The mercy rule is a part of many sports, including baseball. There are many variations of the rule, which might be confusing for someone unfamiliar with it.
So, what is the mercy rule in baseball?
The mercy rule in baseball ends a game early when one team is winning by a significant number of runs, usually 10 or 15, after a certain number of innings. The mercy rule goes into effect to keep teams from continuing to play when there is little chance for the losing team to come back.
This article explains why there is a mercy rule, what the 10 run rule is, and whether or not the mercy rule exists at the different levels of baseball. If you want to learn more about the mercy rule, we encourage you to keep reading.
What Is the Purpose of a Mercy Rule?
Mercy rules in sports are meant to keep games from continuing when one team has a significant lead over the other.
Mercy rules are often implemented in baseball and softball leagues because innings can last forever. The batting team can continue to score without a time clock or other limit if the defense can’t get outs.
When one team continues to score, and the other team can’t get enough outs to end an inning, it can be hard for the losing team to continue playing and end up losing by even more. So, a mercy rule ends a game or inning, so neither team has to continue playing with the outcome all but decided.
Mercy rules are usually in place after one team leads by 10 or more runs and usually after a certain number of innings. Late in the game, when one team’s lead is so significant, there is little opportunity for the other team to come back, so the game is essentially over.
Another reason for mercy rules, especially in leagues with young kids, is to keep the players from getting too down on themselves. Losing can be disappointing. If they have to stay on the field and keep playing as the other team keeps scoring, they can lose interest in baseball or lose confidence in themselves.
What Is the 10 Run Rule in Baseball?
The 10 run rule is one of the most common mercy rules across all levels of baseball. When a league or game has a 10 run rule in effect, the game ends early when one team is winning by 10 or more runs after a certain number of innings.
The 10 rule usually starts at the 5th inning for six or seven-inning games or the 7th inning for nine-inning games. So, suppose one team is up 10 – 0 after the first inning. In that case, the game will continue until a later inning in which the 10 rule goes into effect, then the game will end, assuming the lead stays the same or increases.
When the home team is winning when the 10 run rule is in effect, the bottom half of the inning doesn’t need to be played. For example, if the home team is winning 13-2 in the middle of the 5th inning when the 10 run rule is in effect, the game is over because there is no reason for the home team to bat again.
The 10 run rule is the most common form of the mercy rule in baseball, but leagues sometimes implement a 15 run mercy rule instead. It is the exact same ruling, except the winning team needs to be up by 15 runs instead of 10 for the game to end early.
Depending on the league, the mercy rule might only be in effect for part of the game, like the last few innings. Usually, in Little League games, the mercy rule will start sooner or be in effect for the whole game. As the age of the players goes up, like in high school, the mercy rule might only be in effect for certain innings.
Mercy rules usually start later in a game, like in the second half or the last few innings. When one team is winning by many runs early in the game, the other team still has time to catch up. But, if there are only one or two innings left, the chances of them coming back from a large deficit are small.
Is there a Mercy Rule in Major League Baseball?
There isn’t a mercy rule in Major League Baseball. At such a high level of baseball, where there are so many players, it’s expected that these players can get out of innings and not have innings that last forever.
And part of the reason for a mercy rule is to avoid embarrassment and disappointment for the losing team. When the players are grown men getting paid thousands or millions of dollars, the embarrassment and disappointment is less significant.
But, just because there isn’t a mercy rule in the MLB doesn’t mean there never will be one. Later in the article, we’ll discuss if the MLB ever would implement a mercy rule.
Is there a Mercy Rule in College Baseball?
College baseball follows the 10 run mercy rule, but it isn’t in effect for every game. It needs to be set by the coaches or the league before the start of the game for it to be in effect.
Here is the mercy rule from the NCAA Rulebook:
By conference rule, or mutual consent of both coaches before the contest, a game may be stopped only after seven innings if one team is ahead by at least 10 runs.
Each team must play an equal number of innings unless shortened because the home team needs none or only part of its half of the final inning.
The coaches must agree to implement the 10 run rule at the beginning of a game, with the umpire present.
