Who Was Jim Brosnan?
About a half century ago an unusually talented man—a major league pitcher who was actually a very good writer—produced several good books about the wear and tear of going through a season in the big leagues, which is a marathon compared to other sports seasons.
Jim Brosnan’s “Pennant Race” and “The Long Season” told wonderful stories about what it was like to play baseball at the most competitive level over a six month regular season, which might then be followed by an appearance in the World Series. (Brosnan played on the great Cincinnati Reds team that won the pennant in 1961 and lost to my beloved Yankees in the World Series. And by the way, Brosnan’s books are much better than the more celebrated “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton, a best seller by the former Yankee pitcher.)
How was a typical baseball season?
The Long Season was draining. It inevitably led to tired players—who I believe are more vulnerable to injury–and the quality of play could decline as the season wore on. Then, in Brosnan’s time in the early 1960s, the regular season was expanded from 154 to 162 games. The season, which once ended in late September, now could go into early October.
But, in Brosnan’s day, the regular season was immediately followed by the World Series, which was the only round of the post season. So, just as the cold of the late fall came, just as the frost started, just “when we needed it most, baseball would go away,” wrote a former commissioner, Bart Giamatti. He, like Bronsan, was an unusually literate man in a wonderful sport that nevertheless has produced few great thinkers.
Thanksgiving Turkey and Baseball?
However, over the past 45 years or so, the baseball post season has considerably expanded. Now, besides the longer regular season, there are three rounds of playoffs. Then, finally, the World Series is played. In Brosnan’s time, the season was usually over by early or mid October. Today, owing to a longer season and the extra rounds of playoffs—-which generate much more money for the players and owners—the baseball season might not end until late October or, perhaps, even November!
What’s wrong with baseball not too far from Thanksgiving?
All World Series games, owing to the demand for maximum revenue to satisfy the avarice of the Hessians—the players—and the Hustlers—-the owners—-must be played at night. That is to ensure the best television ratings. However, it is anything but good for the sport that many writers and philosophers have said defines the nation and intrigues immigrants who may not immediately understand the game, but instinctively know that it is important. (I can remember my Austrian grandmother—-who all her life spoke with a thick German accent—listening to the Yankees playing in the World Series and trying to understand what was happening. She knew something important was going on).
But baseball is not a winter sport. It is not football or hockey. Baseball is a sport best played in hot or mild weather. It is one in which players—especially pitchers—should be able to get warm. Players need to stretch their arms to bat and throw comfortably.
Burr! Throw the Baseball!
The colder the weather, potentially the worse the quality of play. And, with plenty of baseball teams in the Northeast and Midwest—parts of the country in which cold weather can sometimes come early in October or November and where most stadiums are outdoors—there is a considerable potential for a World Series marred by cold weather. Indeed, I think we have already had one.
In 1997, it was the Cleveland Indians against the Florida Marlins in the World Series. It was quite exciting. The series went to seven games with the Marlins winning, despite the Indians leading in the ninth inning of the seventh and deciding game. The Marlins tied it and the game went into extra innings.
The four games of the seven in Florida were fine, with the weather conditions not affecting play. However, the three games in Cleveland were played under freezing conditions. Players had trouble throwing and gripping the baseball. It did affect the games, with lots of physical errors. I’m sure it was difficult to hit. Speaking from experience, when you swing the bat and make contact in cold weather it often stings.
Baseball’s classic matches, the World Series—-when baseball is supposed to be the center of the sports universe—-were hurt. That is most certainly not in the best interests of the game, a game in which so many of us who grew up playing, loving and now spend our last years reliving our youth by watching this grand old game. As I write this, we are beginning October. I just came back from Pittsburgh, where important games between the Pirates and the Cardinals were rained out. Yet the regular season still has about a week to go.
The playoffs haven’t even begun and, in some parts of the country, it is already starting to become cold. I just went out to get the newspapers and the weather was in the upper 40s. The people who run major league baseball—the owners and the strongest union in professional sports—must come to an agreement and avert potential World Series disaster.
What’s to Be Done?
Speed up the regular season. This could be done in two ways. First, go back to a 154 regular game season. This was the standard for generations and wouldn’t hurt integrity of the game. Second, restore the free Sunday doubleheaders in May, June, July, August and Labor Day. I’ve written here about how wonderful they were when I was growing up in the Bronx in the 1950s and 1960s.
Doubleheaders were a tremendous bargain for working class families. Parents with modest incomes could take their kids to two games for the price of one. By the way, my plan could also make the “long season” a little less tiring for the players in two ways. They would play eight fewer games in the regular season. And they would also have more off days in the season. Sunday doubleheaders, in my day, were almost always followed by a Monday off day.
My proposal would reduce the number of dates from 162 to about 144. That would mean the season could start a little later, possibly averting a ridiculously cold opening game in early March or early April, a time when, in some cases, I’ve seen some players playing with hoods. It would also mean that the season could end earlier, possibly in mid or late September.
The regular season would not run into early October as it now does, which is insane for a summer sport. The playoffs and World Series, with some luck, might be concluded by mid October. That would be good for both the players and owners as well as the fans who love this game.
Sometimes I think we fans love the game much more than the Hessians and the Hustlers. And that is why, even though I think this proposal makes sense, it will likely never happen. The logic of my plan requires that players and owners sacrifice a few pesetas today in the long term interests of a sport that is wonderful.
Sorry, You’re Making Too Much Sense!
So I don’t think my plan or some form of it will happen, at least in the short term. So, if you’re lucky enough to attend a World Series game sometime, be sure to have your snow gear on hand as well as an ample supply of Jim Beam.