Friday, August 3, 2012

Suspended vs called games - Proposed rule change

On Tuesday night, the Boston Red Sox were barely hanging on to a 4-1 lead over Detroit when the Tigers were batting in the top of the 6th inning.  With the bases loaded, the Umpires stopped play due to the heavy rain.  The rain never let up and a couple of hours later the game was called and went in the books as a Red Sox victory. Many Tigers fans were (rightfully) upset. Many fans (wrongly) thought the Tigers should protest the game.  Unfortunately the way the rules are currently written, the Umpires had no choice. The game was over. As unfair as it may have seemed, there was no option to suspend the game and finish it at a later date.  But in my mind, there should be.

A suspended game is a game that is "paused" and will be continued from the current situation the following (or a later) day.  A called game is a game that is complete.

Below are the rules for determining when a game can be suspended.  These are taken from The Official Rules of Baseball Illustrated:


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4.12 SUSPENDED GAMES.
(a) A game shall become a suspended game that must be completed at a future date if the game is terminated for any of the following reasons:
(1) A curfew imposed by law;
(2) A time limit permissible under league rules;
(3) Light failure or malfunction of a mechanical field device under control of the home club. (Mechanical field device shall include automatic tarpaulin or water removal equipment);
(4) Darkness, when a law prevents the lights from being turned on;
(5) Weather, if a regulation game is called while an inning is in progress and before the inning is completed, and the visiting team has scored one or more runs to take the lead, and the home team has not retaken the lead; or
(6) It is a regulation game that is called with the score tied.

No game called because of a curfew (Rule 4.12(a)(1)), weather (Rule 4.12(a)(5)), a time limit (Rule 4.12(a)(2)) or with a tied score (Rule 4.12(a)(6)) shall be a suspended game unless it has progressed far enough to have been a regulation game pursuant to Rule 4.10(c). A game called pursuant to Rules 4.12(a)(3) or 4.12(a)(4) shall be a suspended game at any time after it starts.

NOTE: Weather and similar conditions—Rules 4.12(a)(1) through 4.12(a)(5)—shall take precedence in determining whether a called game shall be a suspended game. If a game is halted by weather, and subsequent light failure or an intervening  curfew or time limit prevents its resumption, the game shall not be a suspended game. If a game is halted by light failure, and weather or field conditions prevent its resumption, the game shall not be a suspended game. A game can only be considered a suspended game if stopped for any of the six reasons specified in Rule 4.12(a).
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The first 4 subpoints of the rule rarely apply in the MLB.   It's really point (5) that is the key to the rule, causes the most confusion, and in my opinion should be changed.

Let's break this down, one piece at a time.
(a) A game shall become a suspended game that must be completed at a future date if the game is terminated for any of the following reasons:
Ok, this is the preamble to the rule and goes on to list the conditions which apply for a suspended game. 
Skipping the first 4 conditions we come to...
(5) Weather, if a regulation game is called while an inning is in progress and before the inning is completed, and the visiting team has scored one or more runs to take the lead, and the home team has not retaken the lead
First point here is "weather".  It does not restrict it just to rain.  It can (and does) also apply to snow, hail and lightning.  It could also apply to if it is too cold or too hot or too windy to play, although I've never seen those interpretations used.  (Of course, if too windy means a hurricane is coming I suppose that would apply). But the other night, the only thing that prevented play was rain, so that point is covered.

(5) Weather, if a regulation game is called while an inning is in progress and before the inning is completed, and the visiting team has scored one or more runs to take the lead, and the home team has not retaken the lead
Next point is regulation game.  Rule 4.10 (c) essentially says that if a game is called, it is a regulation game if 5 innings have been played (or 4 1/2 with home team winning).  The game was in the 6th inning, so yes, it was a regulation game.

(5) Weather, if a regulation game is called while an inning is in progress and before the inning is completed, and the visiting team has scored one or more runs to take the lead, and the home team has not retaken the lead
The Tigers were batting in the 6th innings.  Yes, an inning was in progress, and the the inning was not completed.  So far, so good.