The only other time the rule is in effect is when there is another game scheduled for the same field right after the current one, and they need the game to end before the next one is scheduled to start. This situation is most common in tournaments when back-to-back games are being played. Any long games would delay the entire tournament.
Unless it is determined by the league or tournament rules, or the coaches agree to it ahead of the game, the 10-run rule isn’t in effect for NCAA games. There are no limits to the number of runs a team can win by.
Is there a Mercy Rule in Little League Baseball?
Little League Baseball has a mercy rule, but they prefer to use the term “run rule”, which helps keep games to a reasonable time while still allowing kids to play and learn.
The Little League Baseball mercy rule has two variations. The first is the 10 run rule described above, and the second is a 15 run rule. The 15 run rule works the same way as the 10 run rule, but one team needs to be up by 15 or more runs at a certain point in the game for it to end.
Here is the official Little League Rulebook:
If after three (3) innings [Intermediate (50-70) Division/Junior/Senior League: four innings], two and one-half innings [Intermediate (50-70) Division/Junior/Senior League: three and one-half innings] if the home team is ahead, one team has a lead of fifteen (15) runs or more, the manager of the team with the least runs shall concede the victory to the opponent.
If after four (4) innings [Intermediate (50/70) Division/Junior/Senior League: five innings], three and one-half innings [Intermediate (50/70) Division/Junior/Senior League: four and one-half innings] if the home team is ahead, one team has a lead of ten (10) runs or more, the manager of the team with the least runs shall concede the victory to the opponent.
NOTE: (1) If the visiting team has a lead of fifteen (15) or ten (10) runs or more respectively, the home team must bat in its half of the inning. (2) The local league may adopt the option of not utilizing this rule.
An alternative to the 10 or 15 run rule, which is common in some community Little Leagues, is a run limit for each inning.
For example, a baseball game with elementary school-aged players may have a five-run limit in each inning. Since these kids are still learning how to play the game, and the games tend to move at a slower pace, run limits in each inning keep the game moving and help their teams get in a full game in the allotted time.
Whether a league uses a 10 run rule, a 15 run rule, or a run limit for each inning, there is a minimum number of innings that they must play for a game to be considered complete.
Games can end halfway through an inning or after a full inning, depending on which team is winning.
Little League Baseball explains the three ways in which a game can end when the mercy rule goes into effect:
Once a game is “official” (3 ½ innings for Major Division, and below; or 4 ½ innings for Intermediate (50/70) Baseball Division, Junior League, and Senior League) it can end by way of the 10-run rule in any of these ways:
- If the visiting team’s lead reaches 10 runs in the top half of inning, and the home team fails to score during its turn at-bat in the bottom of the same inning of an official game.
- If the home team establishes a 10-run lead (in the bottom of the inning) of an official game.
- When the home team takes a lead of 10 runs, the game ends immediately after the run that establishes the double-digit lead is scored, regardless of how many other runs may have scored on the play; or the number of outs there are in the inning. Note: If runners are on base when a walk-off home run is hit to end the game (by way of the 10-run rule), all of the runs count toward the final score.
Is there a Mercy Rule in High School Baseball?
Yes, high school baseball has a mercy rule. The rule varies between states since each high school sports association has its own rules. Still, they generally follow a variation of the 10 and 15 run rules.
The 15 run rule goes into effect after four innings, then the 10 run rule is in effect after five innings. If the home team is winning with one of the run rules in effect, they don’t need to play the bottom half of the inning.
Would MLB Ever Implement a Mercy Rule?
There hasn’t been any discussion by the league to implement a mercy rule in the MLB. Even with a 10 run rule, there would be so few MLB games where a mercy rule would take effect that there isn’t much reason for one.
But, that doesn’t mean a mercy rule hasn’t been discussed by anyone in MLB.
Aaron Boone, who started as the Yankees manager in 2018, is a proponent of the mercy rule in the MLB. Boone advocated for the rule in talks with the media in August 2019 and May 2021. Both discussions came after games where a position player was put on the pitcher’s mound late in a game when one team was winning by more than 10 runs.
So, while a mercy rule isn’t in the MLB’s near future, never say never.