September 29, 2016, marked a cool and damp evening in Pittsburgh. PNC Park was sparsely populated for game No. 159 of the regular season, the final Pirates’ home game of the campaign.
The hosts had little to play for, having been eliminated from postseason contention, failing to make the playoffs after three consecutive trips to the postseason. The visiting Cubs had already secured a playoff spot and the best record in the NL.
I sensed many, including those in the press box, were ready for the season to end. Then the rains came. The tarp was deployed. Western Pa. was soaked by more than an inch of rain.
In the sixth inning of a 1-1 tie, the umpires decided they had see enough regular-season baseball in Pittsburgh in 2016. They sent everyone home with baseball’s first tie game since 2005. I was there as a witness, recounting the events for what turned out to be the last game story I wrote as a beat reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
I am revisiting this history today because of the Jeff Passan’s report from Wednesday that revealed the league’s plans to experiment with some radical extra-inning practices at the lower-levels of the minor leagues this season — notably, beginning extra innings with a runner on second base. The goal is to avoid ridiculously long games that tax everyone, most notably young arms. And the experiment could eventually lead to implementation at the major-league level.
Predictably, the news was met with snark as you can observe through Twitter comments..
If you care for my opinion, I am not a proponent of overtime or extra-innings play deviating from how the game is played and structured during regulation. As entertaining as the college-football overtime can be, the punting game is eliminated along with deep vertical passing. It’s not the same game that’s played in regulation. (Although, as the Atlanta Falcons can attest, the college game has the benefit of allowing both teams to possess the football.)
So, like many, I do not care for the idea of artificially placing a man on second to began an inning to hasten the end of a game. However, I do appreciate the willingness of Joe Torre and company to take a creative approach in addressing what they view to be a problem. Said Torre to Yahoo!:
“Let’s see what it looks like,” said Joe Torre, the longtime major league manager who’s now MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer and a strong proponent of the testing. “It’s not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing a utility infielder in to pitch. As much as it’s nice to talk about being at an 18-inning game, it takes time.”
In an era when bullpens are more specialized, when we’re more concerned about wear and tear on elbows and arms, considering a change to the extra-innings format is rational and logical.
What good does wearing down a pitching staff do for the individuals involved or the teams? (Particularly the losing team.) And while it might be fun to boast about sitting through an 18-inning game, recent personal experience as a beat reporter suggests that most fans don’t stick around. (And beer sales end after the seventh inning, right?) It’s more enjoyable to flip to the 16th inning of the game from your sofa and watch the curiosity that is a position player being summoned to pitch due to a depleted bench and bullpen. Someone like Travis Snider coming in to strike out Joey Votto.
(OK, OK, that wasn’t an extra-inning game, but it was a game played after the Pirates had gone to extra innings in two of their previous four games… and it’s Travis Snider striking out Joey Votto.)
So many, it seems, did not care for the proposal reported by Yahoo! Well, here’s another proposal many will likely find repugnant but that carries some logic: why not have more games end in ties? Instead of having ties in baseball once a decade, why not a handful of times per year? Beyond tradition, beyond the prospect of occasionally failing to name a winner and loser for the day, what are the drawbacks?
After, say, 12 innings are played and teams are still even, declaring a game a tie seems like a reasonable option. Because there are so many games played, a regular-season baseball game is the least scarce commodity among its pro sports contemporaries. MLB plays twice as many games as the NHL, which has long embraced ties and now rewards overtime losses. College football long had ties and the NFL has its occasional tie game, despite the relative scarcity of games played. With European soccer becoming more mainstream in the U.S., perhaps the idea of a game ending in a tie is not so antithetical to the American spirit as it once was.
The idea of crying or tie games in baseball seems abhorrent to many, I’m sure. But if you were drawing up baseball from scratch today, I don’t think the creators would include the potential for an infinite number of innings in a game.
The game has changed so much. Pitchers are expensive and fragile, bullpens more specialized. I don’t believe any manager loves exhausting his staff in a 13-plus-inning affair and how it can affect a club the next day or next series. Few fans are willing to sit through the entirety of such a game. And by the 10th inning, every sports writer just wants to go home or back to his or her hotel room.
I’ve seen an MLB game declared a tie, and I have to tell you: it wasn’t so bad. And ending a game with no winner might be preferable to artificially trying to hasten the process of creating one.