The World Series is underway as the New York Mets take on the Kansas City Royals. David R. McCullough look at baseball’s interminable slog and wonders why MLB has decided to play so late into the year.
Baseball is the quintessential summer sport. There are few things better than a summer evening at the ballpark, where the sun is shining at first pitch, a slight breeze is a welcome visitor, and twilight dwindles into the 5th inning. Each year, baseball fans eagerly wait out winter’s chill, knowing that when baseball season arrives, so does the pleasant weather. Baseball and sunshine go together like ham and cheese – the perfect combination of long days and warm nights.
But this year, for some unfathomable reason, the World Series will conclude in November, possibly only a week (or so) ahead of Thanksgiving. This is ridiculous. It is bad for fans and it is bad for the game.
Fans tolerate cold weather games in April because the promise of warmer days (and pennant races) lie ahead. One of baseball’s primary appeals is the lack of a clock – games take as long as they take. But when the temperature outside is falling into the 30s and the game starts four hours after sunset and concludes near midnight, the fans are entering into some sort of endurance contest, pitting themselves against frostbite and numb extremities. And losing.
To be fair, most baseball fans have already checked out for the season, their favorite team eliminated two (or more) months ago. The NLCS garnered nearly 8 million viewers, an increase over last season’s numbers – mostly attributable to the size of the TV markets involved in the games. By contrast, the NFL’s internet-only broadcast of a game on Yahoo.com from London at 9:30 AM EST grabbed nearly 15 million viewers – and that is the lowest “rated” NFL game in recent memory.
When the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals take the field for Game 1, the weather forecast calls for rain and temperatures in the 50s. Is baseball trying to kill off its fans with pneumonia? Because sitting in the rain for more than three hours in fifty-degree weather is a good way to get started on pneumonia.
It will only get worse when the series shifts to New York, where all the leaves are brown and the sky is grey. November in the northeast means frost on windshields and migratory birds hightailing it for warmer climates – because unlike the people who run Major League Baseball, birds have the brains to get away from cold, wet, gloomy weather.
The first World Series games to be played in November came in 2001, after a national tragedy forced the schedule to be extended. Now, MLB plans for the season to stretch into the start of holiday shopping season in a futile attempt to remain relevant in the sports pages for a few more days on the calendar. It is, like most things MLB does, shortsighted and dumb. Baseball has become a regional sport and one of the regions it is still being played in – i.e. New York – is cold, grey, and ready to bundle up for winter.
So, when the crack of the bat is heard this week, say a prayer for the hands of the player because hitting a baseball with cold hands hurts like hell. Get ready for pitchers blowing into their freezing hand, trying to regain some feeling in their fingers. Enjoy the sight of bench players in puffy coats looking miserable as the rain and wind of November imposes on the spring/summer game.
And hope for a sweep. Because Mr. November has the wrong ring to it. Mr. October was a fine moniker, especially when the World Series wrapped up several weeks before Halloween – as it did for decades before MLB’s search for ratings took them to 8:30 PM EST start times and November schedule creep. Now, it just needs to be over before the poor fans of New York and Kansas City contract an illness or freeze to death during the 7th inning stretch.