SBJ/August 5 - 11, 2002/Opinion

There should be tying in baseball

Judging from the reaction in the popular press and on sports-talk programs as commentators, columnists, editorials and callers lambasted the decision to let baseball's annual All-Star Game end in a tie after 11 innings, one would have thought that the sky had completely caved in on America's pastime.

"Embarrassing," "a travesty" and "a sad experience" were three of the nicer things said about the outcome. Commissioner Bud Selig promised changes so that this would never happen again.

Not only did Selig make the appropriate decision for that particular evening, however, but baseball — and its fans — would be far better served by a permanent rule change that required any regular-season contest to end after nine innings, even if the two teams were tied at that point.

Other sports cope nicely with individual games that do not produce winners. Tied contests are common in the National Hockey League and soccer; they occur on occasion in the National Football League; and in theory they can happen in track, swimming and, as we learned recently, in figure skating. In Japanese baseball, ties are a normal part of the game. Of course, such rules are modified for playoffs and championship series in football, hockey and soccer, and the same would hold true for the World Series.

While die-hard baseball fans and purists will protest anything, including the designated hitter, the World Series being held at night, and interleague play, the vast majority of folks in the stands and watching at home on television just want to relax with friends or family, enjoy a beer or two, and be entertained for a few hours. For them, winning or losing is not a life-or-death matter, especially once midnight approaches or the game appears not to have a clear finish line.

Baseball teams play 162 games a year, twice that of hockey and basketball, and more than in football by a factor of 10. So what if a few of them ended in a tie?

Quite simply, most things in life are subject to diminishing returns, including innings in baseball. Late-night contests that drag on and on pose travel problems for fans and dilemmas for families attending games with young children. The length of a normal baseball game, most of which are played on weekday (and school day) evenings, is already one of the sport's drawbacks; extra-inning games are rarely seen as buy-nine-get-two-more-for-free windfalls.

If everyone knew the rules of the game beforehand, which admittedly was not the case in Milwaukee, having the game end once each team recorded 27 outs is arguably preferable. That change would also produce new late-inning strategies for managers and create some tension and excitement both on the field and in the stands.

Movie reviews list the length in minutes for films. We may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but we can at least check the number of pages before we dive in. And on television we know how long a given program will last (with the exception of the Academy Awards, which suffers the same fate as extra-inning baseball games: rapidly declining audiences as the evening wears on).

With respect to the teams themselves, extra-inning games can disrupt travel schedules for either team and thus produce mediocre performances the following day or evening, wreak havoc with pitching staffs for several days, and are more likely to end with far fewer fans in the stands, lower-quality players on the field, and the outcome the result of a fluke rather than of skill or strategy.

All-star games in any of the professional leagues are more exhibitions, public relations events, and rewards for cities that have recently been duped into providing new publicly funded facilities than meaningful competitions, and they have all experienced declining television ratings in recent years. Viewership for the NFL's Pro Bowl is minuscule, and if the game were played in Kansas instead of Hawaii, few star players, and even fewer of their wives, would even show up for it.

Baseball has some serious financial and competitive balance issues to confront in the weeks and months ahead, but how to ensure that its All-Star Game never again ends with a tie score is not one of them. Fans and commentators should follow the implicit advice of the commissioner's wife: She went home after the ninth inning.

Allen R. Sanderson teaches economics, including a course on the economics of sports, at the University of Chicago.

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