Monday, October 12, 2009

Dumb and Dumberer

Can major league baseball do any more to hurt its already shaky reputation?
Forget the sub-zero temperatures for last night's playoff game between the Phillies and Rockies in Denver. It's essentially the same problem all northern MLB teams face every year in April, so unless you build a dome there's no use complaining (just bundle up like Jayson Werth of the Phils).

But MLB can do something about start times, and Sunday night's 10:07 (!) pm (eastern) start for Game 3 was absolutely ridiculous. The start virtually guaranteed the game would go past midnight in the east (past 1 am, actually), meaning lots of interested fans in Philadelphia (especially kids) were probably already in bed and missed the dramatic ending.

As usual, this whole mess is about television and ratings. The logical thing to do would be to put the games in the daytime, but MLB doesn't want to (or doesn't think it can) compete with the NFL. So the sport's most dramatic time of the season gets shunted off to the nether-world of 10pm start times on cable channels, while the NFL teams play all through the day on the major networks. Even when baseball doesn't go head-to-head with the NFL it stubbornly schedules most of its games so that they end well past midnight in the east.

MLB finds itself in a very difficult position, caught between the needs of television and the best interest of its fans, who too often these days get the short end of the stick. It's very easy to blame television, but that's where most of the money comes from, and without the media money baseball is in real trouble (think of the NHL and Versus).

Even so, baseball could take back a measure of control from the networks and insist on more sensible scheduling, which includes more day and early evening games. The networks will ask, "Who's going to be home watching at one in the afternoon?" A better question is, "Who's still going to be awake and watching at one in the morning?"


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