In every baseball game, two teams try to win, and only one can succeed. Sometimes, however, both teams are frustrated. While tie games are a rarity now, they were once a fairly common occurrence in the big leagues. In this article, I will answer several questions about tie games and will attempt to show how many of the changes in baseball, both on and off the field, as well as changes in society, have led to the virtual elimination of ties.
SCOPE OF ARTICLE
I have recorded data on 831 of the approximately 1128 tie games in major league history. (For purposes of this article, only the National, American, and Players Leagues and the American Association are considered major leagues.) Only regular season games were included. (There have been three ties in World Series play and three in NL-AA post-season championship series games.)1
HOW COMMON WERE TIE GAMES?
From 1876 to 1917, on an annual basis, tie games generally comprised between one and three percent of all games played. The most tie games in a single season was thirty, in 1907. Twenty-four is the record for a single league, in 1898, and the American League and American Association records are both 19.
The low point in this era was in 1885, when there were just four ties, fewer than .5 percent of all games that year. Then, from 1917 to 1919, the number of tie games dropped from 22 to five, and thereafter the rate of tie games was almost always below 1 percent. The highest number of draws after 1917 was sixteen, in 1938.
In 1922, there were just three tie games and in 1930 only two. The frequency increased somewhat in the late 1930’s and early forties, then resumed its decline. By the time expansion began again, ties had become truly rare. The post 1960 high for the two leagues combined is six.
It was not until 1976 that a season passed without a draw; this feat was then repeated the following two years. In the years 1985-1993, there were no tie games in the American League and only one in the National League from 1990-1993. The reasons for these changes will be examined below, but first we will take up the question:
WHY DID TIE GAMES OCCUR?
The primary reason that tied games have been stopped is darkness. Through 1938, before most teams were hosting night games, about three-quarters of tie games were called due to darkness. Until 1950 it continued to be the most prevalent cause. Consequently, tie games have occurred most frequently in September, October, and April, when sunset occurs early, and least often in June and July. Also, second games of doubleheaders have seen more than their fair share of draws.
The second most common reason for ties is rain. Rain accounted for about 10 to 15 percent of tie games up to 1938 and about one-third since then. Of all games played, about .2 percent ended in draws due to rain for all periods until about 1950, and about .1 percent since then.
It has frequently been noted that baseball is a game without time limits. However, this has not always been so. In the days before teams traveled by airplane, they would often enter into agreements before the final game of a series. These agreements provided that the game would end by a specified time so that one or both teams could catch a train to a distant city for their next series.
Such agreements caused about 10 percent of tie games until the 1950’s. (Actually, they were rare in the 19th Century, when fewer than 154 games were played in most seasons, leaving more off days for travel.) This means that the teams believed that their next game was more important than the one they were playing. Obviously, this was because they had the spectators’ money in their pockets already for the current game and they were anxious to collect their proceeds from the next game.
Thus, as is true now, no one was considering the fans’ best interests. The devotees of the sport would buy a ticket to see a whole baseball game only to have the teams run off before a conclusion was reached. This is an aspect of the “Golden Age of Baseball” that I doubt anyone misses.2 Of course, fans didn’t like it when a game was terminated early by agreement. In the 1910’s, National League Presidents Lynch and Tener both tried to limit the frequency of these agreements, but they were not successful in the long run.
In 1949, with the Cardinals and Dodgers in the midst of a tight pennant race, the two teams faced off in Brooklyn. They agreed that the final game of the series would stop at four p.m. so the Dodgers could catch a train. When four o’clock came around, the score was tied and the game was called. Fans and civic leaders raised a stink, and to placate them, the Dodgers promised that the gate receipts from the replay would be donated to charity.
Another example of time limits in baseball is curfews. Once night ball and Sunday games became common, curfews became a major cause of tie games. During the early years of World War II, teams on the East Coast were subject to dimout laws, so that games had to end by 9:10 p.m..
One can imagine how well this was received in Brooklyn on August 4, 1942. The Dodgers were playing the Giants at the Polo Grounds, and the score was tied one apiece after nine innings. In the top of the tenth, the Dodgers scored four runs, but before they could retire the Giants in the bottom half of the inning, the clock showed 9:10, and they had to turn the lights out. This caused the score to revert to the last complete inning, thus turning what looked like a sure win for Brooklyn into a tie.
These are the major reasons for tie games. Some unusual causes are as follows. The “Merkle game” was stopped because the spectators had overrun the field. This was not the only time this happened. On June 16, 1887, the St. Louis Browns were playing in Baltimore. In the ninth inning, the crowd rioted after an umpire’s controversial decision.
The field could not be cleared, but rather than ruling it a forfeit, the umpire declared the game an eight-inning tie. Another type of agreement to call a game early was illustrated on October 5, 1904. The Senators and Tigers agreed between games of a doubleheader that the second game would only last five innings due to the cold weather. Although the score was tied one to one after five, play was stopped. Still another reason for drawn games, and another example of how fans have been cheated, occurred several times. For many years, most doubleheaders featured morning and afternoon games with separate admissions.
