Around the time that robot umpires were brought in to help officiate the Atlantic League All-Star Game, Major League Baseball and the independent league’s front office decided to tack on a few more rules to experiment with for the second half of the season. Among them included an expansion on the current dropped third strike rule in the majors, which now allows batters to try and steal first if a pitch is not “caught in flight” by the catcher.
On Saturday, Tony Thomas, an outfielder for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, became the first person to actually use this new rule, and the first player in baseball history to successfully steal first base. On the second pitch of his plate appearance, the ball flew right past the Lancaster Barnstormers’ catcher for what normally would have been a 1-1 count. After a couple seconds of inaction between the two players, something appeared to suddenly click in Thomas’s head that reminded him of this rule change—likely a teammate or coach yelling at him. With the ball rolling all the way to the backstop, the catcher was unable to get to the ball before Thomas made it to first safely.
The rule on its own seems fine, but it’s hard to have faith in any rule changes that stem from the office of someone who fundamentally does not seem to enjoy baseball. It’s also kind of shitty that this sizable change to the sport was made in the middle of a season, and uses players who aren’t even at the highest level of the sport as guinea pigs—especially the catchers, who suddenly have to improve on an athletic skillset that will only really be needed in this specific league.
But those issues ultimately don’t matter a whole lot to Rob Manfred, who just wants to see if any of this shit sticks to the wall, and if adding this change will finally get Mookie Betts to be in more commercials, or something. Baseball fans might as well start preparing themselves to see this happen in a World Series in a few years.