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Baseball should not be afraid of the dark

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I'm old enough to remember the sun-dappled good old days when baseball played the World Series during golden October afternoons and children everywhere gathered on school playgrounds to listen to the game on transistor radios during recess.

Willie Mays
Willie Mays' 1954 World Series catch would be better seen on late-night TV than heard about on a transistor radio.
Boy, did that stink.

Let me tell you, sneaking 15 minutes of a fuzzy radio broadcast on the playground while an angry, sadistic nun yells at you to get inside to go over your times tables is no way to follow the most important baseball games of the season.

So, I can't tell you how happy I was when baseball began playing the World Series at night. It was Game 4 of the 1971 series and Pittsburgh's Bruce Kison got the win in relief. I didn't even have to look that up, because I remember that game more clearly than my anniversary, precisely because I was able to see the whole game on TV, because it was played at night after school.

That's why I'm always amused and irritated when lazy, nostalgia-addled writers whine about how baseball starts World Series games too late for kids to watch.

Let's see. These whiners think that kids aren't able to watch World Series games, because the games end well past their bedtime (most kids go to bed by the sixth inning, which is usually when Fox airs its 15th promotion for "24"). And their solution is to play the games during the day when those same kids are in school where they definitely can't watch it. Yeah, that's brilliant.

These fools talk about the joys of stolen moments listening to games at recess, but that doesn't fly. Stolen moments are not as good as watching an entire game, and besides, kids today can't listen to the World Series on their Walkmans at school, because they're too busy ducking automatic weapons fire from classmates in black trenchcoats.

And it's funny how these critics never complain about "Monday Night Football," which starts even later than the World Series. That's because they aren't so much interested in boosting viewership among children as they are in improving their own deadlines.

True, network executives are the same people who brought us "Hogan's Heroes" and the "Emeril" sitcom, but I will give them this. They generally put shows on TV when the largest possible audience can watch. Which is why they play the World Series at night, when people are home.

  True, network executives are the same people who brought us "Hogan's Heroes" and the "Emeril" sitcom, but I will give them this. They generally put shows on TV when the largest possible audience can watch. Which is why they play the World Series at night, when people are home. 

Which isn't as easy as it seems. Had any of these complaining writers been paying attention to geography in school -- instead of spending their days listening to ballgames -- they would know that the continental United States has four time zones. That makes beginning a game at a convenient time for everyone downright impossible. Start a game any earlier than 8 p.m. or so in the east and you're beginning it in the middle of the West Coast rush hour. Wait until everyone gets home on the West Coast and you would have to go head-to-head against Letterman's Top Ten list.

The problem is not when the games begin, anyway. It's when they end. And in recent years (coinciding oddly enough with the latest Yankees dynasty), they often last longer than the Academy Awards, averaging closer and closer to four hours. We all know why the games last so long -- three-minute commercial breaks, batters performing Bob Fosse routines while adjusting their cups and wristbands between pitches, multiple pitching changes per inning -- but, like organ music, no one does a damn thing about it.

If you want to get World Series games over before midnight, the only sensible approach is to shorten the games. Require batters to stay in the box between pitches. Set and enforce a time limit between pitches. Shorten commercial breaks. At all opportunities, encourage faster play.

Yeah, I know World Series games are important, but they were equally important in 1985, too, and they somehow played those seven games in less than three hours each. Games last so much longer now only because we allow them to. And they will get even longer unless we start cracking down.

If you want more kids to see the end of World Series games, speed them up. These are baseball games, for crying out loud, not PBS pledge drives.

During "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," we may sing "I don't care if I never get back," but that's just a figure of speech.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for

stop day-dreaming 

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