Baseball Playoffs: The Midnight Men

The question of the day this morning in office, gyms, coffee shops and cafeterias is, “Did you stay up to watch the whole game last night?”

Staying Up for Baseball or Giving In?

Where I live, “the game” refers, of course, to the fourth baseball game of the American League Championship Series between the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox. It started around 8:10 pm eastern time and ran for more than four and a half hours. I gave up and went to bed around 11:00 pm, somewhere near the seventh inning.

Andrew Benintendi, ALCS, Boston Red Sox, Fexway Park, final outAs it turned out, I missed some pretty exciting baseball. That includes Craig Kimbrel, the Sox’s fireballing reliever, loading the bases in the ninth inning and outfielder Andrew Benintendi saving the day (or, to be more accurate, the night) with a diving catch. This kind of drama is why Red Sox fans have been known to watch the game through their spread fingers, like it’s a horror movie. Last night, announcer Joe Castiglione fell off his chair.

The drama continues tonight as David Price replaces Chris Sale, who has been ill. Price is a great pitcher but tends to lose focus under pressure.

The Daytime World Series

I remember when there was no ALCS and baseball games were played in the daytime—even in the post season. Life was simpler then. Until 1969, the team with the best record in the American League and the top-ranking National League team won their respective League Pennant. Then they faced each other in the World Series. End of story. Easy peasy.

World Series, radio, post-season playThe World Series games were played in the daytime, in the sunlight of early October’s bright blue weather. Those of us who were stuck in school sometimes got to listen if a teacher put a radio on in the classroom.

Radios also played in offices, factories, restaurants and other public places. People gathered on the sidewalk outside an appliance store to watch the game on a TV in the window.

Show Me the Money

Then three things happened:

  1. Increasing the number of teams:
    In 1969 both leagues added two expansion teams were and MLB broke the 12-team leagues up into two divisions of six teams each: East and West. The two divisional winners played one another in a championship series. This expanded post-season play by a best-of-five series that took place before the World Series, which got pushed later into the month.
  2. Growing the divisions: In 1994, the leagues expanded again, adding the Central Division. The following year, the divisional series added another elimination round to the playoffs—delaying the World Series again.

According to the Baseball Almanac, here’s how the playoffs currently work:

“The Divisional Series is a best-of-five series, featuring the three division winners and a wild-card team. Typically, the wild-card team plays the division leader with the best winning percentage in one series, and the other two division leaders play the other series. However, if the wild-card team and the division leader with the best record are from the same division, the wild-card team plays the next winningest division leader, and the remaining two division leaders play. The teams with the better winning percentage get homefield advantage (home team for games 1, 2 and 5). The two Division Series winners move on to the best-of-seven League Championship Series to determine the pennant winner and league representative for the World Series.”

And the Crowd Goes Wild

  1. Growing the audience:
    Major League Baseball sold post-season play rights to the highest-bidding television network. That network understood that they could get more viewers if the games were played when most people had come home from work (and school was out). They moved the post-season games to a prime-time slot.

Boston Red Sox, Major League Baseball, Fenway Park, ALCS, World Series, jack o lanternThis year, the World Series will be played from October 23 to October 31. That’s as late in October as you can get. Maybe we’ll call it the Halloween Series. And the games will be played at night, of course. If the L.A. Dodgers win their division, some of the games could start really late on the East Coast. But at least the players will be warm.

If the Red Sox make it to the World Series, the teams and the fans will freeze in open-air Fenway Park. In the post-season at Fenway, the crowd has more gloves than the players do.

Here’s the 10-day weather forecast for Boston. While it doesn’t predict nights as cold as it might—we have had snow by Halloween—I see a lot of rain after October 27. Weather delays could turn this into the Thanksgiving Series.

The Boys of Summer and the Midnight Men

That’s how the Boys of Summer turned into the Midnight Men—and why fans have gone from crouching over smuggled radios on sunny afternoons to staying glued to the television until the wee hours. That’s how players have gone from short sleeves to jackets and hoods.

Do I wish I had stayed up for the whole game last night? I do now that I know how it turned out. Think of the drama missed. Think of the nails that went unbitten, the butts that stayed firmly in chairs, the screams that went unuttered. Good times.

Will I stay up for the World Series games if the Red Sox ace the ALCS series? Possibly. At least, until the day’s work catches up with me. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.