The Royals and the White Sox played a doubleheader on Saturday night and an afternoon game on Sunday, completing 31 innings of baseball in a mere 24 hours. All three games went into extra innings, all three games were won by one run, and all three games were fun to watch. For fans of the Royals – the team that won two out of three games in the series – this was baseball at its very best.
And it wouldn’t have happened except by chance.
The Saturday doubleheader was the result of a rainout. In fact, pretty much all doubleheaders these days are the result of canceled or postponed games. They’re hardly ever pre-scheduled.
That wasn’t true in the past. Doubleheaders were common occurrences in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, hitting their peak during World War II when rationing regulations were instituted. Fans could save gas and ballparks could save money by hosting two games on one day instead of two games on two days. But by the ‘60s and ‘70s, doubleheaders had started to fade away for good. Even Ernie Banks’ famous cry of “Let’s play two!” couldn’t save the doubleheader.
But there’s a strong argument to be made for re-instituting the tradition of the doubleheader, and the argument was summed up perfectly this weekend.
Doubleheader baseball involves a great amount of strategy. National League fans, you think having the pitcher hit takes strategy? That’s nothin’ compared to doubleheader strategy. When managers are deciding whether to send up a pinch hitter for the pitcher, they have to think one or two batters, or at the most an inning or two, ahead. When you’re planning doubleheader strategy, you have to think one, two or even three games ahead.
Consider this weekend’s series between the White Sox and the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. The two teams split the doubleheader on Saturday, and all the players, coaches and managers dragged into the ballpark on Sunday for an afternoon game.
In the bottom of the 10th, with the score tied and the winning run on base, Jason Kendall came up to bat. Scott Linebrink was pitching for the White Sox. Ozzie Guillen visited the mound before the at-bat.
We don’t know what they talked about, or what was going through Ozzie Guillen’s head. Maybe he thought he was out of pitchers in the bullpen. Or maybe he was tired and didn’t realize that Jason Kendall is a .538 career hitter against Linebrink.
You read that right. Jason Kendall has a .538 career average against Linebrink.
But Guillen left Linebrink in the game. Two pitches later, Kendall lined the ball to left center and the winning run came home.
This was a strategic failure on the part of Ozzie Guillen (the kind that might have gotten him fired earlier in the season when he was on the hotseat). But it’s also a strategic victory for the Royals.
And the Royals haven’t had a lot of those in recent decades. (Trey Hillman would have probably pinch-hit for Kendall in that situation…)
So for the Royals, at least, the doubleheader was a good thing.
And more doubleheaders would be good for all of baseball.
Here’s a proposal for Major League Baseball: pre-schedule between 10 and 14 doubleheaders for each team each season.
On the plus side, this would do a few things: first, it would add another element of strategy. Second, it would shorten the season by a couple weeks, which is probably good since the NFL is considering expanding to an 18-game schedule, cutting even more into the end of baseball season. Third, doubleheaders would do exactly what they did during World War II: save money for baseball fans.
Unfortunately, this probably won’t ever happen. The MLB Player’s Union would never allow it; they’ll say it puts too much strain on their players. And today’s fans, who have shorter attention spans, probably don’t want doubleheaders. They don’t go to baseball games to watch baseball. They go for the hot dogs and the fireworks and the playgrounds and the Sunday Fun Run and T-Shirt Tuesdays.
But forget all that. Baseball should do it anyway. It would make the game better.
In the words of Ernie Banks: “Let’s play two!”
Matt Kelsey is a Royals writer for I-70 Baseball. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.