Let’s Not Play Two
The Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Angels of Assorted Southern California Municipalities will meet at 1 p.m. PT this afternoon and do something that hasn’t happened in Major League Baseball in eight years — play a scheduled, not-caused-by-a-rainout, no-we-actually-agreed-to-do-this-months-ago doubleheader. As anyone familiar with the history of the sport surely knows, doubleheaders used to be a fixture in baseball, a staple of the regular season that would reward baseball fans with two games for the price of one.
In these modern times, doubleheaders have fallen out of favor—they’re generally added to the schedule only when rain-outs force teams to make up games. And those doubleheaders are typically of the day-night variety, where one game gets played, everyone gets shoo’ed out of the stadium, and then a new batch of paying customers are hustled in for Game Two. But a scheduled doubleheader hasn’t happened since the Padres and Phillies played one on August 2, 2003.
Conventional wisdom has it that doubleheaders have fallen by the wayside because of greedy owners and indolent players — that the owners hate the thought of giving up ticket revenue and the players union balks at having its workforce play more than one game on any given day. Perhaps, that’s true. But I think it overlooks the most important explanation for why you don’t find many doubleheaders on the schedule these days.
Doubleheaders are awful.
Look, I like watching baseball games as much as the next guy. I do quite a bit of it during the season. But two complete Major League Baseball games back-to-back, with a 30-minute-or-so break to allow the players to rehydrate or eat their orange slices or do whatever it is professional ballplayers do to prepare for a game? That’s a big ask. I mean, in olden times, when nickels cost a penny and no one went out in public without first putting on a hat, pitchers breezed through games so that everyone could be home in time to catch their favorite radio serial on the wireless. Now? Between interminable pitching changes, between-inning promotions, dancing mascots, and hitters adjusting their batting gloves and going on spirit walks in between each pitch like some modern-day Mike Hargrove, if you pull off a nine-inning game in less than three hours, it feels like a momentous achievement.
And the funny thing is, I love extra innings. A game that creeps into the 11th, 12th, 13th inning and beyond? That’s a great time, aided and abetted by the giddy thrill that comes from watching free baseball and the uncertainty as to how and when the game will end, if ever. Doubleheaders, in contrast, feel like a forced march, a test of endurance that no human being should be asked to undertake.
Believe me, I have first-hand knowledge of the enormous time-suck that doubleheaders turn out to be. In 1983, I went to a doubleheader — A’s-White Sox, in case you were wondering — eager to experience the thrill of two games in a single day. That thrill lasted approximately through the first pitch of the first game. The A’s and Sox conspired to play a sloppy, unending affair that stretched on for 11 innings and four hours and 21 minutes. I remember little about the game — the mind has a way of blocking out such traumas — save for a truly wretched performance by Mike Warren, who let the Sox take the lead in the 10th, and then, after the A’s improbably scored three runs in the bottom half of the inning to tie things up again, got pounded for even more runs in the 11th. (Mike Warren, incidentally, was the clubhouse leader for the title of Oakland Athletic Least Likely to Throw a No-Hitter right up until the moment that Dallas Braden yelled at A-Rod to stay off his mound.) Game Two of that 1983 A’s-Sox doubleheader was played in a much crisper two hours and 31 minutes, but we wouldn’t know, since we left shortly after Chicago scored six runs in the third inning. For the people that stayed for both games, that’s seven hours or so of baseball. I imagine that by the end of that second game, they had the same haunted look you’d find on the face of a 1930s dance marathon participant.
Because I never learn from my mistakes, I went to another doubleheader 23 years later — this one featuring two Class A minor league teams. Even though the California League has a rule that the second game of a doubleheader is only scheduled for seven innings, I still couldn’t make it through both games. I blame this less on my sticktoitiveness and more on the fact that the temperature in Modesto at first pitch was 112 degrees. As luck would have it, that particular game also featured a promotion in which a whole host of mascots descended upon the stadium. I have little doubt that as the mascots cavorted and frolicked in the heat for the amusement of the 200 or so people in attendance, they were also making their own gravy inside those costumes.
I’ll probably flip on the TV to catch some of the A’s-Angels doubleheader today, if for no other reason than to see how many people are still in the stands by the end of Game Two. (Given the A’s paltry attendance this season, I’m pretty sure the remaining fans at that second game will be able to personally introduce themselves to one another.) Best of luck to those at the game who do brave both halves of the doubleheader — you’re certainly better fans than me. Just not wiser.
[Pictured: An actual photo of the “crowd” at that doubleheader in Modesto. Not pictured: The author of this article melting into a puddle.]