Erasing Moments and Memories: Iconic Games Reconsidered with the Automatic Runner

This article was written by Francis Kinlaw

This article was published in Fall 2023 Baseball Research Journal

Harvey Haddix


In recent decades, rules in several professional sports have been revised with a goal of reducing the length of games or matches. Both pro and college football have changed their timekeeping rules repeatedly to shorten games. In hockey, five-minute overtime periods, often followed by shoot-outs, have become routine in non-playoff games. Tie-breakers are played in tennis. Most of these changes have occurred without significant controversy, but attempts to alter procedures in the tradition-bound sport of baseball have been met with strong criticism from many quarters.

A relatively new rule, the automatic placement of a runner on second base in extra innings, has affected strategy—as well as outcomes of games—since its adoption by Major League Baseball in 2020.1 The automatic runner’s introduction was initially opposed by many observers, and it remains a frequent subject of debate among players and fans. Detractors have called it a “gimmick” and argued that it contradicts the “timeless nature of the sport.”2

The rule has served its intended purpose of reducing the length of games and preventing numerous contests from extending into multiple extra innings. Unfortunately, those developments will come at a future cost since many of the sport’s most memorable games became memorable because results were delayed in coming.

Four games, each of which is considered a classic, stand as evidence that several extra innings can increase the “memory factor”:

  • Harvey Haddix’s 12 innings of pitching perfection against the Milwaukee Braves in 1959 that resulted in a heartbreaking defeat for the southpaw and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
  • A 22-inning marathon between the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers in 1962 decided by Jack Reed’s home run.
  • A 16-inning pitching duel in 1963 matching Warren Spahn of the Milwaukee Braves and Juan Marichal of the San Francisco Giants that was finally brought to an end by a Willie Mays blast.
  • The tense 12-inning Game Six of the 1975 World Series that concluded with the infamous “midnight homer” off the bat of Carlton Fisk.

By reviewing plays from each of these games, we can determine how significant placement of runners would have been in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. (Plays that occurred in inconsequential half-innings of the games will not be discussed.)

MAY 26, 1959

No individual performance in a regular-season game from the 1950s compares with that of Haddix, a solid but unsensational left-hander. He retired 36 consecutive Braves—and his streak of perfection would have been extended further if Pirates third baseman Don Hoak had not committed an error on an infield grounder by the Braves’ Felix Mantilla leading off the 13th inning. Hoak’s low throw to first baseman Rocky Nelson was followed by a successful sacrifice bunt by Eddie Mathews, an intentional walk to Henry Aaron, and an apparent game-winning home run by Joe Adcock that was reduced to a double because of a base-running mistake by Aaron. Haddix’s unfortunate and unique fate was viewed sympathetically throughout the baseball community.

How would this game have turned out if it had been played with runners placed on second base at the beginning of each extra inning? The answer: The Pirates would have secured a perfect game by Haddix with a winning tally in the top of the 10th frame after the Pirates’ Bob Skinner assumed the role of runner at second base, owing to his having made the last out in the ninth. Skinner would have been able to advance to third base when Bill Mazeroski hit a grounder to the right side of the infield and score on Hoak’s single to left field.

Even if Pittsburgh had not won the game in the 10th, the Bucs would have had another splendid opportunity to score a decisive run in the top of the 11th. An exception in the new rule allows the pitcher to avoid being the runner if he made the last out in the previous inning. The previous hitter can be used instead. Because Haddix had grounded out to end the 10th inning, he would have been able to conserve his energy as outfielder Joe Christopher trotted out to second base. Dick Schofield’s single to left might have enabled Christopher to cross the plate but, if not, the Pirates would have likely taken the lead when Bill Virdon subsequently hit into a force play at second base.

Then, under the modern rule, a third opportunity for victory would have come Pittsburgh’s way in the top of the 12th! Smokey Burgess (Haddix’ batterymate) would have been the runner on second base as the inning began. After Rocky Nelson hit a fly ball to Braves left fielder Wes Covington and Skinner lined out to first baseman Adcock, Mazeroski ripped a single to center field that could have brought Burgess home.

Following each of these offensive threats by his teammates, Haddix continued to retire every Milwaukee hitter in order.

So, without a doubt, the rule adopted more than six decades later would have prevented this game from becoming the extraordinary show that it is still considered to be.

