NEW YORK – Television ratings are up across the board in baseball's postseason. This is cause for celebration among the, oh, 50 or so suits who have a stake in such things. That each is a willing co-conspirator in the gradual ruin of the postseason seems to matter not, because ratings mean profits, and money drives Major League Baseball and the Fox network's myopia toward the scheduling disaster that currently afflicts the sport.
Otherwise, we wouldn't be here: The fourth consecutive season with a team waiting at least a week between winning a League Championship Series and starting the World Series. Note to bigwigs: Baseball is not football. Weeklong layoffs don't fly. It's one thing if a sweep causes it. It's different when MLB allows Fox to hijack the entire schedule for $400 million or so a year.
Beaucoup bucks buy Fox the leverage to insist on starting the World Series on a Wednesday instead of the Saturday that was standard until 2007. That's right: The World Series should have started already. Only because Saturday night is a TV ratings sinkhole, and the potential of two games on Saturday makes Fox executives cower, they make us wait. And wait. And wait.
Never mind the possibility of showing Game 1 on Saturday afternoon and enticing the millions of kids who can't stay up late enough to watch a whole World Series game. No, that would be far too novel. And don't dare insist that the frustration caused by the layoff might actually be worse long term than any hit taken in the ratings. Because that would imply an eye on future health, not current bank balance.
Beware: Disillusionment and apathy are first cousins, and the former can turn into the latter awfully quick.
"We're used to it," said Brad Lidge(notes), the closer for the National League champion Philadelphia Phillies, who for the second straight season have seven days between games. "It comes with the territory. If you get to the World Series, you're going to have to wait a little bit to play."
Didn't used to be that way. Prior to 2007, there was a standard formula employed since baseball introduced the wild card. The playoffs always started the first Tuesday following the regular season ending. The LCS would begin seven or eight days later. And the World Series came 11 days after the start of the first LCS.
Now the postseason starts on a Wednesday. And while the LCS this season began eight days later, the World Series doesn't start until 13 days after the first LCS game. There are off days built in specifically to adhere to Fox's request of a Wednesday start, and with the World Baseball Classic already pushing the season back a week, there will be at least one – and as many as four – World Series games this November.
Nothing says championship-caliber baseball like Elmer Fudd caps.
MLB and Fox must recognize how ridiculous winter baseball looks. Weather is fickle, of course, and it could easily turn blustery in early October. The odds are just greater in late October. See: ALCS Game 6, scheduled for Saturday night, postponed to Sunday because of rain. The late-fall games, coupled with unnecessary off-days, are a double whammy MLB and Fox dish out. How nice it would be if both parties cared as much about the numbers most important to fans (temperature and precipitation) as they do their two favorites (money and ratings).
Arguments can be made both ways regarding the fairness to players. In 2006, Detroit swept the ALCS, sat for seven days and got crushed by St. Louis. The next year, Colorado rolled over Arizona, went nine days between games and lost four straight to Boston. While both claimed rustiness, it affected neither of the previous two teams with weeklong layoffs (Atlanta in 1995 and the New York Yankees in 1996) nor last year's champion, Philadelphia.
The Phillies relish what the week off affords them: a chance to rest weary bodies, relax with family, set up their pitching rotation and procure more in-depth scouting reports on the Yankees and Angels. Not a complaint came from their clubhouse after their workout Friday afternoon, though the Tigers and Rockies also downplayed layoff excuses – until they lost.
"This is the World Series," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "They'll be prepared for it. If you can't get juiced up or hyped up or ready for the World Series, I don't know how much of a pulse you have."
Baseball's, thankfully, continues Sunday at 8:20 p.m. ET. Had New York held on to its Game 5 against the Angels on Thursday, MLB faced a dire scenario: six days between games. Baseball should be ashamed that it allows Fox to bully it into such a potentially momentum-wrecking situation.
The good news is, MLB and Fox aren't beyond reason. They realized that 8:30 p.m. ET starts were too late and moved the majority of this year's games back to 8 p.m. Still an hour too late, but progress nonetheless.
So while MLB considers intuitive ideas to help its plight – like starting the season a week earlier with games in warm-weather cities or domed stadiums, then shaving off another week by making one day a month into Doubleheader Sunday, a treat for fans and easily brandable product – it must make amending the schedule priority No. 1. Can't fix everything at once.
There is a cure for myopia, of course. Glasses. When MLB finds the right pair, it will see what chasing money has wrought. Hopefully, apathy hasn't taken over.