Feinstein: Baseball Is Part Of July 4; Someone Tell The Owners

MLB this year treated July 4 like a random weekday, which is a disservice to fans – and the game, John Feinstein says

John Feinstein
June 18, 2019 - 4:52 pm
Rob Manfred MLB Commissioner

USA Today Images


This morning, I was looking at the Major League Baseball schedule for July 4th because I wanted to confirm that the Washington Nationals would be playing their now-traditional 11:05 game on the holiday. They will—against the Miami Marlins.
That’s a good thing. I like slipping out of the house in the morning to go to a game and then get home in plenty of time to take my family to dinner and the fireworks.
Here’s what’s not so good: Six MLB teams won’t be playing on the Fourth. Seriously. And one of them is my team—the Mets—although the way they’re playing, perhaps I should be grateful.
Even more than Memorial Day and Labor Day, the Fourth of July is supposed to be about baseball. There are no other major sports going on—unless you count the hot dog eating contest on Coney Island.
It is a day for BASEBALL.
It is a day when you check the standings carefully because teams that are in first place on the Fourth are often in first place on the last day of the season. You can see that a number of teams have only one thing to look forward to the rest of the season: the trade deadline on July 31st, when they can offload salaries and trade veterans who aren’t likely to be around when they get good again for prospects that might help bring about a rebuild.
Like I said, the Fourth of July is about baseball. It should be about baseball in all 30 MLB cities. But this year, it’s not. The Orioles and Astros do not play in the American League; The Giants, Diamondbacks, Rockies and Mets don’t play in the National League.
Since the Yankees are playing in Tampa Bay—hey, what’s better than indoor baseball on the Fourth?—there will be no baseball in New York on the Fourth. You know, the place with the Statue of Liberty. The Red Sox are playing in Canada. That’s the team from Boston, the place where the American Revolution began, the place where Paul Revere once made a fairly famous ride. Then again, the Blue Jays and Red Sox only play 18 times a year so it would have been tough to flip a series in order to play in Boston on the Fourth. Right? The Phillies, who come from Philadelphia, the place where the Declaration of Independence was written, signed and announced will play in…Atlanta. The Phils and Braves are also in the same division.
What are these people thinking? It is NOT that hard. It might require some thought, some desire to note that the Fourth of July is a special day, not just for the country, but for baseball.
I am NOT one of those people who thinks that traditions are unbreakable. Slavery was once a tradition; so was segregation. On a different level—silly as opposed to criminal-- calling fans “patrons” is a tradition at the Masters. What was once “The Open Championship,” is now “The Open,” according to the R+A, which runs the tournament most of us think of as the British Open.
For years, Wimbledon’s award presentations were completely silent. Everyone knew what was going on without being told. Now, it’s constant talk. Better? Maybe. But I kind of miss the days when the Duke and Duchess of Kent stopping to talk to the ball-kids was about the only talking that went on during the ceremony.
At least they don’t introduce some corporate geek to present the trophy or, during the U.S. Open, a car.
Remember when Juan Martin Del Potro won the U.S. Open 10 years ago and asked Dick Enberg if he might speak to the crowd in Spanish for a moment?
Enberg’s one of the great broadcasters ever, but he had a producer screaming in his ear, “No Dick, give him the keys to the car!”
And so Enberg was forced to say, “No time for that Juan-Martin, but we have the keys for you to this beautiful…” By the time he finished the entire crowd was booing. Enberg knew a disaster when he saw it. He handed the microphone to Del Potro and said, “Please, go ahead…briefly.”
Nowadays, when someone who isn’t a native-English speaker wins a major tennis tournament, he or she is asked as part of the ceremony if they’d like to speak in their native language—which they always do.
That is a good change of tradition—although it doesn’t stop the corporate geeks from getting the mike. Nothing is perfect.
Once upon a time, baseball tradition dictated that most teams played doubleheaders on the three major summer holidays. They were almost always played in the afternoon and they were—gasp!—one admission.
All of that has eroded in the last 25 years. Where once, teams played doubleheaders all the time, now there are NONE on the schedule. When a rainout forces a doubleheader, it’s almost always a day-night because the owners don’t want to give up a gate. That brings about the specter of games played in front of 5,000 people on a weekday because the game wasn’t on the schedule and most people—those who don’t own baseball teams—have to work on weekdays.
Then, the holiday traditions began to go away. Doubleheaders? No. In fact, teams began to have days off to travel on Memorial Day and Labor Day. But, at least in my memory, it never affected Fourth of July prior to this season.
Fourth of July is on a Thursday this year. That’s often a travel day for teams and, apparently, rather than schedule around it, the schedule-makers just went ahead and treated it like a typical Thursday. There are eight day games (if you count Yankees-Rays at 5:10 as an afternoon game) and that’s not a-typical for a Thursday since many teams are traveling after they play.
Baseball’s attendance is down this year, and it was down last year. I’m not here to claim that the lack of real doubleheaders or treating holidays as special is the reason for that.
But I’d point out that baseball fans are getting older every year. I’m one of those. I also have an eight-year-old daughter who likes the idea of going to games with her daddy. Fortunately, because we live in Washington, we can go to the 11:05 start on the Fourth this year if we so desire.
But what if I still lived in New York? Not only could I not take her to see the Mets that day because THEY AREN’T PLAYING, but I couldn’t take her to any game because the Yankees are playing in a damn dome in Florida.
How is baseball going to attract young fans if it takes away traditions like holiday games and doubleheaders? My dad took me to Sunday doubleheaders at Shea and Yankee Stadiums—the Mets and Yankees were never in town at the same time back then—all the time because he loved the idea of two games for the price of one.
And, for the record, those 1 o’clock doubleheaders were almost over by 6:30. Three hours-plus nine-inning games? Almost never.
I know I sound like an old man yelling at a cloud here. But there ARE traditions in sports that should be preserved. I thought about that watching the Blues and Bruins go through the handshake line after Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. That’s a great tradition that’s been preserved.
They still cut down nets at the end of the NCAA basketball tournament, but they use the “official ladder of the NCAA” to do so. Of course they do.
The old cliché is penny-wise and pound-foolish. Baseball’s owners would be well-advised to keep some traditions intact. Or, bring them back. How about everyone plays one scheduled single-admission doubleheader a year? Play it on the Fourth of July. And start game 1 in every city at 11:05 a.m. local time.
How cool would that be? Too cool, no doubt, for the owners.
John Feinstein’s most recent book is “The Prodigy,” a novel about a 17-year-old who has a chance to win the Masters but must try to fight off agents, equipment reps and his own father during the tournament as they try to turn him into a human ATM machine. His latest non-fiction book is “Quarterback—Inside The Most Important Position in Professional Sports.” John’s website is: JFeinsteinbooks.com.