Sports Law • Risk Management

May 31, 2011: Increased Risk When Baseball Goes Into Extra Innings

More than six hours for a major league baseball game? That is what happened in a recent game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Philadelphia Phillies. The night game went after one o’clock in the morning with a day game fewer than twelve hours later. In order to break the tie, the night game took ten extra innings, nineteen in total. Also, collectively the teams went through sixteen pitchers, but at what cost?

Early this season the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Angels squared off until 2:45 in the morning because of a rain delay. Professional baseball players have long seasons and, in season, they play multiple games each week. Although newsworthy stories, prolonged games increase risk.

For instance, protracted games may increase the risk of injury to the players who experience fatigue or overexertion. A tired player may have a reduced ability to respond or to be attentive to flying baseballs.

Also, for games lasting well beyond the normal playing time, the temperature may change affecting players’ abilities to stay loose and stretched. Rotator cuff injuries or strained muscles, particularly for pitchers, may become more likely with extended use. Even the field of play is more likely to become damaged with overuse, particularly if playing through or following rain or other weather conditions. The damage to the field can be costly and increase the risk of injury to the players.

Umpires could have similar issues of reduced attentiveness that may lead to personal injuries or lack of enforcing rules intended to keep players safe. Similar to players and umpires, spectators may also be less attentive to their surroundings of fly balls and trip hazards. Also, if alcohol sales are extended during the game, spectators have an increased chance of becoming intoxicated. Intoxication may lead to slip and falls, spectator violence or drunk driving.

The burden of games going into extra innings can also be expensive to a team’s bottom line. Staff for concessions, janitorial services, and facility operations will have to be paid to stay longer, and might need to be paid for overtime. Most importantly, security will have to stay alert and working for a longer period. Contracts for any hired independent security or police force may expire after a certain amount of time, forcing the organization to pay penalty fees or to risk losing key security personnel at the end of an exciting game.

Perhaps Major League Baseball should consider imposing a rule to keep games from playing until a tie is broken. Or maybe the teams and facilities should just plan for the added risk associated with playing extra innings. This may require contract contingencies to keep staff and security continuing to work until the end of all games. This may also require diligent maintenance on the field and in the stadium as well as adequately resting players, to include avoiding scheduling day games immediately following night games in order to give the players enough rest. In short, a proactive stance may minimize the risk of a drawn out game.