October 28, 2005
TV SPORTS; Money Dictates That World Series Games Won't See the Light of Day
By RICHARD SANDOMIR
The World Series is over, but certain fan questions are eternal: Why can't games start earlier? Why can't there be day games? Why can't Major League Baseball take less money to put one or two games on in the daylight?
The notion that baseball -- or any sport -- would accept less money is absurd even if it is logical to those who advocate earlier games to appeal to young or dozing fans. But leagues never willingly accept less cash from the television networks; if a network wants to pay less, leagues find more willing suitors.
The flip side is that networks pay dearly to carry marquee sports that will help in prime time, but those hefty price tags must be supported by selling more commercials, which cause the length of games to bloat.
Some fans resist the idea that baseball is a prime-time entertainment product like a drama, a comedy or a reality series. Fox uses World Series games as prime-time chess pieces; the games would wield less power in the day. Prime time begins at 8 p.m. Eastern time on every day but Sunday, when it starts at 7, but Fox will not cut football (which is much costlier) to start the World Series earlier. An N.F.L. game is a most powerful lead-in.
There is nostalgia about daytime World Series games, a fuzzy feeling that returns us to the pre-Walkman, pre-iPod days of sneaking transistor radios into classrooms while feigning interest in biology. Until 1971, every World Series game was carried in the daytime, according to Nielsen Media Research; that year, one game was carried in prime time. In 1972, there were two night games, but there were three in each of the next two years. In 1975, the tide turned, and five of the seven games in the Boston-Cincinnati Series were in prime time.
From 1977 to 1984, there were two weekend day games in each Series and none during the next two years. The last one was in 1987, when the Minnesota Twins defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in a seven-game series.
Undoubtedly, games that start at 8:40 p.m. Eastern and last more than three and a half hours -- much less the 5 hours 41 minutes for Tuesday's Game 3 -- are difficult to endure, especially if they last until 2:20 a.m.
But that is an Eastern -- and potent -- bias. According to Nielsen, 54.3 million TV households, or 49 percent of the 110 million in the country, are in the Eastern time zone. There are 31.9 million TV homes in the Central time zone, where the White Sox and the Astros make their homes; 6.7 million in the Mountain zone; and 16.7 million in the Pacific.
Fans in the Central, Mountain and Pacific zones deserve courtesy regardless of Eastern gripes. A game that begins at 8:40 p.m. in New York starts before many potential fans are home from work in California, but it is perfect for fans in Ames, Iowa. Game 3 ended at a still-reasonable time in Spokane, Wash. And Chicagoans surely did not feel bad that their White Sox won their first World Series since 1917 at about 11:10 p.m. Central time.
But even if the start-time squawk is one that largely riles Easterners -- a complaint that is rarely made about the N.B.A. finals and N.C.A.A. men's basketball final, which both start well beyond 9 p.m. -- Fox and baseball can take modest steps to cut pre-World Series game dawdling.
Fox's pre-Game 4 hoo-ha and commercial breaks lasted nearly 16 minutes, which was followed by the introduction of the Latino Legends team, which took 12 minutes. The national anthem (1:34) gave way to more commercials (3:40), an on-air preview by Joe Buck and Tim McCarver (3:22), still more commercials (3:07) and another 1:16 of preview and chatter until the first pitch was thrown at about 8:40 p.m.
That's quite fatty. The baseball pregame routine continues to be a pedestrian effort that seems to exist as a repository for commercials. Cut it to a few minutes, then move to the first pitch by paring the announcers' preview talk.
Ideally, you could cut the tradition of player introductions, but they only delay the first pitch twice a Series. Special events like the Game 4 introduction of the Latino Legends team are rare but consume time; it would have been best to use it as the entirety of the pregame program and as a perfect lead-in to an 8:19 or 8:20 start time. Back in 1981, games started at 8:13.
In 1959, when the White Sox lost, such considerations mattered little. The six day games in Chicago and Los Angeles ran an average of 2:30. After Game 6, Vin Scully interviewed the celebrating Dodgers in their clubhouse and asked Gil Hodges if it was more memorable to win that Series or the one the Dodgers won in 1955, before they left their ancestral Brooklyn home.
Hodges chose the '59 Series ''because it came a lot sooner,'' he said on NBC's telecast. A soundtrack of it is available on tapes made by Archival Television Audio in Albertson, N.Y. ''You know, we were just out in Los Angeles, this is our second year, and we won a World Series already, and it took us umpteen years up until 1955 to win a World Series for Brooklyn.''