Bernstein: A Reasonable Solution For Baseball Marathons

By Dan Bernstein

When smart people are talking about something interesting, it is often best to sit back and listen. That was the case immediately after the Cubs and Yankees played a six-hour, 18-inning game Sunday night into Monday.

That the Cubs’ circadian rhythms were rescued in part by a fortuitous rainout in Denver that evening only underscored how disruptive such things can be to a team, particularly with the greater understanding of just how important healthy sleep cycles are to sports success. That is what motivated both ESPN broadcaster Jon Sciambi and New York Post writer Joel Sherman to argue in April that games tied after 12 innings should just stay that way, just like many major league contests in the early 20th century, as chronicled by FiveThirtyEight.com’s Harry Enten.

Writer and analyst Joe Sheehan disagrees, however. His primary objection is that ties would do away with the memorable spectacle of such affairs, writing “I wouldn’t trade these games for anything. About one game a year runs to six hours and maybe a couple a month run to 14 innings or longer. What we get from these games as fans, in memories and stories and, nowadays, community, outweighs the negatives.”

And this is not to consider baseball starting to tinker with alternative rules for ending games faster at lower pro levels, such as starting with runners placed on base after a certain point. The intellectual clarity of simply ending in a tie, in this case, facilitated a more elegant version of the debate.

Into which stepped veteran Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper, who found both a way to describe a real concern and navigate a sensible resolution to the disturbance caused by over-long games. “If we’re in the process of trying to keep guys healthy and not ruin a pitching staff, I think you can make a case for shortening a game,” he told 670 The Score’s Bernstein and Goff Show Monday. “I’m open to all ideas.”

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Kasper explained how the rigors of daily games combine with air travel to tax baseball players in ways that other sports don’t. “The mental fatigue can be as tiring — if not more so at times — than the literal, physical fatigue,” he said. “There’s an incredible amount of mental focus that has to occur every 45 seconds or so over the course of three hours, and I think that’s the part I think people don’t quite understand. And if you have three or four ties in a 162-game schedule, I don’t think that is the end of the world.”

Sherman advocates for playing games fully from a certain point later in the season, writing “When rosters expand in September and the meaning of each game is more clearly understood, I would play until resolution, so there would be no ties in the final month.”

Kasper noted that the NHL changes its overtime rules for the playoffs, and said MLB could “cap it at 12 innings in the regular season and then have your normal rules in the postseason. I don’t really fundamentally have an issue with that.”

That would also address the fundamental problem I have with Sheehan’s logic, that the novelty of the event is inherently fun after midnight, enhanced by the shared appreciation by fans on Twitter. Most of us with other work and family responsibilities are not staying up to be part of that community into the wee hours, particularly when the outcome is just one of 162. There’s nothing memorable about something you don’t see because you make a healthier choice.

A playoff game is a different story, however, much more likely to change the calculus of that viewing decision and bring fans together for unforgettable moments in the way he desires. With something obviously at stake at that point, more is certainly better for all involved.

Dan Bernstein is senior columnist on CBS Chicago and co-host of “Boers & Bernstein” on Chicago’s 670 The Score.

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