erik lundegaard

How to Fix the World Series—In a Good Way

The graph below charts on which days (and nights) in October (and September and November) the World Series played—from 1903 to 2009. Orange represents game days, yellow represents off-days. The gray vertical lines represent the first and last days of October:

I was surprised that many of the first World Series games were played in mid-October. In two years, in fact—1910 and 1911, those orange lines sticking out at the top of the chart—they didn't begin until mid-October, and, because of a weeklong rain delay in Philadelphia, the 1911 Series didn't end until October 27th. But they learned their lesson. Not that one shouldn't play the World Series in Philadelphia (although...), but you need to start earlier to hopefully hit the good October weather. So they started earlier. After 1911, October 10th (1923) was the latest Series start until 1969. That's a good time to play the most important games of the year. Indian summer, we used to call it. World Series weather, Billy Crystal used to call it.

Four events have pushed the most important games of the year deeper into the darkest, coldest part of October: the introduction of the 162-game schedule in 1961; the introduction of the best-of-five playoffs in 1969; the shift to a best-of-seven playoffs in 1985; and the introduction of the best-of-five division series in 1995.

Overall, as many as 20 games (162-154+5+7), and at least 15 games (162-154+3+4), have been added to the post-season schedule.

For a while, MLB accommodated these extra games by pushing up the start of the baseball season into early April and sometimes into late March. But eventually MLB began running out of room here, too, and the long push into late October began. Al Qaeda prompted the first November Series in 2001; and now Commissioner Bud Selig, with a nod to the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March and a yes-man attitude toward the networks, has adopted al Qaeda's schedule for 2009. Game Four is set for Nov. 1st. Game Seven, if we get there, is scheduled for Nov. 5th.

Can anything—short of reverting back to the 154-game schedule or eliminating a tier of playoffs—be done to reverse this trend?

Of course. Eliminate most of the off-days in October. I've written about this before.

This year the regular season ended on Sunday, October 4th. Assuming each playoff series goes the maximum, there are, for each team, 11 off-days before the World Series even begins. In other words, half the days in October are off-days.

So why not have the players play through? That's what they do during the regular season. With this method, we could've had the following 2009 post-season schedule:

  • Division series: Begin Tuesday, Oct. 6 (game 1) and play through, if necessary, to Saturday, Oct. 10 (game 5). Day off Sunday, or for postponed games.
  • Championship series: Begin Monday, Oct. 12 (game 1) and play through, if necessary, to Sunday, Oct. 18 (game 7). Day off Monday, or for postponed games.
  • World Series: Begin Tuesday, October 20.

We save a week, we don't go into November, and teams have to play the kind of games they played to get to the post-season: notably, using fifth starters and more of their bullpen. Teams dance with those that brung them. Hell, with this method, in a non-WBC year, we could start the World Series as early as mid-October. Maybe as early as Oct. 12. And we haven't done that since 1984.

Arguments against?

  • Wait! That means four games per day are played during the division series! How can I watch them all? Don't you have TiVo? Or DVR? Or the Internet? I might also suggest not watching them all and, you know, getting a semblance of a life.
  • Who wants to watch fifth starters when you could watch C.C. Sabathia? Nothing would please most baseball fans more than watching the Yankees fumble with their fifth starter.
  • Is the weather really that important, Uncle Erik? Not sure if anyone would actually raise this objection but here's the evidence: the average monthly temperatures for the following cities, according to weatherbase.com, which suggests it makes sense to lean toward September rather than play into November:
City Sept. Oct. Nov.
New York 68 58 48
Philadelphia 68 57 47
Chicago 65
53
40
Minneapolis 61 50 33
  • Dude! The networks won't allow it. And the networks rule! I admit I have no idea what kind of negotiations go on with your FOXes and ESPNs and TBSs, or why the networks would want off-days in the first place, since off-days cause fans and casual observers to lose the thread of the storyline. "What day is it on again?"  Etc. But it feels like MLB could push this if they wanted. They could push this because they have their own network now. Hell, if they got the MLB network on basic cable—and, again, I'm not sure what you'd have to do to get a network on basic cable—they could elminate your FOXes and ESPNs and TBSs completely. Maybe that's their strategy. I hope it is.
  • Why mess with a good thing? Because it's not a good thing. And not just aesthetically or historically; it doesn't make market sense, either. The trend in television ratings, and thus ad revenue, has been down since the early '80s. Look here. Or here. The ratings for the first game of the 1986 World Series? 24.2. The ratings for the first game of the 2008 World Series? 9.2. In fact, last year, for the first time ever, every game of the World Series had a rating below 10—while the third game had a rating of 6.1. Ouch. I don't know if what I suggest would reverse the ratings trend; I just know that what they're doing now isn't turning people, and television sets, on.

Baseball has a problem but it has an easy solution. Eliminate off-days. Maintain the thread of the storyline. Dance with the guys that brung ya. It's win-win-win-win. 

Baseball is supposed to be played every day in fair weather. We're now playing the most important games every other day in horrendous weather. And that's not baseball.


Posted at 09:11 AM on Thu. Oct 15, 2009 in category Baseball  
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