Due to the coronavirus, several European leagues played games of seven innings instead of nine. The Belgian Baseball Gold League was one of them. Also the Italian Serie A1 played seven innings. But with the latter, there was more behind this decision.
At the start of the 2020 season in Italy, there was a video conference with all Serie A1 clubs and the FIBS (Italian Baseball and Softball Federation) in which was decided that seven innings would be played instead of nine. It was also decided that after the season, there would be an evaluation about playing seven innings. Since the World Baseball and Softball Confederation has decided that from the Olympic Games, all international baseball games will be played in seven innings. The main reasoning behind this decision is to make the sport a more attractive sport for the Olympics. So in fact, the Serie A1 is adapting to the whims of the WBSC.
Through the ages, baseball has always been subject to change. How many times did they change the height of the mound? Didn’t they change the rule that a walk counted as a base hit? This season, MLB even introduced the dreaded tie-breaker rule (because of the coronavirus). But don’t be surprised if the governing body of professional baseball in the US, will uphold the rule next year. In the past 5-10 years, MLB has tried everything to speed up the game in order to keep the fans interested. Many Millennials are not interested in the game anymore because it takes too long. Those “fans” are attracted by other sports like soccer or basketball because those sports are played by the hour. And of course, with baseball you can never tell how long a game will last.
So with Italy likely moving towards seven-inning games, the Netherlands seems not so keen to embrace shorter baseball games yet. When yours truly asked the press spokesman of the KNBSB (Royal Dutch Baseball and Softball Federation), he told that the issue will not be on the agenda of the upcoming “hoofdklasse overleg” (hoofdklasse meeting). But of course that doesn’t mean that it won’t be an issue in the coming years.
As a baseball purist, I loathe the idea of watching seven-inning baseball games. If I want to watch a seven-inning game, I will head to a softball field.
But when seven-inning games would be introduced in the Netherlands, there may stick one big advantage to the idea. With games of seven innings, the whole approach of the game will change. You need less pitchers and I guess that you will need less roster spots in general. So the 20/21-man rosters can be reduced dramatically, perhaps even to 15 spots. This would mean that 6-7 players will be obsolete. Assuming that these players will head to other hoofdklasse clubs, the level of play may improve.
So evaluating the pros and cons of seven-inning games, you can conclude there likely is only one pro (the improvement of the level of play). In fact the cons aren’t real arguments, they are more a feeling of disgust of the change of something we are used to and think should stay like it is.
To be honest I would not know a proper reason not to turn to seven innings. Saying that baseball games have always lasted nine innings is not an argument. As written above, baseball has always been subject to change. Perhaps the only valid argument against seven-inning ballgames is that you don’t mess with baseball tradition. But I must admit that it is a very bleak one.
Nevertheless, I hope they will never turn to seven-inning games in the Netherlands. I even hope that when Riccardo Fraccari will step back as president of the WBSC, the silly rule will be turned back and international games will be nine-inning games again. Why should we mutilate our beautiful game to please the IOC? Baseball as an Olympic Sport will always be stillborn as long as the best players will not participate. But that is a different discussion.
[EDIT] It was announced by the KNBSB through an e-mail that in the derde klasse (a sixth-tier league) there be seven-inning games in 2021. Sure we are talking about recreational baseball here but perhaps a seven-inning game hoofdklasse is closer than we think.