Major League Baseball will test the most radical potential change to its playing dimensions in more than a century this summer on minor-league fields in small towns like Gastonia, North Carolina; Lexington, Kentucky; and Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
MLB announced Wednesday it will partner with the independent Atlantic League to conduct a couple of experiments in the coming months. They include two changes designed as possible remedies to unrelenting trends baseball views as bad for business - trends it has failed to reverse organically.
One of the two rules that'll be in place in the Atlantic League is dubbed the "double hook." The rule ties the designated hitter's in-game existence to the starting pitcher. When a starting pitcher leaves a game, that team loses its DH. MLB hopes the rule will incentivize increasing the length of starting pitching appearances, which have been decreasing. The rule would also likely diminish the use of openers, the practice of starting games with a relief pitcher who makes a short outing to serve a variety of strategic purposes.
The other rule change - the more dramatic one - is moving the pitching rubber from 60 feet and 6 inches away from the plate, a distance encoded since 1893, to 61 feet and 6 inches. Atlantic League teams will play the season's first half at the traditional distance, then use the longer distance, and MLB will compare the results.
These radical experiments are being tried because of how the game's evolved in recent years, resulting in fewer balls in play. MLB's concerned about what the increases in strikeouts and pitching changes mean for interest in watching the sport, in attracting and retaining customers.