The day before playing the Mets in an April doubleheader, a few Rockies were dreaming up scheduling alternatives and a hypothetical idea emerged: play doubleheaders on Sundays and have Mondays off.
"I like playing the game, and I like my days off," said shortstop Troy Tulowitzki before he homered in each game, "so I'd get two games and get my day [off]. It's the best of both worlds."
Tulowitzki grew up in northern California and fondly remembers going to what was then known as the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum for A's doubleheaders. Perhaps as much as any current big leaguer, he can appreciate the throwback feel of the twinbill with the new understanding of how precious off days can be. Major leaguers play 162 games in 182 days, leaving just 20 free days over the course of six months, and that's before counting the seven weeks of spring training.
"I think the fans would enjoy it as well," Tulowitzki said. "Having a Sunday when they maybe don't have to go to both games, but if they do, they have that choice. It'd be pretty cool."
On Saturday afternoon the A's are hosting the Angels in a traditional doubleheader: two games, one right after the other, for the admission price of one. According to the Elias Sports Bureau (via an Oakland press release), it is the first of its kind to have appeared on the original major league schedule -- and not be the product of a rainout -- since the Phillies hosted the Padres for two on Aug. 2, 2003.
Scheduling such traditional doubleheaders is permitted under Article V, Section C of the current collective bargaining agreement. Split doubleheaders in which there's a long break between games (typically starting at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.) and the stadium is cleared for new ticketholders are only allowed as make-ups for rainouts. But the CBA expires at the end of this season, giving baseball a chance to revisit the rules and the union has found some interest in exploring options.
"Players are open to all kinds of creative ways of how to play," Michael Weiner, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, said of doubleheaders. "It's an issue that gets a lot of focus at collective bargaining."
Weiner noted that scheduling is a "hard balance of competitive considerations, revenue considerations, safety considerations" but that players are always looking for ways to ease the demands of the rigorous schedule, noting that three or four of those 20 precious off days occur every All-Star break, which really only leaves 16 or 17 game-free days over the remaining schedule and which aren't even really off days for the players at the Game. Often there are even fewer: A rainout that's not postponed until everyone is at the park looks like an off day on the schedule, but the players have already arrived and worked out.
The A's scheduled this doubleheader because it's part of an '80s Throwback Weekend and because it moved Thursday's game to Saturday to extend the All-Star break by a day. And, presumably, a team with low attendance like Oakland might be able to capitalize on generating goodwill with fans and come closer to filling its expansive ballpark.
Historically, doubleheaders were an integral part of the game. Ask any baby boomer (or older) and he or she will regale you with a story of seeing Hank Aaron or Willie Mays bat eight times in one day. There's a classic feel and appeal to spending a long day at the ballpark. The 1977 A's, for instance, scheduled nine home doubleheaders. Thanks to two scheduled doubleheaders, from June 24 to June 29 Oakland played an eight-game homestand in six days.
That crunch won't happen again -- the best way to get union approval of more doubleheaders is to offer more off days as compensation -- but Tulowitzki isn't the only player interested in exploring the idea. The Brewers' Ryan Braun is another that was intrigued was asked about adding doubleheaders, though he showed recognition for how complicated the schedule is.
"If we got to a point where we could consistently have off days and the off days were scheduled once a week, that would be amazing," Braun said. "If it led to that, it would be great. But otherwise I think it's challenging. It's challenging to have doubleheaders. It's challenging for pitching staffs and challenging for bullpens.
"And if you have a rainout earlier in the week, then what do you do? Back-to-back doubleheaders. It puts a lot of teams in a position where it could possibly lead to a very challenging schedule. But if it led to consistent off days, then I think it's something we would all consider."
Though the union has a perpetual desire to lesson the strain of the regular-season schedule, it's unlikely that there will be a major change. Here's why:
1) The first and foremost obstacle is team revenue.
Weekly and probably even monthly doubleheaders are not realistic because clubs lose a game's worth of gate receipts in traditional doubleheaders, which explains why Commissioner Bud Selig is adamantly opposed to increasing their number.
"The fact of the matter is that clubs do what they have to do because revenue is so important," Selig said. "People don't like doubleheaders like they used to. I'm telling you, fans today don't want them."
Selig continued to say that split doubleheaders are more "fan-friendly" than traditional doubleheaders, which seems a bit dubious (traditional doubleheaders at least give fans the option of staying for a second game), but the first point -- that revenue is so important -- is the major trump card and the primary reason we're not likely to see a major change in scheduling.
According to research done by baseball author Chris Jaffe for The Hardball Times, before 1959 at least one league, if not both, played a quarter of its games as doubleheaders. As attendance figures rose in the succeeding decades, doubleheaders declined; 1979 was the last year either league had even 10 percent of its games as part of doubleheaders. As Jaffe concluded, "Money killed the doubleheader."
One thought for teams looking to institute an occasional doubleheader is to raise the ticket prices slightly for those games, the way many teams use pricing tiers to charge more for high-demand games against a division rival than for lower-profile opponents. This idea would kill the marketer's dream slogan of "two games for the price of one" and there's an attrition factor for fans when considering the time committed to two games, but selling tickets at, say, 125 or 150 percent of the normal price would lessen the loss in revenue while still creating the feel that fans are getting a deal.
2) The games are a lot longer.
The average time of game is roughly 2:50, up from about 2:30 in the 1970s. For more casual fans and those with busy lives, it's clearly less appealing to sit through nearly six hours of game play rather than three.
3) Teams now use a five-man pitching rotation instead of a four-man.
Today's starters have adapted to four days between starts instead of three, making it harder to align one's rotation in advance of doubleheaders, when two starters need to be ready on the same day.
4) It becomes tricky to manage the playing time of relievers and catchers.
When teams do play rain-induced doubleheaders, some managers are loathe to use the same relief pitcher in both games or to start the same catcher in both games.
Braves catcher Brian McCann, for one, said. "If we're talking about maybe a couple a year, I would be in. If we're talking about 15 to 20, then it would take away from me playing, and I would not want that at all."
Similarly, Rockies closer Huston Street said, "It's like growing up -- Little League and summer baseball with all the tournaments and it's baseball all day long. At least I'm not going to complain about that. Off-days are precious, that is very true, especially once you have a family, and you can spend serious quality time with them.
"Probably not weekly, maybe bi-monthly, just because as a reliever I think the coaches are going to be hesitant to pitch you in both games of that doubleheader.
You feel ready and a lot of it depends on pitch count and stuff like that, but if I were to be giving up one game a week guaranteed that I wouldn't be pitching in, that's nothing something I'm not necessarily excited about doing."
5) There's no consensus among the players.
Weiner noted enough support of the idea that it was being discussed in collective bargaining, but the backing is by no means unanimous.
"I just think that it's a grind playing baseball every day," Mets third baseman David Wright said in April. "When you have two in one day like that, it throws you off."
Reds first baseman Joey Votto said that, as he gets older, he becomes less inclined to support doubleheaders, noting that playing the second game of a traditional doubleheader is difficult and that a split doubleheader really isn't better.
"The split is just as difficult, if not more," Votto said. "You get no rest in between the games. One game a day is fine for me. I think most guys would agree with that, and I think the older guys would agree with that too."
The a new CBA being negotiated opens the door of opportunity that a compromise, however unlikely, could be reached that restores the doubleheader as a scheduling fixture. But for now, savor Saturday's twinbill in Oakland -- there's no guarantee of a sequel.