Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rain Delays and "the Integrity of the Pennant Race"

An interesting side-note from Wednesday night, which is becoming widely accepted as one of the best nights of baseball ever.

The Red Sox game against the Orioles in Baltimore was delayed by rain for about 90 minutes in the seventh inning with Boston leading 3-2. This is not an inordinately long delay, but it's much more than the minimum (30 minutes) required for the umpires to decide to call the game. If they had, the Red Sox would have won, and presumably would be in a one-game playoff with Tampa Bay for the AL wild-card spot. But the generally accepted practice is that a game that important should not be called because of "the integrity of the pennant race." (Most agree that if the game had been between two non-contenders, it would have been called.)

I am not saying the game should have been called (or that it shouldn't). But I don't agree that the integrity of the pennant race is best protected by changing the rules in the interest of the integrity of the pennant race. Much like basketball referees who swallow their whistle at the end of the game in the mistaken belief that they are allowing the players to determine the result, deciding not to enforce a rule is as much an example of referees determining the outcome as overzealously enforcing one. In either case, one team is given an advantage it wouldn't have at another point in the game or season.

In this example, it worked out well for the Orioles, and through them the Rays. And it worked out well for baseball, which had a much more interesting outcome than it would have with a rain-shortened game. (Although had Boston won there would have been a one-game playoff on Thursday.) I'm just not sure that having different rules for "important" games is something baseball should be promoting.