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Out of Left Field: Let Games End in Ties

Would it really be the end of the world?

Minute Maid Park by Eric Kilby is licensed under CC BY SA-2.0

Out of Left Field: Let Games End in Ties

Estimated Reading Time: 3 Minutes

Why aren’t there ties in baseball?

The rules state that, barring special circumstances, extra innings are to be played until a winner is found. No matter how long it takes.

And that, to me, leads to a more interesting way to frame this question. Instead of wondering why we don’t allow games to end in a tie, think of it this way.

Why DO we allow games to go on forever?

They don’t do so in other professional leagues around the world. In Japan and South Korea, a game that is tied after 12 innings stays that way. No staying up-until the wee hours, no depletion of bullpens. Pack it up, and take the field again tomorrow.

Now, some baseball traditionalists may think the answer to this question is simple. It’s always been that way. There’s no such thing as a tie in baseball. Fair. There has never been a formal structure in place for allowing tie games. But continuing to do something indefinitely just because “that’s how it has always been done” isn’t a reason. It’s simply a failure to truly consider the alternative.

I have also come across the mindset of “well, why worry about making rules about ties since barely any games go to extra innings anyways”. And that is also fair. In 2019, less than 9% of over 2,400 MLB games required extra innings. Only 56 (less than 3%) reached the 12th inning. Obviously, the amount of games that go more than 3 extra innings without a winner is negligible in the grand scheme of things. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the issue entirely.

Baseball has had a real problem in recent years of not making swift improvements to the product where it can.

Pace of play being at the forefront. Games take over 3 hours already, and they play 162 of them. Is there really a need to make game 36 of 162 go 15 innings? Do fans really care all that much about watching their team use their last bullpen arm at 2 a.m. on a Monday night in May? Or can we trim the fat a bit, and put less strain on the players and the product by letting the game just end in a tie after, say, the 11th inning. And it could even be introduced as part of a package deal of changes to the extra innings format, like the runner on second base (perhaps an issue for another day).

As for how to handle ties in the standings, just do what the NFL does. Rank teams by their win percentage, using a tie as half a win and half a loss in the calculation. Or, use some other method. Whatever. It’s not that hard to figure out. Football lives with ties. The NHL had no problem with it, until they found an entertaining, brief, and standardized way to handle overtime. A progressive and elegant solution to something fans may not have seen as an issue with the game to begin with (hint, hint, MLB).

This sounds like such a minor problem with the sport, and it really is. But, apparently, the only reason not to do it is because it’s such small potatoes. Is there a more concrete reason out there why ties are bad? If not, then it’s further proof why ties need to be implemented. Even if it only affects a handful of games a year. If it can tighten up the on-field product, even by half of 1%, baseball should do it. That’s 50 more games a season without spot-starters, tired players, messed up travel schedules, and ruined bullpens. Why risk the quality of a second game for the sake of one that just won’t end?

If you have an answer to that question, I’m all ears.

Ryan Kelly lives in Cambridge, MA, a stone's throw away from his beloved Boston teams. When he is not working as an editorial assistant, he is providing commentary on the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins for The Turf.

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