We don’t know if any Major League Baseball games are going to be played in 2020, nor what tweaks we’ll see to the standard framework of a game if play does resume. To recap some of the ideas have been publicly floated, teams could potentially end up playing the entire season at MLB stadiums and Spring Training parks in Arizona and Florida, regularly playing at least one doubleheader per week in order to fit as many games as possible into a truncated schedule. We already heard last month that the league was planning to allow 29-man rosters for at least the start of a shortened season, and it could very well be the case that expanded rosters become the norm for any games played in 2020, owing again to the need to keep as many players fresh and healthy as possible for this sprint of a season.
The changes may extend to the on-field product itself. Doubleheaders could be staged as two seven-inning games, rather than standard nine-inning contests. Dodgers star Justin Turner recently proposed the idea that, instead of extra innings, teams would decide games in 2020 by having a Home Run Derby if the score was still deadlocked after a 10th inning. As Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times noted in that last link, an abbreviated season could also give MLB the opportunity to apply its automatic-baserunner experiment for extra innings (already used in the All-Star Game and World Baseball Classic) to regular season contests.
These are all interesting ideas, and frankly, no concept should be off the table given all the difficulties the league faces in trying to launch any kind of season while keeping players, team staff, and stadium personnel as safe and healthy as possible. That said, the traditionalist baseball fan in me can’t help but be hesitant at alterations to the nature of the sport itself. Something like an expanded roster isn’t an issue, but holding a seven-inning game or deciding an important regular season contest with a HR derby doesn’t seem quite right.
If limiting the time of games and the extra innings conundrum are going to be obstacles, The Athletic’s Brittany Ghiroli (subscription required) recently suggested a simple proposal — tie games. Every regular season contest would end after nine innings, no matter the score. As per one reader e-mail to Ghiroli, MLB would adopt a point system of awarding two points for a win, one point for a tie, and zero points for a loss.
It can definitely be argued that ending extra innings is much more of a fundamental shift in baseball’s nature than, say, putting an automatic runner on second base in the 10th inning onward. After all, there’s definitely a romance to the idea of a game that always has a decisive winner. Just about every baseball fan has at least one personal story of attending a marathon game until the very end, or showing up bleary-eyed at work the next day after staying up very late to watch their favorite team finish a West Coast game that went 14 innings.
It’s worth noting, however, that the threat of a tie score adds its own level of drama to games. As Ghiroli notes, it creates “a real emphasis on winning in nine innings, the drama unfolding over the final three outs because there is no more baseball. Managers won’t have to save guys in the bullpen or think about who may be needed to play the field in the 10th.”
Postseason games, naturally, would still have as many extra innings as necessary to decide a winner. But for the regular season, a tie game in baseball wouldn’t be any different than a tied football game or a tied soccer game, both of which are familiar concepts for sports fans. While there may be some level of dissatisfaction in watching a game that ends without a clear winner, a tie has its own sort of “we’ll get ’em next time” feel that is particularly fitting for baseball, particularly since that proverbial “next time” could be the very next day.
Rather than limit draws to just a 2020 season, Ghiroli suggests that tied games could become a regular element of baseball going forward. “We know viewership — on TV and at the game — drops the longer a game goes,” Ghiroli writes. “We know baseball is constantly fighting the stigma of being long and boring. We know, more than ever before, thanks to oodles of data that exhaustion increases the chances of injury and a game with its stars hurt suffers greatly.” Adopting tie games wouldn’t be too much of an impact on the overall schedule; to use the 2019 regular season as an example, no team played more than 19 extra-inning games last year.
Let’s open it up to the MLBTR readership to get other views about both the idea of tie games or other late-game methods of deciding a winner, both in a 2020 season and beyond. (Links to both Poll One and Poll Two for app users).