Tuesday, of course, marks Game 1 of this year’s World Series. If you haven’t checked a calendar lately, the date will be October 25. If this series goes past five games – and I’m thinking it very well could – Games 6 and 7 are scheduled for November 1 and 2.
I’m old enough to remember an era when the World Series was wrapped up before mid-October. In fact, one of my most vivid memories of a truly great championship was in 1968 when the Detroit Tigers outlasted the St. Louis Cardinals for a seven-game victory.
I was 11 years old and just starting my own pitching years in Little League. My idol was Bob Gibson of the Cardinals, who struck out 17 Tigers in Game 2. He shared the mound that season with another pitching great, Steve Carlton. The Tigers’ pitching staff was anchored by Denny McLain, who notched 31 wins that year (31!), and Mickey Lolich, who out-dueled Gibson in Game 7 for the 4-1 clincher.
Here’s the thing: That series started on October 2 and even though it went the full seven games, it wrapped up on October 10. Those games also were played during the day. I recall the thrill of our elementary school teacher allowing us to tune in the games on a transistor radio (Google it, youngsters) if we kept the volume down. Also, only one game lasted more than three hours. The rest were much closer to the two-and-a-half hour mark, with Game 7 lasting a mere 2:07.
My, how things have changed. How did we go from a series that used to be finished by October 10 with games lasting a little over two hours to four-hour marathons that flirt with or kiss midnight and potentially won’t wrap up until early November?
The short answer is league expansion and revenue opportunities for MLB. The 1968 season I remember so well is the last year before each league split into two divisions. So in 1969, a League Championship Series was added to the schedule. In 1985, the League Championship Series was expanded from a best-of-5 to best-of-7 format, adding more days to the playoff itinerary. The leagues added a third division – the Central – in 1994, but due to the strike that year, there was no post-season. But in 1995, the League Division Series was added. In 2007, off-days were added to the LCS. And 2012 brought us the Wild Card. More teams in the hunt not only add more opportunities to make the playoffs, but increase games of high interest to spike attendance, concessions, team playoff gear and TV revenue.
Games all begin coverage at 8 p.m. now, hoping to maximize TV ratings with a start time that doesn’t alienate the West Coast. It will be interesting to see how the TV ratings fare this year without a New York, Los Angeles or Boston team in the mix. Chicago, of course, is a major market and the intrigue of two teams who haven’t won a World Series since Moses was a baby may bring more eyeballs to screens everywhere. Maybe.
Personally, I’m drooling over this match-up of the Indians and the Cubs. With solid pitching on both teams, I can easily envision tight, low-scoring games where one play can tip the scales between victory and defeat. The kind of contest that could easily go six or seven games.
With both teams in northern climes, who knows what early November may bring weather-wise? Call me a baseball purist or an old curmudgeon, but I miss the days the World Series was decided when leaves were just beginning to fall instead of the threat of snow flurries.
“Mr. October” is a well-established platitude. I prefer the image of Reggie Jackson in pinstripes (even though I still hate the Yankees) over the image of “Mr. November” in ear warmers. Unless it’s an Indians standout. Then he can be wearing a Chief Wahoo snowsuit for all I care. Go Tribe.