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BILL DWYRE

TV money is drawing baseball further off base

The spread-out schedule for television forces the baseball season deeper and deeper into the late fall, where the summer game turns into a crapshoot of rain and cold.

October 25, 2009|BILL DWYRE

FROM NEW YORK — It is Saturday night and rain has washed out the Yankees-Angels game. That gives us yet another reason to hate television and hate how baseball clicks its heels and salutes its every demand.

No, Fox didn't cause the rain. It's off the hook on that one. But it has caused a postseason format that has done, among other things, the following as Major League Baseball nodded and drooled:

* Given the Angels a schedule that will mean they will play their ninth postseason game in 18 days today, Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.

* Given the Yankees a schedule that has the same number of games in 17 days.

* Given the National League champion Phillies a situation, with the last day of the regular season Oct. 4 and the World Series not starting until Wednesday, where they will have played nine games in 24 days.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, October 27, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 60 words Type of Material: Correction
Bill Dwyre column: A column in Sunday's Sports section on how TV money is affecting baseball's postseason scheduling said, "From 1969 through 2006, World Series Game 1 was on a Saturday." From 1977 through 1984 and in 1990, the Series started midweek. (Also, the Series was canceled in 1994, and in 1996 rain delayed Game 1 from Saturday to Sunday.)
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, November 01, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 62 words Type of Material: Correction
Bill Dwyre column: A column in the Oct. 25 Sports section on how TV money is affecting baseball's postseason scheduling said, "From 1969 through 2006, World Series Game 1 was on a Saturday." From 1977 through 1984 and in 1990, the Series started midweek. (Also, the Series was canceled in 1994, and in 1996 rain delayed Game 1 from Saturday to Sunday.)

Manager Mike Scioscia of the Angels, secure enough in his employment and candid enough to call it like it is, is among those in baseball's high places who is publicly unhappy.

"The real test of baseball," he says, "is that you do it every day. You can't do that all season and then do it differently in the postseason."

So, Mike Scioscia, how do you really feel about nine games in 18 days?

"It's ridiculous," he says. "Can I say that any more clearly?"

Ah, no, Mike. We feel your pain.

So, how did this happen? Why did this happen?

Fox, your friendly network for both the ALCS and the World Series, saw that ratings were better for weeknight games than for weekend games. So they asked for, and got, more weeknight, prime-time games. From 1969 through 2006, World Series Game 1 was on a Saturday. In 2007 that changed in an effort to boost sagging ratings. So now it starts on a Wednesday.

A Saturday start means the likelihood of two weekends and a weekend finish. A midweek start means the likelihood of two midweek blocks of games and a midweek finish. It also means the likelihood of the highest ratings for the biggest finales, Games 6 and 7.

Good for business. Bad for baseball.

This will come as a shocker to many, but this is all about money. Better ratings, more ad sales, more profit. Major sports pay lip service to fans and community projects and feel-good stuff, but when the going gets tough, the tough sell their souls to TV.

We know it, we know we have to deal with it, we even know that most fans no longer care about it as they show up or tune in at weird times. But there are also times to remind people of why big-time sports, and its TV partners, has its hand in your wallet pocket and is so arrogant it seldom even says thank you.

This is one of those times.

A Times staffer had a telling conversation last year during the World Series with Fox President Ed Goren. The conversation was about the good old days when they played the World Series during the day, when kids could watch, when there was a sense of connection to baseball's vintage time.

Goren told the reporter that he was amenable, that he could see the attraction to that. He also said that it was his understanding that Commissioner Bud Selig kind of liked that thought. Of course, Goren told the reporter, day games get much lower ratings than night games, so Fox would certainly have to reduce the rights fees it pays to MLB.

We all know how that day-game-for-the-kids turned out.

The spread-out schedule for TV forces the baseball season deeper and deeper into the late fall, where the summer game turns into a crapshoot of rain and cold.

A seven-game World Series will end this year -- assuming no rainouts in a series that could very well be played in the unfriendly November of Philadelphia and New York -- on Nov. 5. Notice that's a Thursday.

Before we know it, we might have seven-game divisional series. Maybe a three-game playoff for the wild-card spot. And, presto, MLB can market a package of World Series tickets and Christmas shopping specials at Macy's.

"Climates haven't changed in 100 years," Scioscia says. "When they did schedules for baseball in 1900, they knew they couldn't get started in most places much before the first or second week of April. And they knew they'd better end by Oct. 1. That's just common sense."

Scioscia thinks that having three days off at the end of the regular season is stupid. He thinks that having a day off in the middle of the three games in the two-three-two ALCS format, as the Angels and Yankees had last Wednesday, was stupid.

He thinks a lot of other things about the setup are stupid, but you get the point.

The 800-pound gorilla in this room, and the room of every major sports league, is television. We are heading for games with stadiums filled with cardboard cutouts instead of people. It won't matter. The cameras will hide the warts, raise the ad rates and pay the team owners and leagues more money.

Short of boycotting the telecasts or the sponsors or both, we can do only one thing: recognize we are being had, and hate it.

--

bill.dwyre@latimes.com.

Mike DiGiovanna and Bill Shaikin of The Times' staff contributed to this column.

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