Baseball Needs To Start A Month Earlier


(This article originally was posted on Paranoid Fan. The link can be found HERE.)

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We need summer dollars.” – Mayor Larry Vaughn, Jaws.

The regular season for baseball should end on Labor Day Weekend. It is a summer game that not only loses the attention of casual fans in the fall but plays its greatest showcase against football. That is horrible for marketing, terrible for profits, and it prevents fans from enjoying the game at its best and seeing the most iconic moments of the baseball season.

Let me make it clear that I am a rabid baseball fan. Chances are I follow baseball more intensely than most people you know.

During Christmas morning, I’m thinking baseball. During the Super Bowl, I am breaking down baseball rosters.

When I got married, my bride had the justice of the peace hand me a glove, revealed there was a home plate by the altar and she threw a pitch to signal the beginning of the wedding. And during the ceremony, a TV was playing Game 3 of the 2003 Division Series between the Oakland A’s and my beloved Red Sox. (The Red Sox won on a walk off homer by Trot Nixon and I am still married, just so you know.)

I write a baseball blog and record a baseball podcast 7 days a week. I once stumped Bob Costas with a baseball trivia question. That fact will be carved onto my tombstone.

I love the game of baseball and I love talking about it with other people. So when the season reaches the frenzy that is the September stretch run and the postseason, all I want to do is talk baseball with other sports fans and see if they saw whatever great game happened the night before.

The most common response I hear from Labor Day to the eve of the World Series in October is “baseball is still on? I thought that ended.”

By September all things associated with the summer are in people’s rear view mirrors. Trips to the beach have ended. Cookouts are less common. Even the dozen or so crappy superhero movies have all left the theater and been replaced by horror films. Kids are back to school, people are back to work and white pants have been put back in the closet until next spring.

And any attention that baseball gets from a casual fan has also been extinguished. Attendance at stadiums plummet except for a handful of contenders and most teams are playing in ballparks that are 2/3 empty for the final four weeks.

Fall means football for just about every sports fan other than yours truly. And football will always be king in terms of television ratings and in terms of the pure volume of fans.

There is nothing baseball can do to stop football’s domination in television. As the former commissioner of the NFL, the late Pete Rozelle figured out, football is the ideal sport for TV. It is once a week, the action goes in one direction, and there are built in commercial breaks.

So when football arrives, there is no stopping the exodus of the attention that it gets. Fans like myself could love baseball so much more but we must be resigned that it is a distant second in popularity. I could think that Breaking Bad or Mad Men are better shows than NCIS and it does not matter. They will never catch them in the ratings.

A main problem that baseball has by conceding the fall months to football, they are insuring that more fans do not see their product at its best. Baseball is never better than down the stretch in September and during the post season of October. Losing the audience at that point makes as much sense as showing someone Rocky and shutting it off JUST BEFORE he fights Apollo Creed.

Even when the playoffs are on, they are pushed off the front page of the sports section and the lead on SportsCenter when a regular season college or pro football game is on.
Baseball pretty much has August all to itself but try capturing sports fans’ imagination with a big August series. “Hey we are in first place! We still have 45 games to go!”

During August, just the promise of football has stolen baseball’s thunder. Fantasy drafts and pre-season games take priority.

A potential solution could be adjusting the entire schedule back a month. Push spring training back to January when the football playoffs are in full swing.

Then, on the first weekend of March, start the season. It would of course be too cold to start in many northern cities. But the weather would be fine for the five California teams, Atlanta and Texas. Also there are many cities that have retractable roofs or domes that can play without issue.

Photo credit: Mark Duncan, AP

Photo credit: Mark Duncan, AP

 

More than half the current MLB teams play in cities that are warm enough or can play inside. Enough games could be scheduled in those cities to play a full month.

Besides, putting a few extra days of Texas baseball in March as opposed to having them in hundred degree heat of August would be a fair swap. Plus starting the games in the baseball crazed Northeast with a few weeks headstart could give a second burst of excitement for the opening of the season.

With the schedule adjusted back a month, suddenly August becomes the month of great pennant races. With kids still out of school and families taking time off, the baseball season comes to its climax. Before the football season starts, baseball teams are coming down to the wire.

That impulsive trip to the ballpark in August might be more enticing with the season on the line. Football will never be on the backburner, but at least the pennant race would be competing with fantasy teams and pre-season and not regular season games.

And Labor Day weekend, essentially the end of the summer, would now be the also the ending of the baseball season. The final BBQ and beach trip would also include a final game of the year, which for some team would be a do or die affair instead of just another ballgame with a month to go.

The current playoff format includes an annual one game playoff for the Wild Card. That game can now be played on Labor Day Monday. Have the first playoff game of the summer’s game played on a national holiday that ends summer time. It can even be called “The Labor Day Game.” It can be part of the language of players. “Our goal is to be playing on Labor Day”, et cetera.

Now the postseason will be played in September. The momentum of the August pennant race would help fans of the playoff teams continue their interest into the next months. Schools and colleges back in session and people coming into work could be buzzing from the great finish on Labor Day.

The first week of the playoffs, the best of five Division Series, would start before the NFL season begins. They would mainly be competing with preseason NFL and the first week of college football, before the rankings have really formulated and many top programs play easy tomato cans to pad their record.

Post season games would be played in September weather rather than chilly October. Daylight savings would still be in effect and the conditions would be closer to true baseball weather. Perhaps that could help avoid a weather debacle like snow falling in Cleveland during the 1997 World Series.

Network TV would also be helped. The fall season now begins in September, but for Fox, the shows are put on almost immediate hiatus to accommodate the baseball schedule. The premieres could be a few weeks later with the baseball available to promote the shows instead of the current stop and start roll out.

Also the inevitable shot of Fox TV stars sitting in the fans will be more welcoming to actors sitting on a mild September day rather than being flown to a cold late October game in Philadelphia or Colorado.

The World Series would be played in late September and ending no later than Columbus Day, providing fans with one great month of entertainment and only four weeks competing with football rather than two whole months.

As for the cities who missed the playoffs? They’ll be switching to football in September anyway. But at least they had the stretch run of August to themselves and the sight of empty seats in September could be avoided.

Of course this is not a fail safe plan. Early March baseball would be a hard sell as would be the scheduling nightmare of avoiding snowy states in those first few weeks.

But are those issues worth dealing with in exchange of showing the game at its best to the most number of eyeballs?

It’s worth a shot. I know I will be talking baseball and watching it whether they play in March or November. Baseball does not have to worry about MY devotion. They need to showcase the product at its best to the most number of people.

Don’t try to beat football. Adjust and find enough room to win on your own terms, baseball.

One thought on “Baseball Needs To Start A Month Earlier

  1. It’s a very interesting concept Sully. However, your playoffs would start off in September, competing with the beginning of Football season! Isnt it better for playoffs to not compete with that? And compete with a football season that already started, and that commencement is not a novelty anymore?

    I’ve been thinking that baseball should , yes, start one month earlier. But that it should also be a shorter season. I don’t know, 130 games or something. But that would change the whole history of the game, record books etc. There’s just too much history with the 162 game format for it to be shortened like that.

    Thanks for all you do man.
    from a loyal reader/follower

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