Day games are different.
There’s a lot of mythology surrounding baseball, particularly the post-season variety, played deep into autumn, and one of the most potent is the nostalgia for the day game.
And now, in 2016, long after day games have disappeared from the World Series, baseball’s marquee attraction, the Cubs, the team that clung to the day game longer than any other franchise – they didn’t get lights on Wrigley until 1988 – are the World Series favorites.
And guess what? The Cubs – 2016’s Yanks – are scheduled to play no day games in their post-season run for their first World Series victory since 1908, because marquee attractions go straight to prime time.
Oh baseball. Will you ever get it right again?
I’m more from the generation that read about day games than experienced them, but I do remember having to stay home from school with an ear infection during the 1970 World Series, and, bored out of my skull, parking in front of the TV where I discovered a Baltimore Oriole named Brooks Robinson who could do everything – including leaping over tall buildings in a single bound.
I also remember rushing home from school during the late 1970’s, in order to watch Manny Mota lead an impromptu late afternoon, ninth inning Dodger rally against the Phils. That culminated in a fly hit deep into the afternoon, where Phillie left field Greg Luzinski lost track of the warning track, causing him to leap a little early, crash awkwardly into the wall and drop the ball, leading to the Dodgers advancing to the 1977 World Series instead of the Phillies.
That was the sort of play – late in the afternoon, in the hazy light of happy hour, where magic might happen – that made day games in October awesome. The shadows created by a setting sun would settle over part of the playing field, wreaking havoc on a player’s depth perception – both in the field and at the plate.
Day games seem to have been stage managed by an Italian or French auteur director, as the tricky light plunged the late innings into a kind of improvised pandemonium.
One of the best-known baseball games ever was an accidental day game. That took place in the middle of week in October, 1996, at Yankee Stadium. It was Game 1 of the ALCS, Yanks vs Orioles.
The Yanks were the marquee draw for FOX Sports in 1996, the same way the Cubs are in 2016. Game 1 was originally scheduled for Monday night, but got washed out. Then it happened again on Tuesday.
Because the NLCS had already been scheduled for Wednesday night in prime time, Game 1 was moved to a 4pm start time in the Bronx.
I had a ticket, and still remember coming up out of the D train station about 3:15 that afternoon. It was a glorious Wednesday afternoon in mid-October in New York, and the streets around Yankee Stadium were busy. Guys in business suits stood outside the Stadium, smoking.
I grew up on the prairies, in Winnipeg, feeling like a misfit, because what I really wanted to do when I grew up was live somewhere near baseball – and now I lived in New York (at 96th and Amsterdam).
Now, finally, here was what I’d really come to New York for: the past. Playoff baseball at Yankee Stadium in the late October afternoon. It was almost like climbing inside a Frank Sinatra song, come to life. (In those mid-90’s days, they always played Fly Me to the Moon at Yankees games in the afternoon).
It felt almost as if I went down into the subway at 96th Street in Manhattan in 1996, only to emerge in the glittering October sunshine at 161st Street and Grand Concourse in 1955.
That Game 1 turned out to be the Jeffrey Maier game, when a 12 year old from New Jersey reached over the wall and helped turn Derek Jeter’s fly ball to the warning track in right into a game tying home run.
We all know how that one turned out. The Yanks won, setting the stage for winning their first World Series since 1978, kicking off the most recent Yankee dynasty.
If they hadn’t stumbled into an accidental day game, who knows if any of that ever happens?
Imagine, for a second, Major League Baseball, changing its mind and scheduling a day game at Wrigley in the middle of the week as part of the 2016 World Series.
Or imagine Game 6 (today) of the NLCS, being played at 2pm instead of tonight – with the very real possibility that today could have been the (day) game that propelled the day-game loving Cubbies into the World Series for the first time since the closing curtain on the Second World War (1945). (The Tigers won in seven).
On the weekend when the NHL hosts a Heritage Classic in an outdoor stadium in Winnipeg, celebrating hockey’s legacy, do you think MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and the rest of the baseball minions (Joe Torre!) might have had a conversation about celebrating’s baseball’s?
After all, no sport is as connected to its past as baseball – and yet, when the opportunity to let the whole world dip a toe into that legacy is presented to them on a platter, instead we get another prime time, four hour marathon that evokes nothing at all, except the tyranny of television programming.
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