MLB: Doubleheaders Overdue for a Return to Schedule

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MLB: Doubleheaders Overdue for a Return to Schedule
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Rich Harden started game 2 of the A's / Angels doubleheader Saturday.

For the past several seasons there has been a debate amongst fans and those within the game regarding how to shorten the length of the Major League season to keep World Series games from being played into November.

In October of last year, CBS Los Angeles reported that Bud Selig would consider shortening the schedule, perhaps back to the 154-game schedule that used to be played prior to 1961.

CBS speculated that it was possible that players would be willing to cut the schedule, although they acknowledged it would be unlikely to ever materialize because it would result in a loss in revenue for the teams by four games each year (eight total games cut from the schedule, presumably four road games and four home games).

Considering that attendance figures are actually down league-wide according to Baseball America, it is unlikely that the owners would consider cutting out an additional four full games worth of attendance, plus the parking fees and concession sales they receive, from their overall profit annually.

Cutting spring training short and starting the season earlier is an option, although it has its drawbacks.

The majority of games that get rained out and need to be replayed at the end of the season occur in the early months when several colder climate clubs are still experiencing their rainy (and snow) seasons.

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The result of those make up games typically either winds up with the loss of a much needed off day for the players, or having to play a day-night double header.

And in this scenario we actually find the simplest, and most marketable, approach to solving the length of season problem.

Doubleheaders have always been a popular draw for the local fanbase. The current day-night doubleheader, which requires a ticket to each game, typically provides a boost in ticket sales for the day, although it remains cost-prohibitive for some fans to attend both games.

For the first time since the mid-1990s, a regularly scheduled, traditional-style doubleheader has been played in the Major Leagues.

The Oakland Athletics were granted permission to schedule a traditional double-header with their division rival Los Angeles Angels, which was played today at the Oakland Coliseum (O.co Coliseum).

The scheduling move was designed to boost the Athletics' poor attendance numbers. The first game after the All-Star break is traditionally a a good turnout, and the A's have a bobblehead day scheduled for Sunday, July 17 (MC Hammer bobblehead day).

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Jared Weaver pitched game one of the doubleheader for the Angels

The middle game figured to suffer, and thus the doubleheader.

 

Over 27,300 tickets were sold, compared with just 18,470 the game before. Typically, Oakland's attendance drops to around 11,000 or less the day before a major event such as a bobblehead game.

The fans who purchased a ticket received two games instead of just one, unlike the rain-makeup games where you need two tickets to see both games.

The marketing ploy worked!

Based on the popularity of these rare occasions, it may be time for a part of baseball's storied history to make a regular return.

The doubleheader was a regularly scheduled event in baseball up until the late 1950s, when it began to slowly disappear from the schedule as the need to boost attendance diminished.

The primary cause of its disappearance was a boost in overall attendance thanks to relocation.

The Braves moved from Boston to Milwaukee in 1953. The Brooklyn Dodgers relocated to Los Angeles in 1958 and the New York Giants also became the San Francisco Giants in 1958.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Trevor Cahill started game one of the doubleheader for Oakland.

Each of the relocated teams saw a significant drop in their doubleheaders the following few seasons. There was simply no need with a new energized fanbase that would fill the stadiums.

The trend continued when the Washington Senators moved to Minnesota and became the Twins in 1961, and the Kansas City Athletics moved to Oakland in 1968.

 

Prior to this trend, doubleheaders were common on the schedule, typically played on Sundays throughout the season.

Teams would play as many as 30 percent of their games in this fashion. Teams even had a "Sunday pitcher" who would pitch one game of the doubleheader each week, keeping the rest of the pitchers on a regular schedule.

Major League Baseball will never return to a format where there are so many double-days scheduled, but thanks to the emergence of so many additional revenue streams for teams, the doubleheader could finally be a realistic option to fixing the diminishing attendance and shortening the length of the season.

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Owners are compensated increasingly well through TV deals, streaming media licensing rights, radio contracts, advertising and increased merchandizing opportunities.

Scheduling as few as one doubleheader a month would add a few thousand fans to the overall monthly totals while shortening the length of the schedule by a full week.

Creating a bi-weekly occurrence of the doubleheader would take away two full weeks and allow for the inclusion of baseball's expanded playoffs while still shortening the overall length of the season.

 

Sure, concerns over the use of the pitching staff and availability of players for the second game will exist.

The use of a six-man rotation due to the "Sunday pitcher" would alleviate part of that concern.

The rosters of those teams in the 1950s and before never included more than 25 men though, and they played as many as 30 or more doubleheaders a year in some years. Their transportation was not as luxurious as the current players enjoy, nor were there training and rehabilitation equipment.

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Somehow those players survived.

If the player's association has a severe problem with the notion of playing more doubleheaders, I am sure the owners could negotiate expanding the rosters to 26 or 27 players to reduce the risk of overusing bullpen arms and tiring out position players.

Such a move would create 30 to 60 more Major League jobs, a move the Players Association would be hard-pressed to turn down.

Not to mention it would allow for a shorter season as well as the potential for more off days during the season.

The owners should have all the incentive in the world simply based on the increase in attendance for those scheduled dates.

 

Remember, doubleheaders are not just tickets sold; it is also an increase in parking sold, food and beverages, souvenirs and a reduction in overall non-player (service industry) salaries paid (I apologize to those hard working individuals for the suggestion, but overall it benefits hundreds of thousands of fans more than the few hundred employees it effects).

It's the simplest and most obvious answer to fixing a pair of baseball's current problems, and the time has come for the old-fashioned traditional doubleheaders to make a return to the Major League Baseball regular schedule.

 

This article is also featured on Bayseball.com

 

Brandon McClintock covers the Oakland Athletics and Major League Baseball for BleacherReport.com. You can follow him on Twitter:   @BMcClintock_BR.

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