Commentary

Saunders: Start the World Series games earlier!

bsaunders@newsobserver.comOctober 28, 2013 

It’s safe to say that over the course of a lifetime – as many of you will swear – I have often been wrong.

For instance, when presented with a chance to invest in home water filters 25 years ago because people were supposedly going to start buying bottled water and would eventually want an alternative to plastic bottles, I actually told the guy he was full of beans.

“Man, nobody’s stupid enough to pay money for water,” I said, or something like that.

Around the same time, while living in Gary, Ind., I met several people who knew Gary native Michael Jackson intimately and were willing to dish the dirt. That’s why I proposed to a New York publisher named Sandy that I write a book about him.

Her words, exactly, were: “Nobody’s interested in a book about Michael Jackson or the Jacksons.”

That was about 100 best-sellers ago.

So you see, when it came to predicting business trends, I am a lot like the Kingfish on Amos & Andy, who proclaimed that if he invested in a pumpkin patch, they’d cancel Halloween.

Here’s something about which I know I’m right, though: the number of people watching baseball, specifically the World Series, will continue to dip like a split-finger fastball if baseball doesn’t make some changes.

The ratings for the first three games of the World Series – what? You didn’t know they were playing, either? – have been abysmal. They have been shrinking for the past 35 years.

The consensus, as expressed by TV sports gurus last week, is that people have too many other things on television competing for their attention.

Fiddlesticks. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in what else is on, but within the game itself. In other words, the World Series needs to be fixed – and not in the way Shoeless Joe Jackson and the White Sox fixed it.

Baseball has shown that it’s willing to change, albeit reluctantly. Inter-league play, the designated hitter and wildcard playoff teams were all products of forward thinking.

Bud Selig is fixing to retire as commissioner, so here are some things I’ll propose if they select me as his successor.

First, let the players and managers cuss.

Baseball’s decision-makers did fans no favor when they decided in recent years that players and managers could no longer argue balls and strikes with the umpire.

Well, darn. That used to be one of the best parts of watching baseball, especially when a combative manager such as Earl Weaver of the Orioles was in the dugout.

Next to seeing a great catch in center field, my favorite part of baseball used to be watching a manager go bonkers when he thought his batter had been rooked on a close call.

If today’s managers and players are ejected for arguing a call, what would happen to managers like Weaver and Lou Pinella, who used not only to argue but also to kick dirt on the ump, throw bats and water coolers onto the field or, my favorite, steal a base.

Literally. Dig that sucker up and toss it into the outfield or carry it into the dugout.

Man, I miss that.

The biggest fix that needs to be made, though, is the starting time of games. With World Series games beginning at 8 p.m., some are not over until after midnight. Great title for a song, lousy description for when a baseball game ends.

How are you going to cultivate younger fans — “grow” the audience, in current parlance — if many of them are already in dreamland by the time it ends? Game three of this year’s Series ended on one of the most bizarre plays ever, but it’s doubtful millions of young kids will be talking about it 40 years hence because it occurred – you guessed it – after midnight.

On my favorite TV show, “Jeopardy,” on Friday, Alex Trebek asked who hit the home run to win the 1960 World Series in the bottom of the ninth inning for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Baseball should acknowledge that it has a problem when three of the smartest people on the planet – two of them men who appeared to be in their 30s – had no idea who hit the second most famous home run in baseball history.

If the sport remains focused solely on the bottom line – night World Series games allows the network to charge higher, prime-time rates to advertisers – they’re going to earn a few more dollars, yes, but they’re also going to shut out a large segment of baseball’s potential fan base. As kids, when the World Series was played in the afternoon, one of our great joys was sneaking a transistor radio into class and listening to the games, then rushing home to see the final three or four innings on television.

Bill Mazeroski is the player who hit that home run for Pittsburgh. It was an afternoon game. Joe Carter of the Toronto Blue Jays hit the second 9th inning, Series-winning homer in 1993 and leapt joyously as he rounded the bases. It was ‘round midnight.

The little kids who might’ve been infected with his joy and then grown up to be adult fans were probably asleep.

That is what has put baseball in jeopardy.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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