Tie games arose several times because the morning game of a doubleheader took longer than expected and management wanted to clear the park to admit the ticketholders for the second game. It was somewhat like going to a movie and being forced to leave so the next showing can begin, although the film hasn’t ended yet.
On July 4, 1942, a game at Cleveland was called with the score tied after ten innings so the holiday celebration could begin. A similar incident occurred in Baltimore in 1964. Nowadays, of course, the teams keep playing until four a.m., then they start the fireworks.
The New York Giants had a seeming win taken away from them on April 25, 1913. In the bottom of the tenth inning, Moose McCormick hit Grover Alexander’s pitch for a run-scoring single. However, umpire Bill Klem had his back turned, and ruled that the pitch didn’t count. The game ended in a scoreless tie the next inning.
Several games that are officially recorded as tie games did not conclude with the score even. Rather, they are games that ended with one team victorious and were then successfully protested by the “losers.” Instead of replaying the game from the point of protest, the league president decided that the entire game should be replayed. The original games were put on the books as ties.
The only alternative, I suppose, was to consider them not played at all. One particularly interesting example of this took place in 1938 in a game between Cincinnati and St. Louis. Cooke of the Reds hit a ball off a supporting beam of the pavilion roof in right center field at Sportsman’s Park. The umpires ruled the ball was in play, and Cooke didn’t score.
The Cards won the game in extra innings. Ford Frick upheld the Reds protest, since the ground rules made such a hit a home run. However, rather than giving the Reds credit for the home run, he had the game replayed. When it was, a similar dispute arose after Johnny Mize slammed one off the screen in front of the pavilion; this time it was properly ruled in play, according to the ground rule for that area.
WHY DID TIES STOP HAPPENING?
Since darkness was the primary cause of tie games, it was the reduction of darkness as a factor in baseball that caused a sharp drop in the frequency of tie games. The first step in this process came from outside baseball. In March 1918, Congress passed and President Wilson signed into law a national daylight-saving time plan to save energy.
This gave an extra hour of sunlight for much of the baseball season, thus allowing games that otherwise would have been called due to darkness to be completed. Daylight Savings proved to be unpopular among farmers and was repealed in 1919, effective after September. However, many cities and states favored Daylight Savings and passed their own laws. New York City has used it every year since.
Some other areas flip-flopped on the issue, but by 1925, at least 13 of the 16 major league teams were covered by daylight-saving time laws. Subsequently, some cities would drop those laws, only to reinstate them later. Overall, daylight-saving time led to the largest, sharpest decrease in the number of tie games. It should also be noted that the trend towards longer games was offset by earlier starting times. It has been suggested that the reason for the decrease in tie games at this time was due to higher scoring that began in 1919.
Higher scoring should lead to a greater distribution of runs scored and thus decrease the likelihood of tie games. However, no significant change in the rate of occurrence of draws took place earlier, either when scoring increased or decreased. Therefore, I believe this was at most a minor factor. As was mentioned earlier, the frequency of tie games called due to rain didn’t change in this period, while those stopped by darkness decreased about 70 percent.
Also, tie games tend to be lower scoring than the average game. The average score in a drawn game is one to one and a half runs per team below the normal score for a game in that season. The highest scoring tie game was 19-19 in eight innings, between Philadelphia and Brooklyn of the American Association on May 2, 1886.
The beginning of night baseball in 1935 did not initially have much effect on the frequency of ties, since the number of night games was small and lights were not allowed to be used to complete day or twilight games. It is hard to comprehend from our perspective that in the 1930’s and 40’s, during twi-night doubleheaders, sometimes the first game was called for darkness and minutes later the lights were switched on so the second game could be played.
It was not until 1950 that the leagues finally allowed teams to turn on lights during a game, and then only in some circumstances. The National League decided before the season that lights could be used to complete a day game. The first time it was done was in Boston on April 23, 1950. Braves Field was illuminated before the eighth inning began, with the score tied at five apiece.
The Phillies then scored a run in the eighth to win the game. However, on June 18, 1950, a Braves home game was called for darkness with the score eight to eight, since Massachusetts law prohibited turning the lights on after 5:30 p.m. on a Sunday. During this season, the American League ruled that lights could be used to complete a day game, but only if it was the team’s final appearance of the season at that park.
Thus, another tie game was prevented on August 29, 1950, when, after the lights were turned on following the eighth inning, the Yankees put across a run to beat Cleveland six to five. However, nine days later the Indians ended in a tie with Detroit because the Tigers were not allowed to turn the lights on when darkness fell. These restrictions were soon lifted, and then only games at Wrigley Field were called for darkness. With the installation of lights at Wrigley, this cause of draws has now disappeared.
The modern use of lights is probably one of the reasons that the frequency of rain-stopped ties decreased after 1950, allowing the umpires to wait longer to call the game. Other reasons would be such innovations as domed stadiums and artificial turf.
Another reason for the decrease in tie games was the establishment of suspended games. Beginning in the mid-forties in the National League and in 1951 in the American League, games of less than nine innings called for reasons other than darkness or weather were suspended and completed at a later date.
