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Justin Turner's home run derby idea is already a smashing success in one league

Jorge Castillo, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Baseball

LOS ANGELES -- Last week, Justin Turner, the veteran Dodgers third baseman and proud descendant of the old school, did the unthinkable: He suggested Major League Baseball make a radical rule change.

That was the essence of the headlines when Turner said on television MLB should have a home run derby decide games tied after 10 innings and defended the idea on Twitter the next day.

Of course, he emphasized that the modification would be for only the 2020 regular season -- if there is a season -- because it probably would feature a condensed schedule with sparse off days and regular doubleheaders. Such a schedule would be daunting for pitchers. Add a 13-inning game here and there, and injuries could mount. Pitching staffs could be decimated.

That disclaimer was disregarded by some who found Turner's suggestion too extreme. A home run derby in a regular season game? Is this hockey and its penalty shootouts? Hard pass.

B.J. Neverett was in that dissenting camp 3 1/2 years ago. The former manager of the Nashua Silver Knights, one of seven teams in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, is a traditionalist. He loves the strategy within the game, and he welcomed the challenge of navigating extra innings. So when the FCBL owners instituted a rule after the 2016 season to have a home run derby decide regular-season games tied after the 10th inning, he wasn't thrilled.

"It was something that, when they first voted on it," Neverett said, "I was totally against it."

 

Neverett, the brother of Dodgers broadcaster Tim Neverett, stepped down as manager of the Silver Knights at the end of last season after eight years. Not because he hated the home run derby that much, but because the physical education teacher wanted summers off again. On the contrary, the home run derby grew on him. He found the event exciting -- except when he was throwing the pitches.

"I would get Steve Blass disease when I got out there to throw (in the) home run derby, where everyone is staring down your back and there's no cage behind the hitter," Neverett said. "I couldn't throw it over the plate. I froze right up."

Founded in 2010, the FCBL is a summer league designed to give New England college players a chance to play strong competition, a couple of rungs below the renowned Cape League down the road. The 56-game schedule begins Memorial Day and ends the first week of August. Teams have 35-man rosters. And to entice colleges into feeding them talent, they enforce strict pitcher usage rules to limit wear-and-tear on arms that had already amassed innings during the college season.

The 2016 season tested the limits. Clubs were crushed by long games that year. One team, the Pittsfield Suns, had a game stopped in the 16th inning, took a bus home, got back on a bus for another game the next day, and resumed the postponed game later in the season. That game ended up lasting 21 innings and their next game also went extra innings.

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