Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Two games for the price of one ... oh, never mind!

Despite the name of this blog and the obsessive nature of the Chicago Cubs fan who operates it, baseball has not been a common topic at this tiny piece of Internet real estate. A lot of that "neglect" may be because of the current state of the Cubs baseball club, which didn't exactly play to impress this past season. (Translation: They sucked. Hard.) But baseball comes today because this particular day is maybe the dumbest on the season's calendar. That's because tonight the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics will play each other in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, which will begin at about 8 p.m. (ET) tonight - at the same time that Game 1 of the National League Championship Series between the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals will commence.

This is at least the third year in a row that there will be this one-night overlap of the two LCS matchups, where baseball audiences will have to choose which game to follow. In some cases, the choice will be made for them. Fox, which owns the exclusive contract to both the LCS and the resulting World Series, will air one game on its over-the-air network and the other on its FX cable channel. Which game gets the broadcast slot will depend on the region, so for those cable-less households - and they do still exist - they'll be out of luck if, say, they live in Oakland but are die-hard Mets fans.

Why is this such a big deal? Because for many years Major League Baseball was one of the very rare league (the NFL being the other) where all playoff games were guaranteed national coverage. This could be done because of the relatively low number of contests in MLB's baseball cycle, and also because, in the cases where more than one game was played on a day, games would be played in the daytime. There was even a time, boys and girls, when World Series games were played during the day. Ask your mommies and daddies about those heady times, when they would often sneak their transistor radios into classrooms to subversively listen to the broadcasts. Or maybe they were lucky enough to have understanding teachers. One of my friends, who was a child when the Mets won their miracle World Series in 1969, told me about the thrill of having a old TV rolled into a school assembly so the kids could watch one of the WS games out in the open. (She lived in the New York region at the time, thus the special treatment. And, yeah, ’69 should have been the Cubs' year. That's another topic for another time, painful as it is.)

Alas, the days of daytime playoff baseball, at least for the LCS and World Series, are long gone, a victim of the increasing importance of the All-Mighty Dollar. Because ratings for daytime baseball are not spectacular (i.e. they suck. Hard.), The Powers That Be try to have as many games in prime-time - all of them, actually - as possible to maximize value. How this is better than the alternative, I don't know, particularly when the actual games often don't start until almost 8:30, which means that young kids - the future of the fan base, by the way - often are in bed well before the games end or even become exciting. But that's what the big bosses want, which is why we have tonight's overlap. You would think that MLB would have learned from the ill-fated 1995 season, when this freakish monstrosity called The Baseball Network rules the TV landscape and led to the entire playoff cycle being run with overlap, so that most communities only got to see one LCS. It was an universally condemned situation, which is one reason why The Baseball Network was gone in 1996.

Would it have killed MLB and Fox to have, for this one day, one of these games played under God's natural lighting? It would have been cool to have the Mets and Cardinals play in the sunshine of Queens - to have little kids and grown-ups alike playing hooky to go to the ballgame or sneak their tiny radios into the classrooms and boardrooms, or fire up their computers and listen to the streamed play-by-play. Instead, as is often the case, MLB has taken the easy - and the wrong - way out for the sake of a few bucks. Idiots.

UPDATE: God, in his position as the Ultimate Baseball Fan, has settled the schedule overlap in his own way; the Mets-Cardinals game has been postponed due to rain. So everyone watches Detroit-Oakland tonight. So there.

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