Split decision: Should MLB bring back scheduled doubleheaders?
Let's play two!
Those three words -- which every baseball fan worth his or her salt knows were exclaimed by the late, great Ernie Banks -- encapsulate and capture the spirit of a sport loved by generations of Americans over the decades.
What better way to spend a glorious summer afternoon than watching two games for the price of one? Or playing the sport you love twice on the same day?
Sadly -- in a world ruled by the almighty dollar -- the days of the scheduled doubleheader have gone the way of the black-and-white television, the VCR and record stores. The question is, should major-league baseball consider bringing back the twin bill to shorten the season and/or give players more days off?
It's a question that popped into my head as the Cubs' day-night doubleheader against the Brewers approached last week, so I spent some time in locker rooms on both sides of Chicago asking players for their opinions.
Most were adamantly on one side or the other, with only the Cubs' Jason Heyward and Addison Russell and the White Sox's Chris Sale taking a middle-of-the-road stance.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he's all for MLB scheduling doubleheaders -- with one caveat: they can't be the split day-night variety.
"It's awful to be here all day," Maddon said. "I'm always concerned about injury. It's just a bad day. It's too long.
"If you're going to have a doubleheader, have a real doubleheader. Next game starts 30 minutes later. The players won't mind that nearly as much and would acquiesce to that concept. …
"The economics, the finances -- I get all that. But if you want to shorten the schedule, create doubleheaders -- I'm all for it. … I think the fans would dig it too."
Ah, yes, the finances. When teams can't flip the stadium, it's lost ticket revenue to the tune of well more than $2 million in some cases. Part of the solution could be raising prices slightly for scheduled doubleheaders. The other thing to keep in mind is that fans will be in the stadium longer, which could lead to more money via concessions.
Then and Now
Fifty years ago, major-league baseball often scheduled 12, 15 and even 20 or more doubleheaders for each team. The games often were played on Sundays with the clubs then getting Monday off.
As the years went by, doubleheaders slowly began to disappear. In the 1970s, the Cubs averaged 6.6 scheduled DHs per season and the Sox averaged 9.6.
By 1985, the twin bills were all but gone. The last scheduled doubleheader at Comiskey Park was in 1981, and other than one to accommodate the Pride Parade in 2014, the last scheduled DH at Wrigley Field was in 1983.
So is bringing scheduled doubleheaders back a good idea? It depends on who you ask.
Bring it on
In addition to Maddon, the Cubs' Ben Zobrist and Anthony Rizzo and the White Sox's Justin Morneau, Tim Anderson and manager Robin Ventura are all for it.
"The way that our bodies are made, we're made to play six days out of the week, not seven," said Zobrist. "So when you stretch out those weeks and we end up playing 14, 20 games in a row, it's too much.
"Whereas if you get your body hot on a given day and you keep it hot, yeah you're going to be a little more sore the next day. But if you have an off-day coming up every week, you can recover a lot easier."
Said Morneau: "If it meant more off days, I think a lot of guys would be for it. Any time you get those rest days, especially at home, those are huge.
"I feel like we've almost gotten away from day games on travel days where you can actually get into a city and have dinner with your teammates, as opposed to rolling in and trying to find food at 3 in the morning while you're waiting for your bag to come up to your room."
Not so fast
On the other side of the fence were the Cubs' Jon Lester and Chris Coghlan and the White Sox's Todd Frazier, Jose Quintana, Melky Cabrera and Jose Abreu.
"The older you get, the more of a toll it is on your body," Frazier said. "If we have to make it up for a rainout, we have to do it.
"But I'm a fan of just playing the one game a day. (On doubleheader days) you could hit extra innings, the weather could be bad. There's a lot more risk involved."
Lester worried about teams running through their bullpens, thus creating major headaches for days to come, even if the next day was an off day. Coghlan said DHs mean one of two things: Either a club's stars are out there for 18 innings, or a team must resort to playing bench players in Game 1 or 2 so the big names aren't worn out.
"Don't you want to play your best players?" Coghlan said. "I don't see the point. If anybody's argument would be to shorten the season, you're just risking injury to play somebody. It's inhumane to make a guy strap on 18 innings."
One solution to that problem would be to expand the rosters by 2-3 players.
Currently, MLB allows teams to call one player up from the minor leagues for doubleheaders. So allow managers to use 27 or 28 players for the two, three or four doubleheaders during a season and you've solved the "overuse" problem. Doing this is an added expense to the owners, though, and another reason they may balk at the idea.
There's no getting around the fact that owners want to squeeze every dollar out of every season, so giving fans two games for the price of one isn't a concept they would embrace. One thought is to make sure DHs aren't played on "premium ticket price days" such as when the Cubs play the White Sox or either team plays the Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals or Dodgers.
What you could do is play those games against the Rays, Mariners, Reds or Brewers and simply bump up the price level. In the Cubs' case that means making a "bronze or silver" level day a "gold or platinum" day.
"That's all well and good, but we are at a time in our history where attention span is a problem," said White Sox broadcaster and former pitcher Steve Stone. "They're having a hard enough time paying attention to a game that takes three hours and 15 minutes. Now you're going to ask them to see two games that take six hours and 30 minutes.
"I don't think that's viable. And will they pay more? I tend to doubt it. Nice premise. I don't think it's feasible."
Tim Anderson, the White Sox's 23-year-old shortstop, has more faith in his generation.
"Doubleheaders would be a nice thing, especially for the fans," Anderson said. "They'd get to come out and be at the ballpark all day and just see us play. It'd be a good thing."
I tend to agree.
So just as the Rubik's Cube, big headphones and '80s metal bands have all made comebacks, major-league baseball and its owners should work with the players and take a look at bringing back this slice of Americana.
Do it for the fans. Do it for the players who would love the extra day off.
Do it for Ernie and honor the indelible mark he left on the game.
Let's play two, indeed.
• Follow John on Twitter @johndietzdh