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Sports Then and Now

As October Ends, So Should Baseball

Posted on October 26, 2009 by Don Spieles
World Series Game 3: Tampa Rays at Philadelphia Phillies

Last year’s World Series was marred by inclement Philadelphia weather.

Since the playoffs were modified for the 1995 season and the divisional rounds were added, only one World Series has gone into November. In 2001 the Yankees’ game seven loss to the Diamondbacks was played on November 4th. Beyond that, the latest any World Series has gone is October 28th.

This year, if either the Yankees or Phillies sweeps, game four will be played on November 1st. Should the series need all seven games, the last one would be played (barring weather delays that are certainly possible in cities like Philadelphia and New York) November 5th.

Shouldn’t baseball be over by the time November rolls around? Why doesn’t it?

First, there is a new facet to the post season, added a few years back, that allows the respective team with the best record in the American League and National League to opt for an extra day’s break in the schedule. As with this year, most teams opt for the extra day because it allows teams the potential to start their number one pitcher in games 1 and 4 for the divisional round and in games 1, 4, and 7 for the ALCS and World Series, should either need that last game.

A second factor is television coverage. With networks having their schedules planned so far in advance, when a divisional round ends early (as in both opponents for the LCS have been decided) the next round is not pushed up. If that means a delay of a week, so be it. The same goes for the World Series. This year the Phillies clinched on Wednesday, October 21st. The Yankees could have ended the ALCS on the 22nd. Had they done that, the World Series would have still been delayed for seven days to its current start on October 28th.

Indeed, this year’s World Series will see game one played later in the year than most World Series end!

The usual argument regarding the television problem is that Major League Baseball is a business and so are the Networks, and that businesses have to make money. But is the bottom line always served best by the delays?

Last year, the World Series garnered a 17 share of television ratings, it’s lowest ever! Part of the blame was put on the fact that the Tampa Bay Rays represented the American League. Florida franchises in general, but specifically the Rays, have the lowest combined ratings and attendance in the entire league, year in and year out. Either way, less ratings means less money for the league and the networks.

Part of the blame must go to the late October games, one of which was postponed due to inclement weather. Baseball ratings always have huge competition from the NFL once that season begins in late August. Extending the baseball playoffs to the farthest possible date wears down even some staunch fans.

Game five of the World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies in Philadelphia

Is Bud Selig too blinded by TV lights to see what’s best for baseball?

While this year’s Worlds Series is being played between two “big market’ teams, they are northeast teams with open-air venues. There will be a surge in ratings expected being that this is the Yankees’ first trip to the big show in a few years. Weather could very easily play a factor in any or all of the games. Aside from the fact that it feels very wrong to have baseball played in the snow, if even two of the games end up postponed due to weather, we could be looking at a World Series that doesn’t end until the middle of November.

Remarkably, there has been talk this season of expanding the playoffs! Some want a “play-in” for the wildcard spot, something to add the zest that fans have enjoyed in 2008 and 2009 where one division in each season was decided by a one game playoff. Other chatter has been about extending the divisional series to seven games because some baseball purists don’t believe that a best-of-five series is a true test.

Given that the opening day of baseball has consistently fallen on the first Sunday in April or the last Sunday in March, and considering that the season has been 162 games since the 1961 season, the idea of adding to the schedule seems ludicrous without a reduction in regular season games. Most agree that this is something the owners would never agree to.

Change is the only thing that is ever certain.  Perhaps baseball aficionados can soon look forward to watching the Fall Classic on Thanksgiving.  Perhaps, though, a better answer is needed in order to bring some favor back to America’s pastime.

Don Spieles covers baseball for Sports Then and Now.

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