Okay, so I'm not a sportswriter, and the baseball playoffs will be played entirely in the United States. But hey, it is nominally the World Series, and the Boston Red Sox may be in it, so I can claim a vague peg for a Worldly Boston blog post. And what's a blog for if not for occasional digressions and venting?
The World Series this year is guaranteed to drag into November. The flaw in this schedule is worse than the risk of frost-bitten night games. It's that the rhythm of the baseball season has been compromised.
In 1978, after the Sox and Yankees finished the season tied for first on Sunday, Oct. 1, the one-game playoff was the very next day -- on Monday afternoon. I remember the buzzing intensity of those hours (and the slanting late sun in Lou Piniella's eyes). We won't dwell on the outcome. Suffice to say the Yankees won the World Series in six games that year -- on October 17.
For those who haven't focused yet on the playoffs calendar, Game Four of the World Series is scheduled for Nov. 1, ensuring at least one November game. And Game Seven, if needed, is scheduled for Thursday Nov. 5. Only once before have games been played in November, and that was in 2001, when the post-season was delayed by a national security emergency.
This year, we will be drowning in bad jokes about playing baseball in basketball season (the Boston Celtics open their regular season Oct. 27 against Cleveland), and the chances of playing baseball until Thanksgiving if there are enough November rainouts.
Sure, the regular season ended late, on Oct. 4, thanks to the pre-season World Baseball Classic (the real World Series?). But this year's one-game playoff between Detroit and Minnesota comes not on Monday, as it did in 1978, but on Tuesday. And the start of the division series for the Red Sox could come as late as Thursday night -- if the Yankees opt to start their series on Wednesday. The Sunday-to-Thursday wait will feel more like a quick NFL turnaround.
This snail's pace is foreign to the spirit of baseball. It dulls the sense of anticipation that these series used to instill in us. It doesn't help that the five-game division series all have two days off built in. And then it may get a lot worse. The National League championship series starts on Thursday Oct. 15, and the AL opens the next day. If they both last only four games, they could end by Tuesday, Oct. 20.
Then, in that worst case, there could be an eight-day gap between the end of the two league series and the first game of the World Series, on Wednesday, Oct. 28.
That's longer than a normal pro football weekly interlude! Who will still be paying attention? And yes, there's a Halloween Game, on Saturday, Oct. 31.
Of course I am fully aware that television dictates. TBS and Fox call the shots. And they want prime time. They at least agreed to bring forward the starting times of most games, from the absurd 8:37 p.m. of recent years to 7:57 p.m. They finally got it that people were asleep in their armchairs -- or already in bed -- for many late finishes. That obviously contributed to the fading audience interest. Last year's ratings for the Phillies-Rays World Series reached record lows.
But surely TV networks also must get it that the falling audience interest in recent post-seasons has plenty to do with abandoning the near-daily rhythm of the games that keeps us absorbed all season long? Surely viewership would rise if the end of one playoff series determined the start of the next one, with the shortest possible break? It would generate far more buzz among fans if the whole exercise felt a lot less rigid and deliberate (read slow).
Let's get that old-time rhythm back into baseball.
About this blog
About James F. SmithJim Smith came home to his native Boston in 2002 to become the Boston Globe's foreign editor after spending 22 years abroad. He was previously based in Buenos Aires and Mexico City for the LA Times, and in Johannesburg, Tokyo and The Hague for the AP. In 2007 he became the Globe's national political editor, coordinating presidential campaign coverage. He is a Yale graduate, and has an MBA. He is married to Maxine Hart and has two sons, Matthew and Daniel.
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