18-Inning Baseball Games: Too Long or Special Night?
May 8, 2017

To some it was a special night at Wrigley Field. To others, it was a long cold night in Chicago. Perhaps it depends on your level of love for the game, but even the so-called experts disagree. In six hours and five minutes, and in temperatures in the upper 30s by the time the game was over, the Yankees beat the Cubs 5-4 in 18 innings.

Let's face it, most of the whining was done by writers and broadcasters, but in this age of attention spans lasting just until a new app is invented for their phones, the discussion turns a little more serious than trivial. I mean, the new commissioner thinks intentional walks take too long, so you have to wonder about how he feels about a game that goes 18 innings.

When the Cubs scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth Sunday to tie the game 4-4, and then failed to score after getting runners on in the tenth, you knew the topic was going to come up. Somewhere around the fifteenth inning, it did.

The game was the ESPN Sunday Night game of the week, with play-by-play man Dan Shulman, analysts Aaron Boone and Jessica Mendoza in the booth with him, and reporter Buster Olney on the field. The question was posed, “would you favor having a game end in a tie” after a certain amount of innings? Shulman and Olney were definitely against it, but the other two, and former players mind you (Mendoza a professional and Olympic softball star), were for calling a draw.

The two both cited the possibility of players getting hurt, depleting a bullpen, the possibility of having pitchers play the outfield (which didn't happen Sunday), etc., but Boone backpedaled when Shulman pointed out the possibility of a half-game (one team played a tie, and another didn't) deciding a division title. “I'll have to think it through”, Boone said.

Believe it or not, there are ties in baseball. In Japan, they play 12 innings and then call it a tie, and even in the post-season, unless it's the final game, they will play 15, and if it's still tied, they start over the next night. Until fairly recently, there were ties in major league games, too. They just didn't count. If a game was tied anytime after five innings and was rained out, the game would later be replayed, but the statistics from that game would count. That actually meant that the rain-shortened game ended in a tie (that's why Cal Ripken, Jr. is credited with playing 163 games in 1996 during his consecutive games streak). Now, they just suspend the game and resume it later.

For traditionalists, a discussion like this is worrisome. The subject of ties came up in the preseason when the World Baseball Classic decided to begin the eleventh inning with runners placed on first on second. While that topic was being debated, the commissioner was on his “pace of play” soap box at the same time, outlawing intentional walks and having pitching coaches ejected if they didn't finish a visit in short order, while at the same time refusing to shorten breaks between innings by 30 seconds.

"Pundits" (from, pundit: noun, 1. a learned person, expert, or authority. 2. a person who makes comments or judgments, especially in an authoritative manner; critic or commentator. (You can certainly be #2 without being #1)) like ESPN Baseball Tonight host Karl Ravech even tweeted that he would be in favor of seven inning games! And he hosts a baseball show, and even gets to do some play by play now. You can picture him in the ESPN studios last night not rooting for a good game, but for the game to end so he can go home.

And that's the thing. If it's too late, go home. Turn the TV off. Whatever. The announced attendance at Wrigley Field was 40,584. When the camera showed the crowd in the 18th inning, it looked like close to half of them were still there. When each inning ended, more and more would leave, but that's to be expected. ESPN kept showing a shot of a little girl with her “I love the Cubs” sign, wide awake into the late innings. Mom made her leave after 17, but it's something she'll remember for a long time.

And that was something Olney pointed out. There were over 500 pitches made, an all-time major league record 48 strikeouts, Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber tumbling over the wall into the seats to make a spectacular catch, and former Cub Starlin Castro eventually driving home the winning run for the Yankees—all memories that fans would take home with them.

The only thing wrong with that game, from a crowd standpoint, is that the wrong team won. Although there were many Yankees fans in the Chicagoland area that showed up at Wrigley that went home happy. They went home at 1am, but they were happy.

And yes, it was one o'clock in the morning. It's not like the game lasted for days or the middle of the night. Sure teams will have a depleted bullpen, and maybe the next night's starting pitcher had to pinch-hit instead of going home early, and so what if a pitcher ended up having to play the outfield? That's what managers and general managers are for, is to figure it out for the next game. For those who were there, they'll always remember it, and even those who watched all 18 innings on television will have something to talk about for quite awhile. Perhaps the commissioner will feel its not worth it, and take that away, too. We probably shouldn't talk about it, and give him any ideas.

Working the system: With now a 10-day disabled list under the new collective bargaining agreement, you will see a lot of this. The Dodgers placed pitcher Brandon McCarthy on the DL with what they say is a separated left shoulder. The right hander was going to start Sunday against the Padres but that game was rained out. He last pitched on April 29, which means they could make the move retroactive to the day after he pitched, ten days from that is Wednesday, and he'll be in line to start Friday in Colorado having missed only one turn in the rotation. Other teams are doing it, too, but it just doesn't seem right.

New deal?: In response to the column here last week, Marysville Gold Sox General Manager wrote on my Facebook page that there will be a new radio deal with a different radio station, that will keep the Gold Sox on the air this year. The comment also said the new Yuba City Bears would be included in a deal to be announced some time this week. As they used to say in the radio biz, “Stay tuned.”

For the Central Coast: If recently called up Giants infielder Christian Arroyo hits a home run with the bases loaded, would you call it an Arroyo Grande?

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