Should baseball bring back doubleheaders?

One day in June 1996, my phone rang. I answered and said, "Hello?" Without identifying himself, the person on the other end said, "Let's play two!"

Yes, it was Ernie Banks, the man synonymous with the doubleheader.

Banks played both games of 318 doubleheaders in his career -- including a string of four doubleheaders in as many days in September 1967. (The 318 total also includes a handful of twin bills that were suspended during the second game.) The last time Let's Play Two! actually played two was July 4, 1970.

"The more you play, the better you are," Banks told me during that call. "Playing a doubleheader sharpens your talent, betters your game, works on your endurance and develops a real love for what you're doing. It gives you the challenge that athletes really need."

Well, Banks would get some opposition to that view these days. Doubleheaders long ago fell out of favor -- Mr. Cub played more twin bills during his career than all 30 teams have played combined over the past dozen years. But shortly after Banks died in January, BleedCubbieBlue.com managing editor Al Yellon asked fans whether the Chicago Cubs should honor their legend by playing a doubleheader every season. Eighty-one percent of respondents answered yes.

As the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox play a single-admission makeup doubleheader at Camden Yards on Thursday to make up the games postponed because of rioting in Baltimore in April, the question is raised: Should MLB consider adding additional twin bills to either provide players more off days or to shorten the regular season so the World Series doesn't drag so late into the year?

"I think the two toughest numbers in baseball are 162 and 183," commissioner Rob Manfred said in April, referring to the games in a season as well as the days in a season. "I know one thing for sure, I don't go to work 162 days out of 183. But that's what we ask our players to do. And a lot of the 21 off days, a lot of those are just travel days.

"I do think as part of the bargaining process in 2016 there will be conversations about those sorts of issues."

Doubleheaders once were as much a part of baseball as long between-innings commercial breaks are now. The White Sox played a record 44 doubleheaders in 1943, or 58 percent of their season schedule. They had 47 days without a game that season. The Cubs and Banks twice played 30 doubleheaders in a season.

Those days are long gone. The last time baseball scheduled a traditional doubleheader was on July 16, 2011, when the Oakland A's hosted the Los Angeles Angels. There have been only a handful of such scheduled doubleheaders during the past two decades. Aside from a forced day-night doubleheader last June at Wrigley Field to accommodate traffic for Chicago's annual Pride Day parade -- and that change was made after the original schedule was released -- the Cubs haven't scheduled a doubleheader since 1983.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia says he favors resuming doubleheaders to keep the season from stretching past Halloween.

"I would trade anything to get this game more seasonal and finish in October," Scioscia said. "The World Series is going into November again. It's Russian roulette; something happens back East and you could see snow for two weeks. Even if it's not snow, the probability of the weather being different from what you've played in all summer is going to deteriorate the level of play.

"I'm all for going to a 154-game schedule. I'm all for mixing some doubleheaders in. Maybe one doubleheader a month to shorten six days worth of the season would make sense."

Houston manager A.J. Hinch said he would welcome more off days and believes that players could adjust to playing doubleheaders again. But he also sees the other side of the issue.

"It would be interesting to see the opinion if they were actually scheduled, and you knew going in and how it would factor in," he said. "It would test your entire roster, and the downside of a doubleheader from a manager's perspective is that if you get beat up in any of those games, it could cost you a week to get your bullpen back in order when you have to get through 18 innings in a day."

Seattle second baseman Rickie Weeks says the problem for players might be what happens the day before or the day after a doubleheader more than the doubleheader itself. "If you have a long game the night before and then play a long doubleheader after or play a doubleheader and an early game the next day, it just totally drains you," he said. "You can need two to three days to recover from that. It's just a long day.

"Don't get me wrong. We love to play baseball. The reality is, if we're going to play it, we'll play it. And we won't mind. But your body needs a little bit of rest."

Or as Houston catcher Hank Conger said, "Nowadays, doubleheaders are a pain in the butt for everybody."

"Things get dragged out," Conger went on. "The doubleheader messes up the managers' whole preparation. Because the pitchers and bullpen guys just get used up, you need to make more transactions than you want.

"It's not a good situation to have a doubleheader."

Houston teammate Chad Qualls sees it a little differently. He has pitched in both games of a doubleheader without having an issue, but, as a reliever, he had to pitch only a few innings total.

"You're always going to have a split on [doubleheaders] because position players have to play 18 innings that day whereas a relief pitcher might not even throw," he said. "In today's day and age, I think they would have to be day-night doubleheaders because the owners would want to get gate [revenues] for both games. So that makes for long days for the players as well. There are just a lot of hurdles you have to jump through nowadays, with the money side of it, the business side and the playing side."

"Playing a doubleheader sharpens your talent, betters your game, works on your endurance and develops a real love for what you're doing." The late Ernie Banks on the value of playing two

Money, of course, is a major factor. Teams would lose an entire gate with a traditional doubleheader, which could cost them at least $1.5 million, and quite a bit more for big-market teams. Additionally, local stations probably would lose viewers as well, costing them advertising revenue.

"At the end of the day, that's the final decision-maker -- money," Angels outfielder Matt Joyce said. "Money makes the decisions."

When MLB is reaping close to $10 billion annually in revenue, couldn't it afford to lose a couple gates of revenue if it might improve conditions for players?

Rangers designated hitter Prince Fielder says he definitely would play doubleheaders if it meant more downtime.

"If we get more off days, I'm in. I would do it," he said. "I'm not sure [fans would want to see doubleheaders]. But it's not what would benefit them, it's what we want. But I think they would come to see it."

Would fans warm to the idea? While doubleheaders once were scheduled to increase attendance -- two tilts for the price of one -- would modern fans really want to sit through two baseball games when a traditional doubleheader could easily mean seven or eight hours at the ballpark (and longer if the Red Sox were playing)?

Hey, double-feature movies once were as common as doubleheaders, but movie theaters haven't played them in decades.

"We don't have the attention span to sit through two movies," Rangers broadcaster Eric Nadel said. "And now movies are longer. Movies used to be an hour and a half, so you would be there like three hours. Now they're like 2:40. Even short movies are two hours. It's just like doubleheaders. Games used to be 2 hours, 15 minutes, so the whole doubleheader was five hours."

Or shorter. The swiftest doubleheader in history was played on Sept. 26, 1926, when the St. Louis Browns swept the New York Yankees by scores of 6-1 and 6-2 in just 2 hours, 7 minutes, or almost an hour shorter than the average length of a single game last season. The first game of that twin bill lasted 1 hour, 12 minutes while the second game was just 55 minutes, the shortest in AL history. And bear in mind, the two teams combined for 40 hits during the two games. Batters must have been swinging at the first pitch the entire day.

Seattle Mariners coach Andy Van Slyke said that not only do fans not want doubleheaders, the game might have to change the lyrics to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." The song, he points out, "says, 'I don't care if I ever get back.' But now they do care."

Will we see more doubleheaders apart from makeups? Probably not. In addition to the financial considerations, interleague play limits the number of dates that a twin bill could be scheduled -- making up a doubleheader against a team you play only once a season would be tricky.

But in spite of all the obstacles, the Cubs should honor Banks with a doubleheader every season. And if he were still alive, Banks would lobby hard to bring back more. As he said during that phone call long ago, he would get on the Senate floor and also get help from the Clintons.

"A doubleheader is the true spirit of the athlete because you have to reach inside yourself and go for more," he said. And then, once more: "Let's play two! I love saying that."