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What If There Were an XFL-Style League, but for Baseball?

Welcome to the XLB, where there’s no shifting allowed and fan interference is encouraged

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

This week, during a quiet Wednesday afternoon, Chris Ryan, The Ringer’s intrepid executive editor, dropped a seemingly simple question into the site’s MLB Slack: “How successful would an XFL for MLB be?” The question immediately sent the channel into a frenzy, with writers and editors pitching ideas that ranged from thoughtful and practical to a proposal for legal kidnapping. Following Bryce Harper’s lead, we collected some of our favorite suggestions and fashioned them into the proposal below: Here’s our fledgling XLB Constitution.

No Shifts Allowed

Craig Gaines: The XLB (good as a sporting endeavor, better as a dumpling) is all about discarding the bad and accentuating the good within baseball. No tenet of the league charter will achieve that end so elegantly as banning the shift. We’re not doing this to increase scoring (that’ll come about because of our proprietary zero-G sixth innings, when moon shots are real possibilities!), but rather to restore the game to its classical aesthetic perfection. As the ancient Greeks would have told you, beauty begins with symmetry, and the shift ain’t symmetrical. Look at how cold and barren the left side of the infield is rendered in this Dodgers-Padres game — in extra innings, no less! When the game should be at its most perfect! And if you’re worried that this rule will be enforced via stodgy means, never fear. The XLB has four words for you: strategically placed lava pits.

One Pitcher Per Team, Per Season

Ryan O’Hanlon: Ban firemen. Your local engine company provides a vital civic service, but the best baseball is the kind that is cleansed by the inferno of a flop-sweaty pitcher who can’t get out of his own way. Cleveland’s Andrew Miller led us into the era of the “situational closer,” where analytically-inclined managers now insert their best relievers during the game’s highest-leverage moments rather than waiting for the ninth inning out of some previously undying sense of fealty to the days of Dennis Eckersley. It’s an enlightened and dynamic way of thinking about the game, sure, but 2018 called and it turns out unchecked progress wasn’t the greatest idea. Do you really want to see every failed starter—every Luke and Archie and Tommy—jog out from the bullpen, max out their arm for 12 pitches, snuff out a rally, and then spend the rest of the game lacquering the dugout floor with tobacco juice? No, you want to see Clayton Kershaw open the game and you want to see him close it. You want to see Noah Syndergaard try to throw 100 miles an hour in the ninth inning. And you want to see this every time you turn on a baseball game. With one pitcher per team, they’re all immediately elevated to the level of NFL starter; only a handful of people on this planet are worthy of this job. And you, our beloved fan, won’t have to worry about buying tickets to a Dodgers-Cubs game and getting stuck with five innings of Kenta Maeda vs. John Lackey. Your children—and your raccoons—must be protected.

All Bats Are Permitted, Except MLB-issue Wooden Bats

Danny Heifetz: The magic of baseball is that, unlike other sports, it isn’t limited by space or time. A game can theoretically go on forever. A home run can extend beyond the white lines and into the cosmos. Yet for all the power that baseball has to expand the imagination, players use the least interesting item possible to hit the ball: a wooden bat. Aluminum bats make balls go way, way farther—which for our purposes is synonymous with being way, way better—but the MLB uses wood specifically to limit how far a baseball can go.

That is nonsense. Fans want to see balls launched into the parking lot. In the XLB, it’s up to the players to figure out the way to do that. You want to use titanium bats? Tennis rackets? Sledgehammers? A platinum SpaceX bat with rocket boosters? The only limit is your imagination, and the only rule is it has to work (or fail in spectacular fashion).

Give Us Player-Managers

Chris Ryan: How about this: If managers are going to ruin the flow of the game with endless lefty-righty pitching changes, and OCD fielding shifts, and useless trips to the mound (candlesticks always make a nice gift), then you should have to reap what you sow. The XLB is no country for Joe Maddons. I honestly think Tony La Russa ruined this sport because he thought everyone was tuning in to watch him play Battleship with another manager. No, my guy: I want to watch dudes mash homers and spit sunflower seeds and slide head-first into every base.

I want to see my manager in the on-deck circle. I want egotistical, cerebral, but athletically fading middle-aged men making decisions that benefit their massive egos rather than the team. Pete Rose is our patron saint, and Barry Bonds would be the no. 1 managerial prospect.

Fan Interference Is Permitted and Encouraged

Claire McNear: The thing about fan interference is that actually, it’s good. In this league, it’s not just encouraged but, given the extent of the encouragements, probably necessary if you’d like your team to win.

Some basics:

  • Traditional fan interference is completely legal in the XLB. If a fan manages to remove a ball in play from the field, that ball will be scored as a home run. (Defensive fan interference is also technically legal, but unlikely to be of much assistance.) However, if a fan attempts to interfere with a ball in play and fails (e.g., drops the ball back onto the field), the fielding team will be awarded the number of runs the batting team would have scored had the interference been successful.
  • If a fan catches an opposing player’s home run, that player must now join the fan’s team. (To avoid any resulting deterrence of home runs, strong consideration will be given to penalizing triples.) Foul balls will not be penalized; however, any fan who manages to use a same-game foul ball (color-coding the balls, à la Charlie Finley, is recommended to deter illicit beaning attempts) to strike the pitcher on the mound will have his/her team awarded one run. Note: This means a fan may be awarded for striking his/her own team’s pitcher.
  • If a fan tackles a streaker (a) while that streaker is on the field and (b) after the streaker has completed no fewer than 20 continuous seconds of streaking, that fan’s team is awarded a run.
  • If a fan captures the league commissioner (Barry Bonds, if he ever tires of player-coaching), the fan becomes the new commissioner and may make any new rules he or she so desires. Like The Santa Clause.

Skee-Ball, but for Bunting

Megan Schuster: Topgolf, the arcade-like driving range currently located in 41 cities around the globe, was designed to make golf fun. It does this in a variety of ways (adding alcohol, loudspeakers, and swimming pools definitely helps), but what Topgolf is known for are its massive, in-ground targets. Players aim for those targets, receiving different amounts of points depending on where their ball lands and the distance it travels. It’s been so successful that the XLB is ripping off Topgolf’s model and applying it to a very bland aspect of baseball: bunting.

Instead of removing bunting completely, we’re adding a degree of difficulty to it by assigning point values to different areas of the field. Bunt the ball straight back at the pitcher and you’ll earn no points; land it dead at the feet of the catcher and you’ll earn a few; lining it straight toward the first or third baseman is the next tier; and placing it right in the middle of that unique triangle where the pitcher, the catcher, and the fielder all look at each other, dumbfounded, gets you a perfect score. It may not be a game full of moonshots, but try to tell me Skee-Ball Bunting doesn’t sound like fun.