Major League Baseball has a thing against allowing tie games. But, if one sports writer is right, it is a bias that needs to be dumped in order to save the health of the players, especially pitchers.
A discussion about allowing games to end in a tie, instead of forcing teams to continue playing overtime innings, arose after last week’s marathon 16-inning game that ended with the New York Mets beating the Miami Marlins.
The length of the game brought New York Post sports writer Joel Sherman to a crossroads on the MLB’s refusal to allow for games to end in a tie. In Sherman’s mind, playing multiple overtime innings is simply not good for the players.
In his April 15 piece, Sherman described the though choices Mets manager Terry Collins was prepared to make, reporting that, “Josh Smoker threw three innings for the first time since returning to pro ball in 2015 after shoulder surgery. Hansel Robles worked a fourth straight day despite manager Terry Collins trying to do all he could not to use him. Had Robles said he was incapable of pitching again, Collins was prepared to have catcher Rene Rivera pitch and Zack Wheeler — who missed the past two seasons after Tommy John surgery — play first base.”
Along with several other entries reporting how the Marlins had to make some unusual fielding choices to give shagged-out players a rest, Sherman went on to note that the crowds had taken a major downward dip as the game ground onward.
“By the conclusion of the 5-hour, 38-minute game, there were a couple of hundred people at Marlins Park. So most of the paying audience — with a workday the next day — gave up,” Sherman noted ruefully.
All this made Sherman wonder if pushing to a win just to avoid a tie game is worth the effort.
“But my question is, beyond tradition, why are we putting players through these marathons?” he asked. “We know more than ever that performing at exhaustion levels increases the potential for injury. We know viewership — at the game and on TV — drops from peak the longer and longer a game goes.”
Sherman cites other reasons to dump the extra innings, time constraints being one. It has long been a problem in today’s hurly burly world that baseball games are already so darn long even with just nine innings. Sherman cites the stat that games are on average just over three hours long.
The writer also pointed out that some rule changes to allow ties after one or two extra innings are now being mulled for the minor leagues, so at least there is a trend for turning away from interminable games to allowing ties to stand in the stats.
The Post writer does make some excellent points. Extra inning games definitely put a strain on first stringers, no doubt. But, his point about the problems with game length is most valid. The league has been fighting the attention span problem for years, with many believing baseball is too long and boring. Worries that even regulation play is too lengthy have long been voiced.
So, what exactly is wrong with a tie game? Should MLB work so hard to avoid them? It is a question that seems to be on the verge of becoming a real discussion.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.