PITTSBURGH — The Cubs and Cardinals had their Wednesday game at Wrigley Field postponed due to nasty weather. That was the 25th postponement across Major League Baseball, one short of the modern through-April record, set in 2000.
The circumstances were enough to make Chicago’s Anthony Rizzo publicly propose a decrease in the number of games in the MLB regular season, thus allowing for a later start to the baseball calendar.
“I think playing in the cold sucks,” Rizzo said on Chicago’s ESPN 1000, just before the Cubs were rained/snowed out for the third time in four days. “As a fan you’re going to a baseball game in April, and it’s raining, snowing and freezing rain. Is it really that much fun? That’s my question.”
I think the answer is ‘no,’ if you’ve seen some of the remarkably small crowds who have turned up for bad-weather games across the continent this month. Fewer than 1,000 people reportedly showed up for a White Sox home game last week, a number that seems pretty close to accurate for a handful of dates at PNC Park so far.
There are other factors that play into attendance figures, of course, but the point stands that it’s been a wretched three weeks to conduct outdoor sporting events. That goes for the spectators and the participants.
“No one wants to play when it’s 30 degrees, especially when you’re doing it for almost a month,” Steven Brault told me before Wednesday’s pleasingly sunny game. “We’ve been going for … like three weeks now that it’s been miserable.”
Throw in modern ticketing strategies and it makes for ridiculous scenes like what we saw Monday and Tuesday on the North Shore, when the number of people in both dugouts looked like it was greater than the number in the stands. A Pirates official told me Wednesday that season-ticket holders can decide to exchange seats at this time of year for presumably more pleasant dates later.
Good for the season-ticket holders, but, to Rizzo’s point, is a game in front of an empty stadium fun? This is supposed to be entertainment, not athletes competing for the hell of it. But what’s the answer?
“Do you just start later?” Brault asked. “Do you start at the end of April? You’re still going to deal with it from the end of the season. I don’t think it’s necessarily a solution.”
Brault said he’d be on board with Rizzo’s thought of having more scheduled doubleheaders, but the Pirates’ lefty also admitted he’s biased. As a pitcher, he wouldn’t be on his feet for 18 innings on those let’s-play-two days. He also allowed that owners wouldn’t love that idea in some markets, because they’d likely lose out at the gate, especially in the heat of the summer.
But maybe the biggest sticking point of playing fewer games is the matter of salary. It’s probable that owners would request some sort of rollback as a concession for the players competing less often.
Rizzo said he thinks players would be willing to give up a little money in exchange for better working conditions, so to speak. As I found out, that’s where George Kontos has an issue.
“Rizzo is a buddy of mine (but) I’m going to have to agree to disagree with him on that one,” Kontos said. “You know, I think it’s different for everybody. Some guys who are making the minimum (salary) or close to the minimum are where that money is very important and they don’t have the luxury of giving some of it up like some of those (higher-paid) guys do. I think it’s a different story.
“You know, the season’s been 162 games for a long time, so if we were having a different (situation) with the weather right now, this would be a whole different conversation in general.”
Kontos is probably correct in that we’re all slaves to the moment to some degree. Would I, as a baseball consumer and reporter, mind if about 10 percent of the schedule were lopped off, preferably in March and April? Nope.
However, would I be thinking about this issue if summer had arrived early? Probably not, even if I think a few games could be shaved without much consequence.
“I think if April 1 had rolled around and it was 65 degrees instead of cold,” Kontos said, “I don’t think any of these comments would’ve been made anyway.”
The old man of the Pirates’ pitching staff is probably right, although considering his years of major-league service in San Francisco, maybe he is a little more hardened to the elements than most. Doesn’t matter if it’s April or August at AT&T Park, you should probably bring a jacket, a blanket and a cold-weather hat.
Southern California’s own Brault is making less money than Kontos, but that didn’t seem to change his view on paring down the schedule, even if it made for a lighter paycheck every two weeks.
“Playing a few less games isn’t necessarily detrimental to the sport or anything,” he said. “Not saying we should cut it down to 90 (games), but you know, cut down a few? I don’t think anyone would hate it all that much.”
Cutting out the potential for low-energy games in conditions that make for a lower quality of play? Count me with Team Rizzo on this one.