I'M LOOKING forward to heading down to Citizens Bank Park for the Phillies doubleheader coming up on Tuesday not because of their opponent (the lowly Miami Marlins), but for the sole reason that it's a doubleheader. The Phillies, like all major league teams, play virtually no doubleheaders anymore other than when they are forced to make up games that are rained out. Even in those cases, most teams schedule an afternoon game and a night game with separate admissions. But next Tuesday is a real, old fashioned doubleheader. In the 1950s the Phillies averaged between 25 and 30 doubleheaders per season. In the '60s that dropped to somewhere between 15 and 20. By 1975 it had dropped to 10, and by 1985 it went down to four when our last regularly-scheduled doubleheader was played.
When I told a friend I was going to the doubleheader he said "Are you crazy? It'll take at least 7-8 hours to complete." I thought about that and realized that I am enough of a baseball fan that the lyrics "I don't care if I ever get back" from Take Me Out to the Ball Game apply to me.
Because of my dad, I grew up a rabid baseball fan and the best days on the calendar for me were when there were doubleheaders. I went to many with my dad but after he died when I was 14 I continued to go to doubleheaders with one of my childhood friends, Bob Passantonio.
The Giants and Dodgers had moved out of New York so during the four years between 1959 and 1962 we would go to every Sunday doubleheader the Yankees played. We would pack a lunch and get there when the gates opened at noon so we could make sure to get a general admission seat in the top three rows in the upper deck behind home plate.
It was wonderful to sit there for two games, the second of which would be ending as it got dark. We would watch the games and have the opportunity to talk baseball endlessly. The Sunday doubleheader was a part of my youth that I won't ever forget and I remember fondly to this day. In the end, being a baseball fan is all about shared experiences. Even though football is now the No. 1 sport in America, baseball has been the glue that has kept this country together through the decades. As James Earl Jones said to Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams when he was trying to convince him to keep the magical field:
"People will come, Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn into your driveway, not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door, as innocent as children, longing for the past.
"Of course we won't mind if you look around," you'll say, 'It's only $20 per person.' And they'll pass over the money without even thinking about it, for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk off the bleachers and sit in their short sleeves on a perfect afternoon. And find they have reserved seats somewhere along the baselines where they sat when they were children. And cheer their heroes.
"And they'll watch the game, and it'll be as if they'd dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come."
Despite this sentiment, I don't expect to see doubleheaders make a comeback. Those days are long gone. The last time MLB scheduled a traditional doubleheader was on July 16, 2011. For example, the Cubs haven't scheduled a doubleheader since 1983.
There are two arguments for scheduling doubleheaders again. Angels manager Mike Scioscia, like many others, has gone on the record with his opinion that the season shouldn't stretch past Halloween. In 1955, for example, the season began on April 13 and ended on Sept. 25. Of course, they only played 154 games back then. It seems pretty clear that most fans and pundits agree that the World Series should not finish in November. Another argument for doubleheaders is that this would free up more off days for players to recuperate. Despite the logic of both arguments, don't expect to see regularly-scheduled doubleheaders again anytime soon. The reason - money! The average team would lose approximately $1.4 million in game revenue for each doubleheader.
I have a proposal though. Let's bring back six regularly-scheduled doubleheaders - three on Sundays and one each on Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day. That's one doubleheader a month. Let's shorten the season by starting later in April and ending the World Series in October. The average team would lose about $8-$9 million in revenue under this proposal (about the cost of a back of the rotation pitcher). To cut that loss in half, teams could charge 150 percent of a regular ticket for a doubleheader so a $20 ticket for a single game would cost $30 for a doubleheader. Either way, they can absorb it to make the game better and to keep those ties with the days when baseball was a very special part of American life.