But what about a seemingly endless game played on a Sunday afternoon (and early evening) three years later in Detroit?

JUNE 24, 1962

This game lasted exactly seven hours. The Tigers used 22 players in a losing effort, and 21 Bronx Bombers participated. Each team posted seven runs in the first nine innings of play and, since so many runs were being scored in a hitter-friendly ballpark, it seemed highly unlikely that several hours would pass before a conclusion was reached. But that is exactly what occurred.

Under the current rule, the Tigers could have nailed down a victory in the bottom of the 10th inning. With Chico Fernandez handling the running duty at second base, Mike Roarke reached on a throwing error by Yankees third baseman Clete Boyer. Even if Fernandez couldn’t have advanced to third on the error, he would have remained on the basepaths and scored the winning run on either a single to left by Steve Boros or one to right by Billy Bruton. Without a zombie runner, however, the game went on.

The modern rule would have eliminated 12 innings of memorable baseball, and all of the rallies that might have happened if those innings had included an automatic runner would have been impossible. But that’s no fun, so let’s take a look at them anyway. We’ll take a look at each half inning as if it started with the same leadoff hitter, ignoring any changes that might have resulted from the ghost-runner rule.

The Tigers would have certainly wrapped up a victory in the bottom half of the 11th stanza. Purnal Goldy would have been the runner on second when Rocky Colavito smashed a triple to deep center field.

In the top of the 13th, with Boyer, the eighth hitter in the Yankees batting order, taking the place of pitcher Tex Clevenger on second base, it would have been New York’s turn to take a lead. After Tom Tresh was called out on strikes, Bobby Richardson’s double to left field would have put his team ahead. The Tigers, however, might have responded when they came to bat in the bottom of the inning because it would have been their good fortune to have the fleet-footed Bruton on second base when Goldy hit a fly ball to center that was corralled by Roger Maris. If Bruton could have advanced to third on the putout (which is questionable), he would have scored when shortstop Tresh was unable to throw out Colavito on an infield hit.

There would have been more action—and possibly decisive scoring—in both halves of the 14th. Yogi Berra singled leading off the inning. John Blanchard, who would have been the ghost runner, was no speed merchant, but he might have been able to turn on the burners sufficiently to score. Even if he couldn’t, he would have scored from third when Bill Skowron hit into a force play at second base for the first out of the inning, or when Boyer flied to deep left field for the second.

But the Tigers would have responded with a third scoring opportunity in the bottom of the 14th. Dick McAuliffe would have been on second base when Dick Brown singled to center field. There can be little doubt that McAuliffe would have hustled home with a run that would have either tied the score or sent the fans to the stadium exits.

But most of the 35,368 spectators remained, and scoring opportunities continued to occur for both teams. In the top of the 15th inning with Boyer filling in for pitcher Bud Daley as the runner on second base, Tresh’s single to center field would have put the Yankees ahead. New York’s lead would have been short-lived, however, because the Tigers roared back upon returning to their dugout. Boros would have inherited second base and moved to third on Bruton’s grounder to first baseman Skowron. Boros would have presumably trotted home soon afterward when Colavito reached first safely on a groundball down the third-base line. The score would have been tied again, and at least one more extra inning would have been in store.

In the 16th, the Yankees’ Jack Reed would have been on second when Skowron singled to right field. Reed could have been expected to scramble home on Skowron’s hit, but if third-base coach Frank Crosetti had held him, Boyer would have broken the tie with another single to right. With Goldy fielding the ball since Al Kaline was out of action with a separated shoulder, Reed’s chances of scoring would have been enhanced.

In the 18th, Maris would have been the automatic runner when Berra singled to right field, and it can be assumed that Maris would have sped home and tilted the score in New York’s favor.

None of these hypothetical runs scored, though, so play continued …

In the top of the 19th, the Yankees would have again benefited from the current rule. Skowron would have been leading off of second base when Tresh singled to center field to give New York a run that would have eventually decided the game.

In the 21st frame, Blanchard would have been on second base when Boyer singled to right field, and it is conceivable that the Yanks would have grabbed the lead on Boyer’s hit.

