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Whatever happened to the twi-night doubleheader? A Philadelphia Phillie fan’s perspective
Let me set a picture for you. It's mid-June, and you're 14 years old and school has just let out for the summer. You're spending your days sleeping late, raiding the fridge, mowing two neighbor's lawns for petty cash, napping, heading to the park to play hoops, and if you're a baseball fan, waiting on the night's game. When I was 14 a couple times a year there were circles on my calendar. A couple times a year the baseball junkie got treated to one of summer's great pieces of nostalgia—the twi-night doubleheader.
Just as the mid-day sun began to lose steam and gravity seemed to start pulling it back down to Earth, transistor radios all over Philadelphia would go on earlier than usual. On those nights, you knew you would be gifted with roughly six hours of Harry Kalas and Whitey Ashburn describing the boys of summer plying their wares at the ballyard. The fog of Kalas' voice filled the backyard with the calm of summer until the rise of a play made you sit forward in your lawn chair. The midwestern, small town honesty of Ashburn pulled no punches, telling you it was OK to be a little angry about the play you just listened to. In the late 80s, around the time I was 14, Philadelphia Phillies fans had a lot to be angry about.
That didn't matter much though. Summertime was slow time. I'll argue till the day my time slows to a stop that there is no better passage of slow time than the sport of baseball. It pulls you through half a year, and if you're lucky to have a solid club, maybe one month more. It's the perfect accompaniment to the quiet winsomeness of the summer evening, where in the city the soothing clamor of the neighborhood takes center stage with the sounds of the game in the background, and in the suburbs the game leads the chorus while the immutable sounds of the night begin their subliminal calls.
Those were different times, but not so different as you may think. The advent of the scheduled doubleheader didn't occur with the advent of professional baseball. Today, we say, of course, that owners would never give the fans a two-for-one twi-nighter. There's a whole gate to be lost in a time where money talks louder than anything else in sports. However, through the first few years of baseball, owners didn't want them for the same reason. Before the National League was formed, the National Association only held doubleheaders sparingly.
It wasn't until the 1880s that the doubleheader gathered steam. Teams would play them on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. That was it. Of course, there were no lights then. These were swarmy daytime affairs. When the American Association (pre-American League) got involved, competition with the National League led to more double dips. They were trying to be more fan friendly. Fan Friendly. It's a term you hear nowadays that doesn't have much meaning. It's like throwing Christmas lights on a boarded up house.
Through the early 20th century, as the American League began to gain strength, doubleheaders continued to be a regularity in baseball, be it a scheduled twin bill or a weather makeup. The trend tended to be scheduling doubleheaders against the lesser teams, and more by the lesser teams to get people to the yard. It was easier for a mediocre team to get people out to the ballpark against the league's worst if they were offering two games for the price of one. The Florida Marlins and Tampa Rays may want to look into this when Washington or Kansas City come to town. If you can more than double your current putrid average attendance with a two-for-one, wouldn't that be better than two of your non-existent usual crowds?
Because of religious implications, leagues often played no games on Sundays. The Great Depression changed that. In an effort to maximize any earning potential, owners realized that Sundays were the most convenient day for fans to come out and see baseball. With much of the nation struggling economically, they also had to make it worth it for the common fan to come out to the ballpark. Thus began the era of the Sunday doubleheader.
Doubleheaders peaked during World War II. In 1945, just shy of 50% of all Major League Baseball games were played in doubleheader form. The nation was rationing then. All efforts were concentrated on making sure the boys at war had what they needed. We've heard the stories of baseball losing players to the war, but the amount of days games were played on were lost as well. One of the items being rationed was gasoline. It saved gasoline to have people drive out to the ballpark and back once instead of twice. Hence, the apex of the doubleheader era.
Once peacetime hit, and baseball began its era of expansion, the doubleheader began its decline. By all accounts, the last time every Major League team played a doubleheader on the same day was Labor Day, 1958. There was really no reason for it anymore. It begins and ends the same way—with money. The lack of money made them necessary. The influx of money in the 70s and 80s made them obsolete, and the scheduled doubleheader has all but faded completely from existence.
The Phillies just finished off an 8-1 romp in Game One of a day-night doubleheader with the Marlins. They'll go eat some dinner now. They'll relax. They'll get a rub down. They'll play some cards in the clubhouse. They'll come out and do it all again at 7:05. Weather and scheduling conflicts made this doubleheader a necessity. It wouldn't be fair not to honor the unfortunate folks who had tickets to the original rainout, and likewise, the folks who have tickets to the scheduled evening tilt.
There was a time though, that those folks could grab a beer and a dog and watch the grounds crew do their diligence in getting the field set for Game Two, which would start about 40 minutes after Game One concluded. There was a time that they weren't ushered quickly out of the stadium so that a whole new group could be ushered in.
There was a time that as I sit here at 3:55, the twi-night doubleheader wouldn't have started yet. Game One would end as the last light of day was shrouded by night, and I reveled in the fact that the light of the moon would bring at least nine more innings.
Then again, there is still another game tonight, and I guess that's not all that bad.
Pete Lieber is a freelance writer and a Philadelphia sports enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter at @Lieber14.
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