored 24 later in the year. Boone’s whimpering came after the Indians demolished the Yankees 19–5 recently in the Bronx. The Orioles, baseball’s most woeful team recently took a 23–2 thrashing from the Houston Astros, one of the league’s best teams. The Orioles have needed to use outfielder Stevie Wilkerson as a pitcher 4 times this season in games where his team was being demolished. This is to protect the pitchers. Baseball is a sport where a position player may normally pitch once a year. Their manager Brandon Hyde hasn’t publicly pleaded for mercy, though he may have privately considered it. We also haven’t heard cries of “Mercy!” from the managers of the Tigers and Royals, two more of baseball’s lost children who are so bad it’s astonishing anybody goes to their games. The complaint is from the manager of the team with the best record in the game.
Games have been won when a team was 10 runs down or more. In 1976, The Phillies’ Mike Schmidt hit 4 home runs as they came back from being down 12–1 to win 18-16. In these days of awful relief pitching, it’s more possible than ever before. Most important though is the fact that managers and more discerning fans see who still cares when the game is well decided either way. What players are still grinding it out, playing the game the right way, and which ones just want to get to the food in the clubhouse.
In sum, I say no, there can and must be no mercy in the major leagues unless they show mercy to the fans where prices are concerned. We fans know that will never happen. From the days of the Tigers’ Frank Navin, to the time of Boss George Steinbrenner and beyond, owners care for one thing only–the almighty dollar. If we’re willing to spend it, we should get a full 9 innings no matter what.1