The outcome of the game was finally determined for real in the top of the 22nd inning when Reed homered into the left-field stands. The fact that the round-tripper by Reed occurred with Maris on first base after being walked by Phil Regan invites mention of an incidental but inevitable consequence of the “2020 rule” that affects baseball statistics. The final score of the game was 9–7, but in more modern times Tresh would have been on second base, 90 feet ahead of Maris, and the final score would have likely been 10–7, assuming the Tigers didn’t score in the bottom of the 22nd. Furthermore, Reed would have been credited with three RBIs instead of two, and Tresh would have been credited with an additional run scored during the 1962 season. Regan’s earned-run average would not have increased since Tresh’s presence on second base was not due to Regan’s performance as a pitcher.

In summary, if a “Manfred Man” had been placed on second base at the beginning of each half-inning of this game, the Tigers would have scored in as many as five of the 12 extra innings preceding the 22nd (i.e., the 10th, 11th, 13th, 14th, and 15th) and the Yankees would have scored in seven of the innings (the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 18th, 19th, and 21st). Most significantly, when the influence of additional runners is merged with play-by-play accounts of the actual game, it becomes obvious that the Tigers would have won the “22-inning” game in the 10th!


Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal


JULY 2, 1963

This lengthy affair was remarkable in that two legendary hurlers (Spahn and Marichal) were both in top form. Their standoff on the mound remained scoreless until Mays homered with one out in the bottom of the 16th inning, four hours and 10 minutes after the first pitch. As in the previously cited games, however, the number of innings played would have been drastically reduced if the automatic-runner rule had existed—and each team would have been on the brink of victory much earlier in the evening.

The first such threat would have occurred in the bottom of the 10th with Orlando Cepeda of the Giants on second base. He would have advanced to third when Ed Bailey grounded into a second-to-first putout and then possibly scored on a bunt by Ernie Bowman. (Bowman bunted for a single in the “real” game.)

Another scoring opportunity for San Francisco would have occurred in the 11th inning with eighth-place hitter Chuck Hiller occupying second base while Marichal rested in the dugout. Harvey Kuenn led off by grounding to Braves shortstop Roy McMillan but, because Kuenn was extremely adept at hitting balls to the right side of the diamond, it should be assumed that he would have attempted to do so in order to advance Hiller. With Hiller on third, Mays’ fly ball to left would have produced the winning run.3

Milwaukee would have had its first chance for an overtime victory in the top of the 13th with McMillan leading off of second base. After Lee Maye hit a fly ball to right fielder Felipe Alou that might have enabled McMillan to tag up and go to third, Frank Bolling singled to right field for what would have likely been an RBI. But the Giants might have erased that advantage and tied the game in the bottom half of the inning when Bowman rapped a single with Bailey running from second.

As the game progressed, the Giants would have definitely put the game away in the bottom of the 14th when Kuenn doubled to center field with Hiller (again replacing Marichal) running from second base.

Finally, in the top of the 16th inning (the Braves’ last turn at bat prior to Mays’ decisive home run), Bolling flied out to Alou in right for the first out with automatic-runner Maye on second base. Regardless of whether Maye could have tagged up and reached third before the arrival of Alou’s throw, Dennis Menke’s subsequent single to left field could have produced a very significant run.

With automatic runners in this game, Milwaukee would have had two opportunities to score in extra innings (the 13th and 16th). San Francisco could have tallied four times (in the 10th, 11th, 13th, and 14th). But, because no one in the major league universe had yet dreamed of the modern rule’s creation, neither team broke the deadlock until Mays hit his home run.

As in the case of Jack Reed’s homer in the Yankees-Tigers game, several baseball records would have been affected by placement of an automatic runner on second base. Because Hiller would have been on the base paths when Mays took Spahn’s pitch deep, the final score would have been 2–0 rather than 1–0, assuming the Braves also had not scored their Manfred Man in the top of the inning. Mays would have been credited with two RBIs instead of one, and Hiller would have scored an additional run during the 1963 season. Spahn’s ERA would not have been revised for the same reason that Regan’s ERA would have been unaffected by the automatic runner in the Tigers-Yankees contest.

OCTOBER 21, 1975

Although Commissioner Rob Manfred has said that the sport’s traditional rules will continue to be applied in playoff and World Series games, it should be understood that flirtation with change could affect not only results of individual games but also the determination of championships.

