Snooze button and sinkerballs: World Series needs to wake up

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For most of my working career, I believed it was far better to be coming in at 4 a.m. than going out. Age changed all that.

I can’t remember the last time I was still awake for the 11 o’clock news. Judging by the declining ratings for the World Series, I’m not the only one.

Despite being a tomahawk-chopping Atlanta Braves fan, I’ve been forced to wait until the next morning to find out how they fared against the Houston Trashstros.

The games start too late, they’re too slow and they last too long. And too many fans just like me have chosen sleep over the prospect of watching a Freddie Freeman home run.

Game 1 was mind-numbing. Root canal mind-numbing. The first pitch came at 8:09 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 26. Although there weren’t any extra innings, it ended with a Braves 6-2 victory at 12:17 a.m. on Wednesday. That’s 4 hours, 6 minutes – or half a night’s sleep.

Games 2, which Houston won 7-2, ended at 11:20 p.m. Game 3, a 2-0 Atlanta win, ended at 11:36. The final pitch for Game 4 was at 11:57 p.m. with the Braves winning 3-2. And Game 5 Sunday night, won 9-5 by the Astros, 12:15 a.m. on Monday.

Tuesday’s game ended at 11:36 p.m., 90 minutes after I turned out the lights.

Postseason games this year have averaged more than a half-hour longer than regular-season games. In the Eastern Time Zone, where 47.6% of the country lives, night games during the season generally started at 7:08 p.m. Starting times for World Series games were set at 8:08 p.m.

That’s why television ratings are dropping like a Max Fried sinkerball. There are too many of us who simply can’t stay up that long, especially if we have to go to work the next morning.

I get the fact my age plays a role in my crankiness. But what Major League Baseball doesn’t understand is late-starting games – and extended commercial breaks – also eliminate younger fans because they have to go to school the next morning. Twice this Series, that means the same morning. Those children are the game’s future customers.

Fox Sports paid $5.1 billion for the broadcasting rights to the All-Star game and World Series for five years. That contract expires after the final out this year, but Fox was given 2 minutes, 55 seconds between half-innings and during pitching changes to sell ads. That’s an hour of non-baseball – and a lot of Shaquille O’Neal commercials.

One way to speed up a game is to put pitchers on the clock. MLB tried out a 15-second clock in one of its Class A leagues last season and the average game times by more than 20 minutes. A single pitch shouldn’t last as long as an oil change.

Change is inevitable. I can remember sitting in the classroom with a transistor radio and an earphone listening to daytime World Series games. We also had nuclear bomb drills where were had to hide under our desks. Yes, I’m that old.

I’m also old enough to remember when World Series ended in October. Baseball should never be played in November. That’s football season.

There are several reasons why ratings for the Fall Classic are in the tank. Back when it truly was a big deal, the average television crowd during the 1978 series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees was 44.279 million. That, of course, featured teams from the two-largest television markets in the country.

The five-year stretch between 1978-1982 was baseball’s high-water mark with an average viewership of 40.8 million a game.

How things have changed.

Last year’s series between the Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays averaged 9.785 million a game. This year’s series is projected to be around 11 million, which is on the path to making it the second-lowest-rated series in television history.

The last time the Braves were in the World Series was 1999. I went to all four games, including two at Yankee Stadium. But I was younger and could stay up to watch the Late, Late, Late Show. Now it’s the Blue Plate Special and lights out.

I’ve waited 22 years for my favorite team to return to the World Series. Now I’m a bigger fan of sleep and feeling refreshed the next day.

While other Atlanta fans were waking up to hangovers Wednesday, I turned on the computer to find out the Braves won, 7-0, Tuesday night to beat Houston, 4-2.

It was worth the wait. And the sleep.

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