What Does Tie Go to the Runner Mean in Baseball

Untangling the Mystery: The Origins and Significance of 'Tie Goes to the Runner' in Baseball
Written by Mark Bailey
Last updated on

The adage “tie goes to the runner” in baseball suggests that in a close play, if the runner and the baseball reach the base at the same time, the runner is safe; however, it’s a common misconception—let’s clarify this rule and its application on the field.

  • “Tie goes to the runner” is an old phrase in baseball, meaning when there is a tie at the base, the runner is safe.
  • This originates from early days of baseball when players didn’t have umpires and had to decide on close calls.
  • The phrase is not an official rule in the MLB; it’s more of an accepted tradition among umpires and players.
  • In the MLB or higher-level leagues, it’s up to the umpire to make the call on a tie, no matter what the outcome may be.
  • There is no such thing as “tie goes to the runner” in other sports; if there’s a tie, it is ruled a tie.

The origin of “tie goes to the runner”

“Tie goes to the runner” is a phrase that originated in the early years of baseball. Back when baseball had no umpires, the players decided that a tie would go to the runner. Since the ball has to beat the runner to record an out, a tie would be ruled as safe. 

This phrase was mainly used in sandlots or pick-up games of baseball. “Tie goes to the runner” is an unwritten rule in the game of baseball. There is no rule in the MLB that alludes to a tie going to the runner. 

However, it is more of an accepted tradition among umpires and players. A game played with no umpire is certain to have some mistakes when it comes to making calls. Bias was rampant as each team wanted every call to go their way. If it were a tie, there would be an argument for both sides. “Tie goes to the runner” was implemented to remove any confusion or doubt in tight decisions like this one. 

Meaning and application of “tie goes to the runner”

While “tie goes to the runner” is considered an unwritten rule, this does not mean it is an official rule. An umpire has the right to make any call he feels is right. From an umpire’s viewpoint, there are no ties. The ball either beat the runner or the runner beat the ball. 

In the unlikely situation of a tie, it is up to the umpire to make a call. No specific rule forces him to rule a tie as safe. The only official rules of the MLB state that the runner must beat the ball in order to be ruled safe. No tie is mentioned in the MLB’s official rules.

Controversies and criticisms of “tie goes to the runner”

It can be easy to oppose the rule when you’re on defense. An unwritten rule is more of a tradition than an actual rule. Usually, there isn’t a tie; instead, the play is just extremely close. 

It is a good thing we created instant replay for moments like those. The phrase is usually applied in situations that are too close to call. This is why the phrase was more relevant in the times before instant replay. 

Instead of risking making the wrong call, the umpire would call the runner safe since it looked like a tie. If there was an instant replay, you would be able to make the correct call. 

When calling a runner safe on a tie, that is not necessarily the correct call. It is more of an easy way out for an umpire.

“Tie goes to the runner” in other sports

The phrase “tie goes to the runner” originated from baseball and is only used in baseball. Other sports never really have situations like this. 

In track, two runners may cross the finish line at the exact same time. In this case, both runners would be given the win, so it was a tie. In a sport like football, there are no real ties. A play is either made or not made. In any other sport where there is a tie, it is ruled a tie. 

Baseball is the only sport where a tie is not an actual call. When there is a tie, the umpire has to decide whether to call an out or a safe. In other sports, a tie can be ruled as a tie. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it true that tie goes to the runner?

While many accept this idea, no official rule in the MLB states a tie goes to the runner. It is up to the umpire to make a call when there is a tie. However, it is seen more as an unwritten rule.

Is there such a thing as “tie goes to the runner” in the MLB?

No! There is no MLB rule that states a tie goes to the runner. If there is a tie, instant replay will be used to take a closer look. At the end of the day, the umpire can either call the runner safe or out on a tie. It is up to him.


Although “tie goes to the runner” is a famous phrase, no rule supports this saying. A tie may go to the runner in a game with no umpires to make a call. However, in the MLB and higher-level leagues, a tie does not automatically go to the runner. The umpire holds complete responsibility for making the call on a tie. There is no rule that requires him to make a specific call on a tie.