Friday, October 31, 2008

Don't Do It, Bud!

By Scott Lowe
API Management & Marketing

Newsflash ... April and October baseball has been played in terrible weather for years. That is not news to anybody, and while I can't speak from experience I'm just guessing that it wasn't any better back in the days that there were no domes or teams in Florida, Arizona or California.

That begs the following question: Why does Major League Baseball always deflect the issues instad of adressing them?

The unsual 2008 World Series brought a couple major issues to light and gave us yet another glimpse at an issue that MLB always seems to struggle with - how to handle difficult situations without putting its proverbial foot in its mouth.

The first issue that came to light that cannot be fixed is that the major league schedule is just too long. Cutting even eight games off the schedule would increase the chances that the postseason could be completed under at least reasonable weather conditions substantially. However, if you do simple math and consider that one team losing 25,000 fans per game at an average of $20 a ticket (don't we wish!) over an eight-game span would equate to about $4 million per team. Of course, not every team would lose eight dates, but the point is made. Yet, on the other hand, don't forget that the average ticket costs more than $20 and that most teams average more than 25,000 a night. So, with escalating salaries and debt to service from billion-dollar stadium deals, cutting the length of the season is not a viable option.

The bigger issue that surfaced as a result of the first suspended game in World Series history was that in more than 100 years MLB had never thought about the possibility that a postseason game could be impacted by weather after it had become official. Again, horrible weather in October is not a new phenomenon - global warming aside. I spent two miserable nights in 1979 sitting in rain, snow and sleet as the Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates attempted to play Game 1 of that year's Series. The first night it was 40 degrees with rain and sleet, and we waited for several hours before the game was postoned. The following morning we woke up to a dusting of snow and spent nearly four hours that night sitting in conditions as frigid as any January football game I've ever attended.

With that in mind, how is it possible that in more than a century no one had ever considered that a World Series might end because of Mother Nature? That just defies logic. At the end of the day, Bud Selig and MLB did the right thing. No postseason game should ever end with fewer than nine innings having been played, and I'm sure that such a rule already has been created to take effect in 2009. The issue, as usual, was that apparently either Selig made this decision in advance without informing any of the participants or media covering the World Series or lied and made a decision as it became obvious that Game 5 was going to be cut short, choosing to tell the world that he and team officials had agreed to that stipulation during an earlier contest.

No matter, the decision was the right one; it just would have been a shame for one of the managers to change his strategy without knowing the potential impact of such a move. What if Charlie Manuel had brought in closer Brad Lidge during the top of the sixth as the inevitable postponement became imminent? Upon final analysis, Wednesday's "mini-game" was as exciting as anything the sport has seen in recent memory, so everything turned out for the best.

That leads us to the larger issue, which has presented itself in the days following the Game 5 debacle: In response to the PR nightmare that has unfolded, will MLB make yet another ill-advised, knee-jerk, short-sighted decision because its lack planning and organizational skills almost led to an incredibly embarrassing situation?

I hope that others who make a living in baseball or covering baseball and who have a much broader audience than I will take a stand here and speak to the absurdity to the notion of moving the Fall Classic to a neutral, warm-weather or domed site.

Sure, in the first year or two or three the host cities are going to go all out to ensure that the event is sold out and lives up to the standards that have been set by events such as the Super Bowl and BCS Championship Game. And as long as teams with rabid fanbases such as the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs or even the Mets are involved in the Series, it is certain to bring with it an influx of out-of-towners. However, realistically, what happens if we get an Astros-White Sox Fall Classic? Or another Rays-Phllies showdown?

Will seven games sell out under those circumstances? Maybe in the first couple of years, but how about five years down the road? Is someone who lives 3,000 miles away going to pay an outrageous amount of money for a ticket and go through the hassle of booking a flight, a hotel room and a rental car for a Game 7 that might not even happen? Will the average fan even consider spending the money it would cost to travel to such an event? Will ANYONE be willing to take a full week off of work to attend the entire series? I'd have to think that the answer to these scenarios, for the most part, is a resounding, "NO!"

So, by moving the World Series to a neutral site, no only would MLB be taking a team's one shining moment away from the loyal fans who have made the sport a financial success for so many years, but also it would be running the risk of a potentially horrific PR situation in which the sport's ultimate showdown might be played in front of a half-full, no I'd prefer to say half-empty, stadium.

Could you imagine if the Cubs finally came through and won their first title in more than 100 years and there were only a few thousand diehards there to witness it in person? That alone should be enough to convince Mr. Selig to end this debate quickly.

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