August 22, 2014

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TV has put the ‘Brrrr’ in baseball

It’s the summer game, a cliche, and not necessarily an accurate one, but that’s what we call baseball. If only it were true.
Here in the north, baseball begins in the winter and ends in the winter. Nobody knows this better than Indians’ fans. Back in April, the Indians’ season began in a snowstorm. Who knows what perversion the weatherman is planning for the World Series this year? In 1995, the Indians played a home World Series game in a snowstorm. That would be nice symmetry. Open and close in the snow. Baseball is the only game that does that.
Back in the day, the World Series was won on a balmy October afternoon with the sun low in the western sky and lengthening shadows on the field. The regular season opened in mid-April and ended in the last week of September.
But when the schedule was lengthened to 162 games in 1961, opening day was moved up to the first week in April. Brrr, especially on those early April nights. In fact, any night game in April comes with “Brrr.”
The summer game was once played in broad daylight. In 1948, the lndians’ last world championship season, they played only 49 night games, less than one-third of the 154-game schedule. Imagine! Two-thirds of their games were played in the afternoons, when people were working, and the Indians still set an attendance record of 2.6 million. 
Baseball no longer depends entirely on ticket sales. Every game is now on live television, home and away — local over-the-air, regional cable, network TV. Many teams, including the Indians, started their own cable networks. Baseball fills our viewing hours from April 1 to Oct. 31. The weather is irrelevant when you’re warm and cozy at home. Furthermore, cold weather is a bonus for television. It keeps people indoors.
That’s why Fox is paying a billion dollars for exclusive network rights, primarily for the multi-tiered playoff system in prime time in chilly October, when television viewing increases after the summer doldrums.
Here’s the reality. The summer game is a reality show for television. Jacobs Field, like all baseball parks, is actually a television studio. Does it matter where the studio is located?
I had intended to advance a proposal for ending the World Series by the middle of October, when it’s still warm enough in any American city to enjoy a victory parade, while not sacrificing early-season TV games.
This was my thought: Shorten spring training and start the season around St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, by playing the first month of the season in small southern cities when it is much too cold in the north. Some towns might see a promotional value in hosting a month of games. Everything baseball does is a tradeoff. They could find a way.
The fans might actually be grateful to stay home and watch the first month of the season on television. That’s what they’re already doing. In most markets, attendance is sluggish early in the season when kids are still in school. The turnstiles don’t start spinning until the first of June.
The players also might buy into it. It is not much fun to play baseball in freezing weather.
Anyway, this is just a thought. No, I do not expect to see this plan adopted in my lifetime.
One objection is that teams that start slow in the first month will lose their fans by the time they come home. My response is they’ll lose their fans after a month, anyway.
There are also at least nine teams in warm weather cities and a handful of others with roofs who won’t go along.
Most importantly, I’m sure George Steinbrenner won’t like it.
Contact Dan Coughlin at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.