Old-fashioned twin bills would aid scheduling
Straight-up doubleheaders now and then would ease concerns
Something weird, wild and wonderful is happening at the Oakland Coliseum this weekend. And believe it or not, I'm not talking about MC Hammer Bobblehead Day on Sunday.(Although, this seems as good a time as any to openly admit that my first concert was an MC Hammer show in 1992. I was 10 and, in retrospect, out of my mind. Hammer was 30 and, for most of the show, out of breath.) On Saturday, the A's, for the first time since the mid-'90s (or shortly after Hammer was last relevant), will be playing a traditional doubleheader. On purpose. This is no makeup date. And this is not one of those instances in which everybody will be kicked out of their seats after game one, the floors will be swept and the toilets flushed before everybody is invited back in -- with a separate ticket, of course -- a couple hours later. No, we're talking about an honest-to-goodness, old-school, Ernie Banks-style doubleheader. A game against the Angels at 1:05 p.m. PT, a short break, then another game against the Angels. One ticket gets you two scoops of Coco Crisp. For the A's, it's a clever marketing gimmick in the midst of an "'80s Weekend" promotion at the ballpark. It was approved by the players union, which recognized the value of expanding the All-Star break for the A's and Halos. One of Saturday's games had originally been scheduled for Thursday. But for baseball at large, perhaps this twin bill is an illustration of an in-season route baseball should take if the playoff format is expanded, as expected. As it stands, Major League Baseball has made two tweaks to its scheduling format in an effort to avoid a Fall Classic that stretches into winter weather. The first was made last year, when an off-day in the midst of the League Championship Series was eliminated. The second occurred this year, when the season began on a Thursday -- March 31 -- rather than the first Monday of April in order to have the season end on Wednesday, Sept. 28. The 2011 postseason, therefore, will start sooner and won't end in November, as last year's did. These were necessary changes for the good of the game. Nobody wants the World Series to conflict with grocery shopping for Thanksgiving. But if an additional Wild Card entry is added to each league -- perhaps as soon as next season -- it might take an added dose of creativity to cram a few more dates onto baseball's crowded calendar. Commissioner Bud Selig, I'm told, will absolutely, positively not sign off on any playoff format that ekes into November, which is good news. It also appears that a one-game play-in between the Wild Card winners has much more traction than anybody would have imagined a year ago, given the initial managerial outcry that such a format would cheapen the regular season. Surprisingly, many in the game -- some managers included -- are getting on board with that notion, which would obviously have to be collectively bargained. If playoff expansion comes down to a single game in each league, it won't be all that difficult to schedule. But if it's a best-of-three opening round between Wild Card winners or if the wishes of some are met and the Division Series is ever expanded to a best-of-seven from a best-of-five, well, that's where the creativity will have to come into play. For either, or both, of those things to happen, it would be some combination of unfeasible and unreasonable to satisfy the dual needs of playing the World Series entirely in October and playing a full 162-game regular-season schedule (it doesn't appear a shortened season is going to happen) without some sort of calendar compromise. You can't routinely start the season in March any more than you can routinely end it in November, and you need some off-days built into the postseason schedule to account for travel plans and weather postponements. Could a couple of traditional doubleheaders scheduled into the regular season slate be the answer? "I wouldn't be opposed to that," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. That's coming from a catcher, who would either be subjected to six hours' worth of crouching behind the plate or, more likely, ride the bench for one game. If anybody should be against the notion of scheduled doubleheaders, it's catchers and relievers, but you wouldn't know it from the responses of McCann and Indians closer Chris Perez. "As long as it's already scheduled in there, and the team already knows about it, and you can kind of get your rotation set up for that, I think it could be a success," Perez said. "I think the players would be open to it, actually." Well, that depends on the player. Several polled at this week's All-Star festivities were open to the idea, while several others rolled their eyes at the thought. "That," Giants ace Tim Lincecum said, "is a little odd. I think one game at a time is better." Or as Tribe manager Manny Acta put it, "The players might favor it up until you ask them to play in both games." True. It's a tough sell to both the players, whose bodies are already beaten up from the rigors of the six-month schedule, and the owners, who obviously don't wish to lose the gate revenue from the second game. For the A's, who entered the All-Star break with the third-lowest attendance in the league, the two-for-one marketing ploy makes sense. For others, that might not be the case. But as the bargaining talks near and many major topics are on the table, including replay and realignment, perhaps owners and players alike should at least consider the doubleheader option. Rays manager Joe Maddon earlier this year suggested a way to make it work without ruining rosters. "If you expand the rosters for doubleheaders that are planned in advance," Maddon told reporters, "then you don't have the same concern about wearing out rosters or, particularly, pitching staffs, and you still get things done in the same amount of time. If you try to be a little creative with that, you're still going to be running the same length of year you are right now [in terms of games played] and provide the opportunity for the best two-out-of-three [Wild Card round] format, which I like, as opposed to the one-and-done." Maddon suggested 28-man rosters for scheduled doubleheaders, which he, like so many others, believes should be of the traditional variety, rather than the split day-night format that can leave players more susceptible to injury after sitting around between games. Short-term expanded rosters for doubleheaders might make sense, as might a stipulation that all scheduled doubleheaders must be preceded or followed by one of the off-days that are already built into a club's calendar two or three times per month. This is, admittedly, an imperfect idea that, as of now, appears unlikely to take root. It might even be a moot point if the Wild Card round is, indeed, of the single-elimination variety and the Division Series format goes untouched. But there are those who wouldn't mind a return, however brief, of the quaint "let's play two" concept, especially if it has the practical purpose of aiding October. "I think the fans would definitely dig it," Maddon said. And if they don't, well, just throw in an MC Hammer bobblehead.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.