Does the mercy rule protect athletes from injury, embarrassment?

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Does the mercy rule protect athletes from injury, embarrassment?


Does the mercy rule protect athletes from injury, embarrassment?


During a foul-weather spring in western New York when Mother Nature was often merciless, there were as many frozen toes as frozen ropes.

To many, baseball and softball games ending early because one team was clobbering the other wasn’t exactly an unwelcome sight.

This is the first season in which a “run rule,” or what is widely referred to as a “mercy rule,” is being used statewide in high school baseball. The New York State Public High School Athletic Association voted to add it, but it was up to each of the 12 sections and then each league to decide whether they wanted to use it. Section V voted it in, but not every league locally is using it.

Softball has had a 15-run rule for more than 20 years. A spokesman for the NYSPHSAA said it was likely added in the early 1990s.

So do area players, coaches and parents like having a run rule so they don’t embarrass their opponent? Or would they prefer to let games play out, giving the trailing team the chance to make a big comeback? Here’s what we found out:

So what’s the rule?

The NYSPHSAA’s “run rule” in baseball is on a two-year trial period. Any game with a 10-run deficit after five innings ends, 4½ when the home team holds that type of lead.

Seven of the 10 area leagues are using it, including the Rochester City Athletic Conference. The Monroe County and Finger Lakes leagues, said no to it, and a handful of schools that play an independent schedule also voted against it. Athletic directors also had input on the decision. In non-league games, the home team’s league rules are followed.

For softball, the rule is different in only one way. The mercy rule margin is 15 runs after five at-bats.

Numbers game

Meaghan Keil wishes softball used a 10-run rule like baseball. The veteran softball coach from Webster Schroeder said 15 is too much.

“It’s borderline unsportsmanlike. Up 15 (runs) you’re already really beating up on somebody,” she said. “You might be able to come back from eight or nine runs, but 10 is fine and sometimes (coaches whose teams are ahead) really push it try to get a five-inning game.”

Parent Barbara Holmacher, whose daughter is a junior captain on Greece Athena’s softball team, agrees. “It’s almost a cruelty thing,” Holmacher said.

“Girls or boys are hard enough on themselves already and get in their own heads. Granted, (losing) is part of life and you’ve got to get over those tough times, but when you’re down by 15 it’s tough to keep going.”

NCAA softball uses an eight-run rule. When Schroeder played this spring in Florida, a 10-run rule was used. “Ten is perfect,” Keil said.

Josh Phillips, whose son Tyler is a first-year member of the Irondequoit baseball team, is not so sure.

“I’m a little divided by it,” Josh Phillips said. “Say you are the pitcher or the goalie, some kids can take it kind of rough, if they’ve been the focal point (of a lopsided game). There’s life lessons inside of that, but that can be an extreme.

“To a point, I don’t know how much more it makes sense to carry on past a certain inning, especially with pitch-count limits. It’s changed a lot of dynamics of the game, as far as how the game could have got to that point in the first place.”


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