By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub
The Red Sox host the Blue Jays at Fenway today. It’s a 1:05 start.
Enjoy it. It’ll be the last one this year.
That’s right. Today’s AL East matchup marks the final 1:05 Saturday afternoon start for the Red Sox in 2018. Home or away. There are 11 Saturdays remaining in the baseball season.
The last four weekends, we’ve seen the Sox play on Saturday night. Granted, one of those games was in Seattle, another in Kansas City, but those didn’t even commence until 5:15 and 6:15 local time, respectively. There are a couple of 4:05 home starts tossed into the final two and a half months of the season. But for the most part, Saturday afternoons will be devoid of Red Sox baseball from now until sometime next year.
What ever happened to the Saturday day game? Isn’t it my right as a New Englander – as an American – to come in from mowing the lawn, crack a beer, and watch the game on a Saturday afternoon?
Instead, fandom is unsurprisingly once again at the mercy of television ratings.
Two decades ago, this wasn’t even a thing. The 1998 Red Sox played 12 Saturday games at Fenway. Nine of them started at 1:00. The other three started at 5:00.
Going back 15 years (Cowboy Up!), the split was seven Saturday home games at 1:00 and six at 5:00.
Go back a decade, though, and you start to see the effects of the team’s massive popularity: Just two 1:00 starts at Fenway, six at 4:00 and a whopping five games in primetime.
This year, the Sox scheduled four Saturday home games in primetime and a “TBA” against the Yankees the last weekend of September. How much do you want to bet that winds up being a night game? I should ask Over/Under 98.5.
It doesn’t just happen at Fenway. Look at the rest of the 2018 Saturday slate: Anyone in Chicago planning to head over to Guaranteed Rate Field on Labor Day weekend for a Saturday night Red Sox-White Sox matchup?
A couple years back, the Mets went an entire season without offering a 1:00 Saturday start to their fans. The “Kids Run the Bases With Mr. Met” promotion, perfect for a Saturday afternoon game, wound up on a Sunday night when ESPN desired a Mets-Yankees matchup and switched it to a primetime slot. The remaining kids at Citi Field ran the bases with Mr. Met sometime around midnight.
The ship sailed on weekday games years ago. The Sox scheduled just six weekday starts at Fenway this year (counting Patriots Day) with just one of them coming after May 30. They’re almost always of the “break glass in case of a getaway day” variety.
We know where it comes from. Bryce Harper’s much-ballyhooed $400 million contract won’t be tied to gate receipts. That hefty check comes courtesy of a TV deal. Even in a world where millions of Americans are cutting the cord and MLB has streaming agreements with Twitter and Facebook, it’s still all about the ratings. And MLB’s response to tepid numbers in recent years has been to ask fans to stay at home with the boob tube on Saturday night.
Saturday night is for hockey. It’s for the NBA. The proverbial “day at the ballpark” doesn’t happen in those sports because aesthetics don’t matter – they’re played indoors in noisy dens at a time of year when the weather is mostly hostile. Baseball doesn’t need to follow the NBA or, for God’s sake, the NHL. It doesn’t need to expand its playoffs to be more like the NFL. Baseball has long thrived on being different and letting its fans argue about the quirks.
Now, it’s just trying to be like everybody else.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can follow him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.