Thursday, April 9, 2009

Changing World Series Game Times Is Not New

If you recall last October, there was a lot of talk from bloggers and mainstream media guys alike about changes that Major League Baseball should make to the World Series. It was an (over-)reaction to the Philly-Tampa World Series, with its wacky weather, postponed games, and early-morning endings, that thankfully died out by mid-November. After all, no one *really* wants to hold the Series at a neutral site. That was just an easy column to write in the wake of an eventful postseason.

But it's been a few months now, and, hopefully, cooler heads have prevailed. Any talk today about changing the way we play the World Series will likely be discussed and debated in a more rationale manner than it would have in November, and that's pretty much all we can really ask. So the news that Commissioner Bud and his people are looking into starting World Series games half-an-hour earlier in the future is noteworthy:
"In the past, Fox typically has gone to air at 8 p.m. Eastern, with the first pitch coming around 8:20 p.m. in Games 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7. In Games 1 and 3, when player introductions take place, Fox goes to air at 8 p.m. Eastern, with the first pitch in the 8:35 p.m. range.

"The real question is how early we will be getting to first pitch," Goren said. "It will be earlier than in the past. I'm confident we will come up with a plan that will be effective."

Commissioner Bud Selig said during an interview with Sirius XM Radio on Monday that it was his desire to put in place earlier start times for the World Series this season.

Selig also said he would like to see a day game start for a Series game.

"I'm working hard because I happen to believe not only in a late afternoon game but in earlier starting times and I'm not going to be happy until we get those.""
I'm in the same camp as Rob Neyer, in that I don't think that an extra 30 minutes is really going to make much of a difference. A rain-delayed game like last year's Game 3 is still going to end after 1 AM on the east coast, no matter what Commissioner Bud & Fox Sports agree to.

What I find interesting about this news, though, is the discussion that it seems to be garnering. People seem to believe that this sentiment is new and that the issue is the fault of one Bud Selig alone. It isn't hard to find people around the internet expressing these opinions. But, as with most issues in baseball, this just isn't true. As recently as 15 years ago, the issue was front and center.

In the 1994 Street & Smith's preview guide, Dave Anderson begins his "Rx (Prescription) for Baseball" article talking about just this issue (the piece is framed as a conversation between MLB and its doctor, so bear with it):
"[MLB:] 'People keep complaining that the World Series games start too late. That kids who have to get up early for school can't stay up to see the final innings - or sometimes even the first few innings. That grown-ups who have to get up early for work don't stay up for the final innings.'

[Doctor:] 'I know, I know.'

'How do you know?'

'I'm one of those grown-ups. My kids are those kids. During the fourth game of last year's World Series, I went to bed when the Phillies were leading, 14-9, after seven innings. Driving to my office the next morning, I found out the Blue Jays had won, 15-14. I missed the end of one of the greatest games. ... [Y]ou've got to do something about it.'

'What, doctor?'

'Start the weeknight World Series games at seven o'clock in the Eastern time zone so that they'll be over at a reasonable hour. Start the weekend World Series games at one o'clock in the afternoon in the Eastern time zone so that everybody has time to see them and savor them.'"
Sorry for the "dialog" in that piece. I don't think Mr. Anderson made the best choice when framing that article, but the content is pretty clear: by the end of the 1993 World Series, there was definitely a clamor for some earlier start times. Which is funny, of course, because now we look back on that game as an example of things going right. From Bill Chuck over at Dugout Central, in the immediate aftermath of 2008's Game 3:
"How many fans were singing that song as they were drifting off during Game 3?

On October 15, 1988, Game 1 of the World Series began at 8:35 Eastern time. The game ended 3:04 later when Kirk Gibson hit one of the great walkoff homers of all-time. That meant viewers of the game only missed the first 10 minutes of Matthew Broderick and the Sugarcubes on Saturday Night Live.

In the 1991 World Series, one of the greatest Game 3’s took place at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium. The game ended at 12:34, when the Braves’ Mark Lemke hit a walkoff single – in the bottom of the 12th inning. Game 6 ended at 12:14 on Kirby Puckett’s walkoff homer – in the 11th inning. One of the greatest Game 7’s ended at 12:01 on Gene Larkin’s walkoff hit – in the 10th inning.

On Saturday, October 23, 1993, Game 6 ended on Joe Carter’s walkoff homer as Toronto won the World Series, defeating the Philadelphia Phillies at 11:37 Eastern time. As disappointed as Phillies fans were, at least they got to root for their team, support their team and console each other as they saw the ending of this exciting game."
At least we can all agree that the 1991 World Series, as great as it was, provided fans with a pretty good value. Eleven and twelve inning games ending right around midnight? That seems fair.

Or not. In the 1992 Street & Smith's, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Glen Macnow penned this suggestion in his "Matters of Opinion" piece:
"Seven moves that major league owners should make:
5. Play weekend World Series games during the day. The 1991 Series was one of the best ever. Unfortunately no kid east of the Rocky Mountains was awake to see it. If a nine-year-old has to go to bed after the second inning, what kind of fan can we expect him to be when he grows up?"
I have a feeling that I could keep going back through these preview guides and other magazines and find the same thing. Just like the constant lament over the state of the bullpen, this worry over the World Series is a perpetual theme of the "everything was better in the past" group of sportswriters. It's just that this specific refrain occasionally gets picked up by others in reaction to certain games or events. In the end though, it's no different than most of these complaints: an appeal to a past that probably never existed and that should probably be ignored.

One more thought: people today cite their concern for the state of the game's future as a reason to make these changes because, with all these much-too-late World Series games, it'll be hard to grow a new generation of baseball fans. After all, if kids can't stay up to watch David Price mow down the Red Sox, then how will they ever learn to love the game the same way we do? It's a fair point, and definitely one to ponder, but I think it loses some of its strength when you consider the nearly-20-year-old passages above. A nine-year-old kid in 1991, for example, would be 27-years-old today and, last I checked, the sport seems to be doing pretty well among that group. Personally, I was eleven years old during that Series and I can't say with any certainty that I stayed up to watch all ten innings of that Game 7. But I definitely remember the excitement of the Series and I know it rubbed off on me, even without watching it myself.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I think the sport of baseball is going to do just fine over the next generation, whether Commissioner Bud gets the start times changed or not. I'd welcome it, of course, but it's definitely not necessary for the survival of the sport.

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