Tuesday, October 26, 2010

SPORTS>>Time, baseball march on

By todd traub
Leader sports editor

“Baseball provides a recreation which does not last over two hours or two hours and a half, and which can be got for very little cost. And, incidentally, I hope that night games can be extended because it gives an opportunity to the day shift to see a game occasionally.”

That was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his famed “Green Light Letter” to baseball commissioner Kennesaw “Mountain” Landis on Jan. 15, 1942.

Roosevelt was giving Landis the go-ahead to continue the 1942 baseball schedule as planned in the face of World War II and the United States’ escalating involvement in the conflict.

Roosevelt, quite rightly, realized the U.S. would need some worthwhile distractions as the war intensified and more American boys where shipped home in flag-draped coffins.

Though the war would sap baseball of many of its most talented players, Hank Greenberg and Ted Williams being two of the notables, Roosevelt understood the need for a semblance of normalcy at home, and so headvocated baseball go on with a full slate of games for the duration.

As progressive as he was, Roosevelt got just about everything else wrong in his letter to Landis. And I think, as the San Francisco Giants and the first-time Texas Rangers are squaring off this week in the World Series, old FDR would shudder to see the state of the game today.

For starters, “two hours, or two hours and a half?” The 30-team average for length of games last season was 2:52 in the regular season and 3:30 for postseason play, Bloomberg Business Week reported in April, and I don’t expect that average to shrink too much now that the Fall Classic is set to get underway.

With frequent breaks for television advertising, more deliberate play and pitching changes, playoff games now seem to last about as long as Gulf War I.

“Very little cost?” The average ticket for a Major League game this year was projected in April to be $26.74, up 1.5 from last year, the Team Marketing Report said in its annual survey.

While that on its own is not so expensive, especially compared to the NFL’s $74.99 average from last year, who wants to sit in a ballpark by himself? And that’s where the real expense comes in — the average cost for a family of four, with modest concessions and souvenirs included, was projected at $194.98 this season.

And remember, Team Marketing Report, which has been tracking the cost of games since 1991, considers the least expensive souvenirs and concessions in its formula.

Of course, no one has to buy a cap, or beer, or even pay the average ticket price. You can skate by on a bleacher seat under $10 and stay away from the concession and souvenir stands entirely.

But if you’re going to sit there for 2:52, or longer, you’re bound to get a little hungry and thirsty.

And, really, time of game is my big beef, bigger than the expense, because while you can avoid the costs entirely by staying home and watching on TV, you have no control over games, especially playoff games, stretching on toward midnight.

I don’t know what it is about short baseball games, but they’re just better, something I’m sure could be said about my columns.

The quicker a pitcher works, the more he keeps his defense focused and the less standing around and dead time there is and the cleaner and more graceful the game seems to be.

The Arkansas Travelers had a pitcher named Nick Green, now in the Milwaukee Brewers organization, who would make a “2:20 guarantee” to the umpire.

“We’re getting out of here at 9:30 tonight,” Green would say before his scheduled, 7:10 p.m. first pitch, and Greenie usually did his part to deliver.

As soon as the last out was recorded ballpark employees would bolt like the stadium was on fire, and those of us in the press box wouldn’t be far behind.

But you know, I have to admit, when I’m a paying customer with time on my hands, my thinking changes a little bit. With a longer game, if it’s well played, I feel like maybe I’m getting my money’s worth.

I paid $48 for a seat near third base to watch the St. Louis Cardinals play the Los Angeles Dodgers at St. Louis’ old Busch Stadium in 2004. And wouldn’t you know it, former Traveler Matt Morris threw a two-hitter that lasted 1:58 as the Cardinals won.

Man, I was robbed.

I hardly had time to finish my $10 beer.