Feinstein: MLB Should Start Games Earlier, Address Pace Of Play

I love the World Series. Some of my earliest memories involved watching World Series games or sneaking my transistor radio into P.S. 87 so I could go to the bathroom to check the score and, more important, listen to the game on the four-block walk home from school.

That was a different time and place, when people ate dinner AFTER the games ended. It began to change in 1971, when Commissioner Bowie Kuhn authorized playing Game 4 of the Pirates-Orioles World Series at night. At the time, it seemed cool to have a night game. That was also back when most baseball games were over in two-and-a-half hours. The game that night took a fairly lengthy 2 hours and 48 minutes. Nowadays, you’re lucky if a postseason game is in the 7th inning after that long.

That’s why it made me sad on Monday morning to wake up and realize I’d missed one of the great World Series endings because I simply couldn’t stay up until 1:37 in the morning. Anything past 11 o’clock — I have a 7-year-old — and I have no chance. I know I’m not alone. The game ended at 12:37 a.m. Houston time. Most people in the Central time zone start their days earlier than those of us who live in the East, so folks getting home from the game at 2 a.m. who had to work probably got no more than 3-4 hours sleep.

Kids going to school? What parent could even consider bringing a child to a game on a school night that, even if it only went nine innings, would mean a well-past midnight return home? It won’t be so bad in L.A. tonight, but that’s only because the game will begin at 5:20 Pacific time. Good luck getting there in traffic.

I understand that I am tilting at windmills here, but I believe the owners and their commissioners – dating to Kuhn – have been penny-wise and VERY pound-foolish when it comes to postseason, especially the Series. The first World Series I remember was when I was six-years-old: Yankees-Giants in 1962.

I vividly remember Sandy Koufax not starting Game 1 in 1965 to observe Yom Kippur — I observed by watching Don Drysdale pitch against Mudcat Grant in his place — and then pitching Game 7 on two days rest (against Jim Kaat, also on two days rest) and pitching a 4-hit shutout.

By the time the Orioles swept the Dodgers in 1966, I never missed an inning, one way or the other. I vividly remember Moe Drabowsky coming in to relieve for the Orioles in Game 1 and shutting the Dodgers down. The Dodgers didn’t score after Game 1. In 1969, Ed Brennan, my swim coach, excused me from practice to take part in the Vietnam War Moratorium on the day of Game 4 of Mets-Orioles. I spent the afternoon vehemently protesting from the upper deck of Shea Stadium. Ron Swoboda was right beneath me when he made his famous catch. The next day, because I was SO anti-war, I missed practice again to go to Game 5. Gil Hodges and the shoe polish. Donn Clendennon. Al Weis. Cleon Jones making the final catch. I can still see it all in my mind’s eye.

If I was a kid today, I never would have seen any of those games or had any of those memories. No way would my parents let me stay up for a game knowing it would end at least an hour — or more — past my bedtime.

There are a lot of reasons why football has become our national pastime. One of them is that most games are played in the afternoon and kids grow up watching the games with their parents. It is the way families often spend Sunday afternoons; some in the stadiums; more watching on TV.

Football is different, of course. There’s only one game a week. And the NFL has certainly chased every dollar it can with Monday Night Football; then Sunday Night Football and now (ugh) Thursday Night Football. I’m surprised they haven’t put Friday and Saturday nights up for bid … yet.

I wish there were more day baseball games and that Sunday doubleheaders still existed, but I understand they’ve gone the way of the Edsel and afternoon newspapers. At least though, during the regular season, the night games start at 7 o’clock — sometimes at 6. There’s no such thing as an 8:20 local time start. That makes a huge difference. Most nights, I can sit down, watch an entire Mets game and still be in bed by about 10 o’clock.

Now, we all know why the World Series games start so late: TV money. By starting the games late, FOX can sell that many more ads in their pre-game show and allow more fans on the West Coast — which, for the record, represents 16 percent of the country’s population — to get home from work, if not for the start of the game, then at least by the middle innings. Of course, 79 percent of the country — east coast and central time zones — often can’t stay up to watch the end, especially when a game goes extra innings or, as games do more and more, slogs on forever.

Yes, Game 5 was a classic, even if it took 5 hours and 37 minutes to play. Most games aren’t classics and the average postseason game this fall has taken 3 hours and 35 minutes to play. THAT is ridiculous.

Rob Manfred’s been commissioner since January of 2015. One of his first missions — according to him — was to fix the pace-of-play problem in the sport. He put together a commission that made recommendations and, in 2016, the games were SIX whole minutes faster – going from three hours and 1 minutes to 2:55. Even that progress went away this past, season: the average game took a record-breaking 3 hours and 6 minutes.

It’s time to stop dilly-dallying around with minor fixes and just DO SOMETHING.

1. A pitch clock. Go over 20 seconds with no one on base and it’s an automatic ball. Second offense for that pitcher, two balls. Third offense—walk.

2. If the folks in New York can’t figure out a replay call in 90 seconds, call on the field stands. Period.

3. Five warm-up pitches when a reliever comes in. What’s he been doing in the bullpen, eating pizza?

4. This is important: No batter can step out of the box more than once in an at-bat unless he’s injured.

5. Catcher can only go to the mound once per pitcher in an inning. No more first trips to the mound. Someone comes out of the dugout and crosses the foul line, pitching change.

6. No more throwing the ball around the infield after an out with nobody on base. I know it’s a tradition, but do we need it? No.

There, I’ve just taken 20 minutes off of every game. People will whine and talk about tradition. They’ll find excuses not to do these things. You want tradition? Get rid of the DH and bring back doubleheaders on Sundays and holidays.

As for the World Series, Manfred’s predecessor, Bud Selig, and now Manfred have been crowing for years about baseball’s record revenues. They say this to prove that people still love baseball — which they do.

Fine. Make the weekend World Series games late-afternoon starts in the east. Make the mid-week games start at 7 o’clock. This WILL cost some TV revenue. Baseball can afford it. Maybe MLB and the various teams can fire some of their worthless front office people — like PR people who think their job is to keep the media AWAY from players, managers and guys like Joe Torre. That would save some money if need be.

But STOP playing the season’s best games in the middle of the night. STOP allowing games to take forever. I’ve gotten to the point where some nights I get so bored watching games I switch over to Big Bang Theory reruns. If baseball starts to lose guys like me, it’s in trouble.

All that said, I WILL try to stay up until the end of Game 7. And I will be fired up when pitchers and catchers begin reporting in three-and-a-half months. I just hope my annual countdown to that day begins before midnight tonight.

John Feinstein’s new book is, “The First Major—The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup,’ which is receiving rave reviews from, among others, Rory McIroy and David Feherty. His most recent kids mystery is, “Backfield Boys, A Football Mystery in Black-and-White.” It examines the issue of race in sports with a football backdrop.

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