With three victories in the first five games of the 1975 Fall Classic, the Cincinnati Reds were one win away from closing the door on a strong Boston club. The Red Sox and much of New England firmly believed that a comeback was still possible with Game Six and Game Seven (if necessary) scheduled to be played in Fenway Park. The Boston franchise ultimately fell short of its long-sought goal in an unforgettable seven-game series, but a review of critical plays in the sixth game reveals that the Big Red Machine would have closed out their eventual Series victory one night earlier if zombie runners had been employed in the mid-1970s.

In that sixth game, the two teams were locked in a 6–6 tie after playing nine innings of perhaps the most entertaining baseball ever seen in postseason competition. If automatic runner Tony Perez had been placed on second base in the top of the 10th inning after making the final out in the ninth, the Reds would have likely taken a lead on a single to center field by Davey Concepcion. After the Red Sox were retired in a routine manner in the bottom of the 10th, southern Ohio would have erupted into a state of celebration. (Six consecutive BoSox hitters were retired in the 10th and 11th innings preceding Fisk’s game-winning blast off the left-field foul pole.)

In the unlikely event that Perez would have stumbled on the basepaths in the 10th inning and been tagged out, the Reds would have gained another advantage two innings later. Speedy Joe Morgan would have been stationed on second base in the top of the 12th, and with one out he would have darted home on Perez’s single through the middle of the infield. (Even if Morgan had somehow not scored on Perez’s single, he would have strolled home when George Foster subsequently blooped a single to left.)

Therefore, if the automatic-runner rule had been in effect at the time, Cincinnati would have almost certainly scored a critical run in the 10th inning of Game Six, the most memorable moment of Fisk’s career would never have occurred, and a nerve-racking Game Seven would never have been played!


Although people in the baseball industry and fans of the sport have expressed differing opinions about this controversial rule, it was unanimously adopted on a permanent basis in February 2023 by a Major League Baseball joint competition committee consisting of six management officials, four players union representatives, and one umpire.4 This retrospective glance at a quartet of celebrated games indicates clearly, however, that the potential effects of automatic runners on results of games and entire seasons cannot be overstated. Furthermore, such a determination should raise a logical question in the minds of today’s thoughtful fans: If amazing moments such as these could have been eliminated by the rule change, what memorable moments will we be deprived of in the future? 

FRANCIS KINLAW has been a member of SABR since 1983. He resides in Greensboro, North Carolina, and has contributed numerous articles to the BRJ, The National Pastime, Turnstyle, and several other SABR publications. In the years before automatic runners became deciding factors in major-league baseball, he spent hundreds of hours watching or listening to broadcasts of long extra-inning games.



The Sporting News: June 3, 1959, 5.

The Sporting News: July 7, 1962, 11.

The Sporting News: July 13, 1963, 40.



1 MLB’s rulebook does not assign a new term to the automatic runner, but in common parlance this player is often referred to as the “ghost” runner or “zombie runner,” as well as the “Manfred Man”—a reference both to the commissioner of baseball and South African keyboardist Manfred Mann—with two n’s—of the eponymous rock bands Manfred Mann and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. SABR does not use the term “ghost runner” as that term already refers to something else: in sandlot baseball a “ghost runner” is an imaginary runner placed on base when the real baserunner has to leave the base for some reason, such as taking a turn at bat when there are not enough players per team (as when playing three-on-three), or when one’s parents have declared it is suppertime, etc. See “New Rules, Features, Protocols for 2020 MLB Season,”

2 Evan Drellich and Eno Sarris, “MLB Makes Extra-Inning Ghost-Runner Rule Permanent, Per Sources: How Has It Changed the Game?” The Athletic, February 13, 2023,; Mike Axisa, “MLB debuts new extra innings rule: Shohei Ohtani makes history, but A’s walk off on grand slam home run,” CBS Sports, July 25, 2020,; Joe Rivera, “MLB Rule Changes for 2022: Why Controversial Extra-Inning Ghost Runner Is Sticking Around (For Now),” The Sporting News, March 23, 2022,

3 Dale Voiss, “Harvey Kuenn,” SABR BioProject,; Jack Lang, “National League Manager Confidential Player Ratings,” Sport, July 1963, 87.

4 Drellich and Sarris, “Ghost-Runner Rule Permanent;” Axisa, “MLB Debuts New Extra-Innings Rule;” Rivera, “MLB Rule Changes for 2022;” Ronald Blum, “Ghost Runner in Extra Innings Made Permanent by MLB,” Associated Press, February 13, 2023,