January has the big college bowl games, and March has its madness. But when it comes to sports, February is no slouch either. Since 2004, the Super Bowl’s been a February game. There’s the NBA All-Star weekend. Every four years, there’s even a February Olympics. There’s no Winter Olympics this year to brighten your February, so we’ve asked Jeopardy! mega-champ Ken Jennings to show off his jock side and throw a flag on some deeply cherished sports facts you thought you knew. Nobody takes more pride than sports fans in knowing their stuff—but as we’ll see, they’re not always right.
Sports Myth #1: In Baseball, the Tie Goes to the Runner
Everyone knows this, from Little League dads to aggrieved fans heckling major league umps. If the call is too close at a base to be sure, the runner’s safe, right? Well, not so fast, sports fans. Let’s take a look at the major league rulebook.
Rule 6.05 (j) states that “A batter is out when, after a third strike or after he hits a fair ball, he or first base is tagged before he touches he first base” (my italics). So in the case of a batter running to first, the tag has to get there before he does. A simultaneous arrival, then, would go to the runner. But wait! Just a few pages later comes Rule 7.01. “A runner acquires the right to an unoccupied base when he touches it before he is out.” So I guess in the case of the other three bases, it’s the other way around, and the runner needs to get there before the tag? In that case, the tie would go the fielder. We’ve figured it out. But then Rule 7.08 (e) messes everything up again: “Any runner is out when he or the next base is tagged before he touches the next base.”
So what have we learned? First, that the major league rulebook makes the tax code look simple and well-designed. Second, that both the tag and the runner have to get there before the other. The rules are silent on what to do if, heaven forbid, they happen in the same split second. Veteran crew chief Tim McLelland told MLB.com, “That is exactly right. There are no ties. . . . So you have to make the decision.” Tom Hanks once announced that there’s no crying in baseball. It turns out there’s no tying either.
Quick Quiz: In what game is a tie sometimes called a “cat’s game”?
Ken Jennings is the author of Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.
Photo by Photography Perspectives - Jeff Smith / Shutterstock.com.