Eleven years ago next month, WWE founder Vince McMahon’s XFL kicked off its first and only season with Las Vegas Outlaws safety Jamel Williams lined up on the opposite side of a 100-yard field from Orlando Rage safety Hassan Shamsid-Deen, poised to make the very first play in the history of the rogue football league.
Perhaps “kicked off” is a bit of a misnomer here — after all, the XFL famously eschewed coin tosses in favor of an opening scramble to determine who got to choose posession, wherein the ball was placed at mid field and two players raced to get to it first. Williams would wind up winning that first opening scramble and Shamsid-Deen would wind up being out for the season after separating his shoulder.
14 million viewers tuned in on NBC that night to see the goings on at Las Vegas’s Sam Boyd Stadium, and all were treated to a brand of football that wasn’t so much extreme as it was mediocre, with rosters considering of NFL washouts and players too good for the Arena Football League but not good enough for the NFL or CFL.
However, it was different if nothing else. Teams only played at outdoor stadiums with natural grass surfaces. Rosters were smaller, all franchises were owned by the league (which was co-owned by NBC), PAT kicks and fair catches were banned. Oh, and players wore nicknames on the back of their jerseys, which is about the only reason why anyone talks about Rod “He Hate Me” Smart anymore.
While the end product wasn’t a success, with the ill-fated league only lasting a single season, it was interesting. And it got us to thinking — what would an XBL look like?
Catchers guard home plate — A base runner crashing into a catcher on a play at the plate to try and score is one of the most exciting plays in baseball. In our imaginary XBL, catchers would be allowed to guard home plate at all times, American Gladiators-style, to prevent a runner from scoring. This would result in more of those collisions and would also place a premium on catchers who are just plain mean. In other words, AJ Pierzynski would be a first round pick in any imaginary XBL draft because…well because he’s kind of a dick and would probably be pretty good at blocking the plate.
Games limited to 2 1/2 hours — There is no conceivable reason why it should take grown men four hours to play nine innings of baseball. None. In the XBL, games would be held to a strict 2 1/2 hour time limit. Whoever was leading after 2 1/2 horus would be declared the winner, regardless of what inning the game was in and who was batting. Basically, some Red Sox-Yankees games would end after 5 1/2 innings. Speaking of timing…
An enforced 15-second pitch clock — (Ed. note: Charlie Saponara pointed out there’s already a 12-second pitch clock in the comments. Whoops.) In an effort to cut down on wasted time, pitchers would have fifteen seconds to throw the ball. This would mean a lot more pre-game preparation to ensure that pitchers and catchers were on the same page in terms of the game plan. If you exceed the 15-second pitch count, a ball would automatically be called.
One timeout per batter, per game — Instead of giving batters the freedom to step out of the box to adjust their junk whenever they choose, take a page from hockey’s rulebook and limit them to one timeout per game. For every time they try to exceed this, a one strike penalty would be enforced.
Defensive players in the stands — Sluggers hit a ball high and deep, thinking they’ve just put a couple of runs on the board with a long ball when all of a sudden…no, it couldn’t be, an outfielder on the other side of the fence makes an unbelievable home run saving grab. In the XBL, there would be two additional defensive players per team, neither of whom would bat, with one positioned in home run territory and the other positioned in foul territory. If they catch a ball on the fly in the stands, the batter is out.
Managers who choose to retaliate for a hit batsmen must face the consequences themselves — Think guys like Tony LaRussa would order to many retaliatory beanballs if they knew it meant they would have to face an opposing pitcher as a penalty for ordering them? In the XBL, we’d find out just how tough guys like LaRussa actually are when stepping into the box against a guy like Justin Verlander after having ordered Chris Carpenter to bean Miguel Cabrera in the previous inning.
Power plays — If a player commits a foul — say, charging the mound, intentionally throwing at an opposing player or any other litany of offenses — his team has to play a man short for a set number of innings instead of losing him for the entire game. Penalties would range from a two inning minor to a five-inning major, extending into the next game if the current one ends before the duration of the penalty is served. This would lead to some rather interesting infield and outfield alignments for teams who are playing with only 7 or 8 players. Also, if that player is scheduled to bat during the penalty, he would automatically be declared out.
Intentional walks are banned — Ah yes, the intentional walk…or as I fondly refer to it as, a copout. If a batter steps into the box, you’ve gotta face him. None of this four consecutive pitch out nonsense to put him on base. We’re paying you to get batters out, not put them on base without any effort on their end.
Upper deck home runs count for an extra run — This can be adjusted for distance in places like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, neither of which have an upper deck. Basketball players who hit shots from a certain distance are rewarded with an extra point, so there’s no reason why hitters should be rewarded for really getting into one and hitting it a certain distance. This would make games even more high scoring and give pitchers even less incentive to groove a pitch. Had this rule been implemented in the late 1980s, the Toronto Blue Jays would have given Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire roughly half the city to come to SkyDome and mash in the third deck on a full-time basis.
Play the game rain or shine — As a kid, there was no greater buzzkill than making the hour plus trek from my home in the Chicago suburbs to Wrigley only to have the game postponed on account of rain. It was an inconvenience for my dad having to take the day off of work to tote my sister and I to Wrigley as well. My philosophy — if football can be played in blinding snowstorms and driving rain, why can’t baseball? In the XBL, there would be no rainouts or even rain delays. Sure it might be a little sloppy but at least this way, if a fan bought a ticket to a game, they’d be guaranteed to see a game instead of having to make arrangements to come back to the stadium on a day when Mother Nature cooperates.
Certain elements of the old XFL would be incorporated into the XBL as well. Nicknames on the back of jerseys was a super cool concept that would work well in baseball, especially given the Brewers’ success selling merchandise branded with the name of Nyjer Morgan’s alter-ego Tony Plush. All teams would play in outdoor stadiums featuring grass playing surfaces the way they did in the game’s early days. Weather would be a factor because…well because it should be. Cameras and microphones would be present in the locker rooms for pregame meetings and during in-game dugout strategy sessions. Teams would have names that are unique on the major sports level. No more Giants and Rangers and Sox. Think more along the lines of the Chicago Outfit, Philly Cheesesteaks, the Los Angeles Paparazzi, names that are identifiable with each city but unlike any you’ve heard before.
Got any ideas for rules for our imaginary XBL? Leave ’em in the comments.