The Tie Goes to the Winners

The meme whisperers at Twitter brought news this morning that an epic rivalry in minor league baseball had ended in a tie: After 52 years of face-offs, the mighty Arkansas Travelers and the equally mighty San Antonio Missions had, thanks to a final game rainout, concluded their competition with a record of 310 wins apiece. The Missions, a farm club for the San Diego Padres, are moving from the Double-A Texas League to Triple-A ball next year. The Travs, an affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, will remain where they are. The switch puts a whimper of a finale in a tug-of-war that dates back to 1966.

No bragging rights. No bar fights. No closure.

Some will look at that and say, “Baseball sucks.” The game that has no mortal limit on foul balls (okay—except for those that follow a two-strike bunt) has given us yet another eternal limbo. No joy for the winner. No agony for the loser. What fun is that?

But from a biological standpoint, such equipoise is standard fare. Within the human body, up and down are forever engaged in a dance to the middle.

Witness the human kidneys, which when healthy, maintain the constancy of “an internal ocean” of bodily fluids, despite the ever-changing nature of what we eat, drink, sweat, and excrete. The British physiologist E. H. Starling, who among his other achievements co-discovered the first hormone (secretin), called this remarkable balance “the wisdom of the body” in a 1923 lecture. A few years later, Walter Bradford Cannon, an American physiology professor at Harvard, coined the term “homeostasis” to capture the body’s uncanny self-stability.

Such balance is maintained not only for the body’s blood, water and chemistry—its pH (a concentration of hydrogen ions that makes a solution more acidic or alkaline), electrolytes, phosphates, sugars, and more—but also for its temperature and energy metabolism. (Melanie Hoenig and Mark Zeidel, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, have written a lovely essay on this.)

Within the human body, the tie game is the rule, not the exception—the balance of scales that keeps us well.

Friendships are like that, too. Good ones, anyway. There are no winners and losers in a real friendship; the give-and-take is part of our interpersonal homeostasis.

We can (and do) tip the scales in our various alliances—complaining of unevenness of care or attention or compassion or understanding. That’s only human. But in a real friendship or alliance there are no winners or losers. There is only a tie. Something about that just feels right, even if we sometimes forget it.

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