This reduced the number of ties due to games called by agreement, as well as those shortened by curfew. The more frequent use of airplane travel eradicated these agreements altogether in the 1950’s, while the eventual elimination of Sunday curfews further reduced the number of ties.
WHAT EFFECT DID TIE GAMES HAVE ON PENNANT RACES?
Quite a few pennant races were affected, perhaps altered, by tie games. The 1908 National League race is the best known example. However, some of the less well known were perhaps just as exciting, if less controversial. Details of some those races follow.
1907 American League-On Sept. 30, the Tigers, 1.5 games ahead of second place Philadelphia, met the Athletics at Columbia Park in Philly for a scheduled doubleheader. These two games would complete the season series between the teams. The A’s jumped out to a 7-1 lead after six innings of game one, to the delight of the overflow crowd of 25,000. However, the Tigers came roaring back and narrowed the gap to two runs heading into the ninth.
Then Sam Crawford reached base leading off the inning, and Ty Cobb belted a home run to send the game into extra innings. Each team scored once in the eleventh, and then failed to do so again, as the game ended in a nine to nine tie after 17 innings, as darkness enveloped the field. It was not replayed, nor was the second game played, and the Tigers won the pennant by 1.5 games.
1904 American League-This race was decided on the last day of the season, when the Pilgrims beat the Highlanders three to two in the first game of a doubleheader, thanks to a throwing error by NY secondbaseman Jimmy Williams. With the Highlanders winning the second game, the two teams finished one and a half games apart. One more NY win and Boston loss would have given the Highlanders their first pennant.
Therefore, as much as the above doubleheader, the results of the race hinged on a series played in Boston in mid-September. On September 14, the Highlanders and Pilgrims met in a doubleheader. The second game was called after five innings due to darkness with the score tied one run apiece. The teams played the game off the next day as part of another doubleheader, but again the second game ended in a one to one tie, this time going nine innings before night fell.
On the 16th, the two rivals played their third consecutive doubleheader, and finally played both games to a decision, with Boston winning the replay of the twice tied game. Another run by the Highlanders in either of the first two ties would have swung the pennant to them. Boston also played a tie versus the Athletics on September 13, the last scheduled meeting of those teams in Philadelphia. The game was replayed on September 21 in Boston with the Pilgrims victorious. New York played two other tie games and lost the replays both times. Truly this was a pennant race decided by one or two runs.
1908 National League-This was a great season for tie games, beyond the “Merkle game.” There were only six draws, fewest in the National League since 1885, but all six involved at least one of the three contending teams. The Cubs played four ties and managed to win the replay of all four.
1938 National League-Once again the Cubs benefited from tie games. A late season hurricane caused tie games for both Chicago and Pittsburgh on September 18, and prevented them from being replayed before the end of the season. The rules then prevented postponed games from being played after the last scheduled game of the season. Thus, following Hartnett’s “homer in the gloaming,” the Cubs sat on their small lead over the Bucs, who had led through much of the pennant race. Although it was not until 1951 in the AL and 1955 that the NL allowed games to be played after the scheduled final day of the season, 1938 was the last time that unplayed games affected the outcome of a pennant race.
1889 National League-The Beaneaters and their fans must have wished for an earlier change in this policy. They might have turned around their one game deficit if they could have replayed either of their two ties with first place NY.
As recently as 1982, a pennant race was made more interesting by a tie game, although the outcome was not changed. A June tie between Baltimore and Milwaukee set up the four game showdown between the two contenders in October. The Orioles’ victory in the replay of the tie enabled them to stay in the race until the final game.
The following are the remaining seasons in which the outcome of the pennant race was affected by tie games. This assumes that had all tie games been played to a conclusion, with the actual pennant winner losing in each case and the other contenders winning all of their games that were ties, the pennant winner would have been different. The seasons in question are: in the National League, 1897, 1926, 1927, 1941, 1942, 1951, 1956, and 1959 (made play-off necessary). In the American League, 1905, 1906, 1908, 1915, 1916, 1924, 1944, 1948 (made the play-off necessary), 1949, 1964, and 1967. The only American Association race that hinged on ties was 1889.
WHAT ARE SOME OTHER FACTS ABOUT TIE GAMES THAT YOU COULDN’T SQUEEZE IN ABOVE?
About 45% of tie games were extra-innings, and the average length of a tie game was about 9.7 innings. The longest tie game was twenty-six innings. The shortest was one out longer than 4 ½ innings, on Sept. 16, 1906 between St. Louis and Cincinnati.
In the 1976 Baseball Research Journal, James Watkins had an article entitled “Nothing to Nothing in Overtime,” that listed all 20th Century scoreless, extra-inning ties. Jim Weigand compiled a complete list of scoreless ties, available in Grandstand Baseball Annual, Special 1. It notes 5 other extra-innings games. One deserves special attention. Toledo and Brooklyn faced off at Washington Park on October 4, 1884, and played a scoreless tie for ten innings. The two remarkable features of the game were, first, a no-hitter by Sam Kimber of Brooklyn, the only one in a tie game of more than nine innings, and second, even more amazing for the time, neither team made an error.