Jan. 1, 2021
During a meeting conducted remotely on Dec. 9, the National Rules Committee changed the penalty for erasing batter box lines, expanded the mercy rule to all divisions, made equalizers optional and capped championship games at 80 minutes plus an open inning.
In addition to tweaking two more rules, the committee voted to table several requests involving the number of under-age players allowed on rosters until staff could survey managers of the affected divisions.
“Some of the under-age player recommendations could have a cascading effect on multiple age divisions,” Committee Chairwoman Donna McGuire said. “We felt it wise to gather input from managers before proceeding.”
Most of those recommendations called for tweaking the number of such players allowed on rosters in the 70+, 80+ or 85+ divisions. Another player suggested changing age brackets starting at the 70+ level from five-year increments to four-year increments with no under-age players allowed. That would mean divisions of 70+, 74+, 78+, 82+ and possibly 86+. The committee will revisit these suggestions after getting input on how each potential rule would impact roster-building.
Changes approved for 2021:
Erasing the batter’s box: A two-step penalty has been implemented for intentionally erasing any portion of the batter’s box. Previously, the act resulted in an ejection. Going forward, it will be an out for the first offense and an inning-ending out for the second offense involving the same team in the same game. If the person who erases the box (such as a manager or a catcher) is not due to bat next, the next batter for that team will be declared out.
Mercy rule: Previously, only Major Plus divisions aged 40+ through 70+ had a mercy rule. That rule remains the same (15 runs after five innings, or 22 runs after four innings). Now, the AA, AAA and Major divisions and older Major Plus divisions will have a mercy rule of 15 runs after five innings or 20 runs after four innings.
Equalizers: Teams once again may waive receipt of an equalizer, which allows them to have a coin flip to determine home team. (Equalizers were mandatory last year.)
Championship game times: For the first time, championship games will have an 80-minute time limit (plus the open inning). The reasoning: Some championship games have lasted more than two hours. With an 80-minute time limit, teams that hustle still should be able to play a full seven innings.
Obstruction: Defenders no longer can block a base legally while waiting on a throw to arrive. Now, to avoid being called for obstruction for impeding a runner legally running the bases, a defender must have possession of the ball or be in the act of fielding a batted ball. This should help reduce collisions at the bases.
U.S. National Championship games and World Masters seeding: A little background here: Teams that win their divisions in the Eastern Nationals or Western Nationals earn the right to play for the U.S. National Championship in pool play during the World Masters in Las Vegas. The winner of that game earns the No. 1 seed at the World Masters, and the loser is the No. 2 seed. However, if an Eastern champion or Western champion had no opponent to play for the National Championship, that team previously had to earn its seeding traditionally during pool play. To reward teams for playing in and winning the Easterns or Westerns, a team with no opponent for the U.S. National Championship will automatically be seeded No. 2 unless the team earns the No. 1 seed through pool play.
The committee also considered, but did not approve, recommendations for using pitching screens in the 80+ and 85+ divisions; moving the strike zone mat backward; having teams flip a coin for home and visitor in games involving equalizers; tweaking equalizer scoring rules; prohibiting walks in 65+ and older age divisions; and a change to neighboring state rules.