The sneer wasn’t exactly hidden in The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, as Bill Shaikin, one of the top writers in baseball, wrote about what he rightly called “the annual ritual of anguish in the parts of America that border the Atlantic Ocean” over World Series games ending close to or after midnight. A night earlier, Game 1 between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox had ended at 12:03 a.m. – and without particularly much drama as an 8-4 game after Eduardo Nuñez’s three-run, pinch-hit home run broke things open in the seventh inning.
Game 2 on Wednesday night, in which the Dodgers mustered only three hits and runs were scored in only three of the 17 half-innings, lasted 3:12 and ended at 11:22 in the East. Then there was the historic Game 3, an 18-inning affair that started at 5:10 p.m. in Los Angeles and didn’t end until 12:30 on Saturday morning there, 3:30 in the East when Max Muncy finally homered to end it. The Red Sox won, 9-6, in a brisk 3:57 on Saturday night, then wrapped up the series in three hours in Game 5, the World Series climaxing at 11:17 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, after a game that was uninteresting unless you were excited to see Boston clinch.
“How can kids, even adults, stay up so late to watch the games? Why don’t the games start earlier?” Shaikin wrote. ��The Pacific Ocean? Yeah, well, never mind.”
The commissioner agreed with this sense of things, saying, “There is a little bit of East Coast prejudice in these questions. … I think L.A. is in the western time zone. We are cognizant of the fact that we are trying to serve those fans as well. I understand game times can be difficult. It’s hard when games finish late. By the same token, when you start games at 5 o’clock Eastern, it’s in the middle of the workday in L.A. That’s not quite right either.”
It would not be right for World Series games to start at 5:00 Eastern/2:00 Pacific, at least not on weekdays, but also nobody is asking for that. It is, however, a deleterious notion for the man in charge of Major League Baseball to look at what’s happening and not at least give some consideration to the idea that 8 p.m. starts on the East Coast are a bad idea.
The average game lengths in the past 10 World Series have ranged from 3:05 in 2010, when the Giants dismantled the Rangers in a five-game series that was generally forgettable, to 3:49 in 2015, when the Mets and Royals played two extra-inning games on the way to Kansas City’s five-game win. This one, thanks to Game 3, with two other long nine-inning contests, checked in at an average of 4:26.
You may have noticed in recent years that there’s been something of a discussion around baseball about the sport’s struggle to connect with young fans. It also happens that the World Series is played during the school year, and the most consequential parts of the biggest games baseball has to offer are happening after pretty much all kids in the east have gone to bed. Why would baseball be having trouble ingraining itself in kids’ lives? It’s a puzzler!
It’s not a matter of ignoring the West Coast, but a stark reality: 47 percent of the population of the United States is in the Eastern Time Zone. When games stretch past 11 p.m., out of prime time, you’re going to lose a significant chunk of the audience, particularly at this time of year. Eventually, it also comes to a point where adults figure they don’t even want to bother tuning in because they’re not going to see the end anyway.
The question that MLB has to ask itself is whether it’s better to have people in the most populous part of the country go to bed before games end, or have people in one of the four main time zones (sorry, Alaska and Hawaii, you’re gonna be kinda screwed here no matter what) still be working when they begin.
The answer should be easy. Radios do, after all, exist, and baseball happens to be the best sport in that media format. It’s immeasurably better for MLB to tell West Coast fans, sorry, you’re gonna have to listen to the first couple of innings and tune in when you get home, than to tell East Coast fans, sorry, you’re gonna have to choose between staying up for the end of the World Series game and getting a decent night of sleep.
That’s not East Coast bias, but simple business. Start the pre-game yakkery at 7:00 Eastern, get the games going at 7:30, and the average game will end somewhere in the 10:30-11:00 range, which, yes, is only 7:30-8:00 on the West Coast, where if fans are really that concerned about watching the whole game, they do have the option of a DVR – it’s not exactly like someone on the East Coast is going to record the remainder of a game and catch the conclusion in the morning.
What should be obvious is that the current way of doing things is not working: despite having the West Coast’s largest market and the East Coast’s most passionate one about a single team in the World Series, ratings for the first two games stunk. Maybe flatly dismissing an obvious concern of something in the neighborhood of half the audience as “East Coast prejudice” isn’t the greatest idea.