(5) Weather, if a regulation game is called while an inning is in progress and before the inning is completed, and the visiting team has scored one or more runs to take the lead, and the home team has not retaken the lead
The Tigers were certainly threatening, but they had not yet scored any runs or taken the lead.  In fact, even if the batter who was up knocked in a couple of runs to make it 4-3 and the Tigers were still rallying, since they had not yet taken the lead this point does not apply.   Therefore the condition for a suspended game was not met!
(Note: After the game Justin Verlander said " I would've liked to seen them give it one more at-bat. Who knows what happens? Infante hits a grand slam and we'd be walking out of here winners right now." This is incorrect.  At best that would have set the condition for a suspended game, and they would have continued the game with the Tigers having the lead, at a later day)

For the sake of completeness, let me explain the last part of rule 4.12 (a) (5):
(5) Weather, if a regulation game is called while an inning is in progress and before the inning is completed, and the visiting team has scored one or more runs to take the lead, and the home team has not retaken the lead.
Let's say the Tigers had hit a grand slam to take a 5-4 lead, and Boston had come to bat and maybe made 2 quick outs before play was stopped.  Now, all the conditions are met.  The visiting team took the lead, but the home team had not retaken it, so it would have qualified as a suspended game.
(Also note that if Boston had made the 3rd out before the play was stopped, then the "inning in progress" clause no longer applies and the game would be called, not suspended.  Also, if the Tigers had started batting in the top of the 7th, when the game was stopped, it would also be called.  The inning would be in progress, but the visiting team had not taken the lead during the inning).

To summarize the rule:  A game can only be suspended (due to rain anyways, I'm ignoring the mechanical malfunctions / time limits / curfew clauses) if when it has stopped the game is tied, or the visitors have taken the lead and the home team has not finished their at bat in the same inning.  If the home team is winning, the game is called and if the visitors were already winning before the current inning started the game is also called.

Now, before I suggest the modification I would make to the rule I want to emphasize a few points:
- The way the rule is written makes an umpire's job very difficult.  If the score is 10-0 in the 8th inning and there is a torrential downpour with no end in sight, then it's pretty easy to call the game(*).  But if it's a meaningful game and reasonably close, we will do everything we can to play the full 9 to make it fair.  But we need to balance that with the safety of the players.  If the ground is wet and the mound is washing away, it doesn't make sense to keep playing.  We can pause the game if we think the rain will lighten up, but then if it continues to rain harder,  it's too late to do anything.

(*) I recall in the 1982 World Series during a game there was a large rain storm when one team had a huge lead late in the game. Everyone on both teams knew that even if they kept playing, there was little doubt of the outcome.  But commissioner Bowie Kuhn was in attendance and I recall him saying something along the lines of  "no World Series game has ever been shortened due to rain, and I don't want the first one to be on my watch".  So after waiting for a couple of hours, they finally played the last few outs.  I had to go online to find the details.  It was Game 6, and the score was 13-0 for St. Louis in the 7th inning at the time of the delay.  It ended 13-1.  I'm sure even the Brewers would have been content to go home after 7.


- I want to reinforce that the the Umpires made the right call.  The conditions were unplayable.  If anything, they could have stopped the game earlier, but they should not have allowed it to continue.

- This rule is unfair as it is written.  If home team is winning 1-0 in the top of the 9th, and the visitors have bases loaded and nobody out when it's stopped... it is a called game.  But if the visitors score say 6 runs in the top of the 9th, and are winning 6-1 with 2 outs and nobody on in the bottom of the 9th... then it becomes a suspended game.  The home team always has the opportunity to finish their at bat if they gave up the lead recently (i.e. in the top of the inning).  The visiting team is afforded no such luxury.

My recommendation for changing this rule to take the onus off of the Umpires, and make the game more fair to the teams, players and fans, is to add another clause to the rule governing suspended games.  That clause would add a condition that a game can be suspended if the tying run is at bat or on base.  So in a 1 run game, whenever it's stopped, it would be grounds for a suspended game (unless it's the home team that's winning and they are batting).  With the bases loaded, anything up to a 4 run lead would lead to a suspended game.   The Tigers would have met that condition on Tuesday night.  Justin Verlander might have kept his streak of pitching 6 innings in each start alive (doubtful if they played the next day), Jim Leyland would have been happy, Tiger fans wouldn't have been complaining, and Red Sox fans wouldn't feel like they were awarded a cheap victory.  More importantly, none of the Umpires could have been criticized for stopping the game when they did :)

What are your thoughts?  Would this extra clause make the suspended game rule better?  Do you have other ideas?


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