Wednesday

4-22-09: The Joy of the Double Header

Hello again everybody...

We've reached the mid-way point of the week, and after a couple of cool days here in the upper-Midwest, we're finally warming up a tad. I can't even tell you why, but I'm feeling pretty optimistic about life in general. Check back with me tomorrow, and I'm sure I'll be back to my usual, cynical self (man I hate Thursdays).

Today, I'll discuss one of the wonders of baseball that Twins fans will have to contend with more often in the near future: the double header. The Twins/Red Sox (whom I hate) game that was scheduled for last night was postponed by rain. So the two clubs are in the midst of a double header to make up that game. Two baseball games in one day? Yes please! Why aren't there more of these? Why don't they schedule them regularly? And why are they so much fun?

Let's talk about it!

"It's a beautiful day for a ballgame... let's play two!"
- Ernie Banks (1931 - ), MLB Hall of Famer

Mr. Cub with his catch-phrase. And it fits in perfectly with today's topic!

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The double header is one of those gems of baseball's past which has dwindled in today's game. It used to be that double headers were part of the regular major league schedule, but now the only reason you see them is because a game got postponed. There are several reasons for this change.

To start with, like seemingly everything else in professional sports, money is a large consideration. It used to be that fans could purchase one ticket for a double header and get twice the value. Owners finally decided that they could increase their profit by separating those two gates into the "day-night" double header. That, at least, would get them two different gates.

Then they realized that fans would come out to the ballpark even in late October and early November for playoff games, which would allow them to lengthen the regular-season schedule and eliminate the need for scheduled double-headers all together.

And not only is money an issue for the owners, but it's also an issue for the players. Players these days make so much money that they've essentially become products. They are widgets off of which owners, agents and ex-wives make money. I'm not trying to convince you to feel sorry for players - they certainly make their fair share. Instead I'm pointing out that once you consider players to be a meal-ticket, they become something to be protected. And two games in one day means twice the number of opportunities to get injured. So players and agents appeal to the Union, and the Union "suggests" to owners that they'd rather not play double headers.

("Suggests" in this case having the meaning of "threaten with labor trouble".)

So since both owners and players feel like it's to their financial advantage to not play double headers, the fans lose out on the opportunity to enjoy one of the wonders of baseball.

Of the four major sports, baseball is the only one that could reasonably be played twice in one day. Football and hockey are far to physically punishing to expect professionals to play two without people getting seriously hurt, and basketball requires so much running that pros would blow out knees at an alarming rate if they played twice a day.

That's not a knock on the athleticism of baseball, it's just the nature of the game. Baseball is played in short bursts. A slower pace doesn't mean it requires less athletic ability, it just means that there's more down-time, more time to recover. Plus with 25-man rosters, it's not that difficult to tweak your line-ups so guys don't get worn out.

(Aside: that is unless you're the Twins and your bullpen is god-awful. Seriously, Juan Morillo?! Can we please take some of this position-player depth and trade for some relief help already? Please!)

And it's because it's so doable that it should be done. Fans love multi-game days. Why do you think "Hockey Day in Minnesota" has been such a success? Planning your day around multiple games creates an event. People love events. They're something that allows us to ignore the mundane nature of the rest of our lives and have something to look forward to.

When I was down in Arizona visiting my folks in March, we had the opportunity to catch two games in one day. It was brilliant. Day baseball with the feel of the warm sun and the smell of freshly mowed grass, followed by more baseball on a cool evening under the lights. That's a helluva way to spend a day, I promise you.

And those were just Spring Training games. I can only imagine how cool it would be to experience something like that at the big league level.

Here's my thought. Why can't we have two scheduled double-headers a year? I know the schedule is ridiculously complex as it is, but they used to be able to pull this off, so you can't tell me it can't be done today. They could work it just like they do interleague play. Pick two sections of the year where teams have a double-header on the weekend. One could be late May, the other could be early August. Something like that. Weekends like that would be huge marketing opportunities. And you don't think teams with low attendance wouldn't see a boost from a well-marketed "Double Header Weekend"? Of course they would.

You know why independent minor league baseball has had such success? Because they decided that playing to the fans is as important as putting together a quality team on the field. MLB has gotten part of that message (see: an increase in promotional days). But if I was running a team like Florida or Kansas City and I wanted to get my fan base excited again, things like double headers would be a solid way to promote a team with a lot of young talent.

I know, I know. It's probably not going to happen.

Fortunately, even players and owners reluctance to play two can't defeat mother nature. Sometimes games get rained out, and double headers are necessary to get all 162 games in. Which brings me back to today.

The Twins and the Red Sox (whom I hate) are in yet another rain delay, with the Sox (whom I hate) leading 10-1 in the 7th inning. Yes, even when my favorite team is getting shelled, I'm happy because it's a double header day. And I look forward to having the chance to take in two at Target Field starting next year!

(Full disclosure: the forecast for tonight looks pretty damp in Boston, so it's entirely possible that they'll call this game today and move game 2 to tomorrow. But dammit, I'm still happy!)

That's all for today ladies and gents. I'm back on Friday with more DFTU wonder for you all.

Until then, thanks for reading!

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