Posted by: Mike Cornelius | April 25, 2021

Bumgarner’s Non No-No Is A Warning

We all knew this was going to happen.  Sunday afternoon in Atlanta, the home squad and the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks played a doubleheader, a result of Saturday’s contest being washed out by rain.  But since MLB and the Players Association agreed back in February that the temporary rule for such scheduling introduced in 2020 would continue as part of the COVID-19 protocols for this season, that meant each game of the twin bill was seven innings rather than nine.  The home fans might well have been just as happy with the shortened contests, as the D’Backs had a dominant afternoon, winning 5-0 and 7-0. 

Yet even with the lopsided scores, there was plenty of drama at Truist Park.  In the first game Arizona starter Zac Gallen hit the first batter he faced and issued a couple walks as the innings went by, but he didn’t yield a base hit until Freddie Freeman’s single with one out in the 6th.  That was the extent of offense by Atlanta, with Gallen tossing a complete game one-hitter.  Then in the nightcap, Madison Bumgarner went Gallen one better.  Staked to a 5-0 lead before he set foot on the mound, the veteran left-hander allowed just a single base runner, when Ozzie Albies reached on a throwing error by shortstop Nick Ahmed leading off the Atlanta 2nd.  Bumgarner erased Albies by inducing Travis D’Arnaud to ground into a double play, and wound up facing the minimum 21 Atlanta batters, throwing a complete game no-hitter, the first of his 13-year big league career and the third such performance in the majors this year.

Except of course, it wasn’t.  MLB’s definition of a no-hitter includes the requirement that it be thrown in an official game of at least nine innings.  So Bumgarner’s 98-pitch, 7-strikeout effort is left in some nether world rather than the record books, even though the game was played to its full, scheduled length.  It is an outcome that was an inevitable product of commissioner Rob Manfred’s push to introduce rules more appropriate for a weekend softball league than for the highest level of the Great Game.  While the seven-inning standard for double header games was promoted both this year and last as somehow increasing player safety, the real motivation is Manfred’s determination to speed up play.  That is a worthy goal, but his specific efforts have either nibbled at the margins, resulting in press releases heralding a decrease of four or five minutes in the average length of games as if that alone would win over millions of new fans, or they have cut to the core structure of the sport like this rule or the one placing a runner on second base in extra innings.

To be sure, the purists who object most strongly to changes like these would also be quick to point out that it’s impossible to know if Bumgarner’s no-no would have lasted for six more outs.  That was why the current rule was put in place in 1991.  Prior to that, once a game became official after four and one-half or five innings (depending on the score), a pitcher who had kept the opposition hitless was credited with a no-hitter even if play was stopped short of a regulation nine frames.  The 1991 change wiped thirty-eight no-hitters off the books.  Many of those were from the time when the Great Game was strictly a daylight pastime and contests were cut short by darkness or local curfews, but the list also included more recent no-hitters in games that were called by bad weather.  The not insignificant difference Sunday is that the shortening was by design – even if the players on both teams and the fans in the stands wanted to see if Bumgarner could record another six outs without surrendering a hit, it wouldn’t have been allowed. The game wasn’t stopped, it had been played to conclusion.

With three World Series rings and more than $120 million in career earnings by the time his current contract expires in three years, Bumgarner may not much care that Sunday’s outing won’t join the 307 others on MLB’s official no-hitter list.  After a decidedly rocky start to the season – his ERA was an unsightly 11.20 after his first three starts – he is no doubt just happy to have followed a good outing against the Nationals in his previous start with another strong performance.  The larger issue is the impact on the Great Game’s history and records of the many rule changes that have been recently implemented or are being considered.  For a sport that is intimately tied to its statistics, this is no small matter. 

In 2019 the Atlantic League agreed to become MLB’s laboratory for testing possible changes.  The pitch clock and three batter minimum for relievers, now in place at the major league level, began in the one-time independent minor league that is now, with MLB’s recent forced realignment of the minor league system, an official Partner League of Major League Baseball.  This year, in the second half of the Atlantic League’s season, the rubber on the pitching mound will be moved back a foot, to 61 feet 6 inches from home plate.  In an era of steadily increasing strikeouts, the intent is to allow hitters to put more balls in play.  On its face, that’s a desirable result.  But at the cost of severing the timeless connection to every hitting and pitching record in the Great Game’s long history?  One doesn’t have to be a purist, just a fan who has seen kids at Yankee Stadium marking scorecards after each play, to recognize that as folly.  Especially since a few more base knocks every nine innings will surely add four or five minutes to the average length of a game.


Responses

  1. Carlos Rodon. Perfect game less a HBP. Complete game needs to play out.

    A Purist

    p.s. I know that wasn’t your main point – just saying.


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