How World Series day games became a thing of the past


Some baseball fans fondly remember the game on World Series day, with tales of teachers driving televisions into classrooms and children smuggling transistor radios into schools or rushing home to watch the final innings.

But that era, which began baseball hesitantly with a single experimental night game in the early 1970s, is now a blur for generations of fans — and unimaginable for those under 40 who have never seen a full World Series game in the daylight. It’s been 35 years since the last game on World Series day, and don’t hold your breath for the next one.

“When it comes to the World Series, we, along with our broadcast partners, try to do what any good deal would do,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said at a National Press Club luncheon in July 2018 when asked if the Day of World Series games could be reintroduced this weekend. “We’re trying to launch the game at the time when we’re going to attract the largest audience – when the most people are watching the game. That will continue to be our guide.”

Translation: MLB will not play games on World Series day. You can put them in the stack with Sacrifice Bun, Pitchers Batting Ninth, and the Knuckleball. .

And while that reality feels as reliable as four-hour gameplay and fans waving towels under the lights, the start of the World Series night games came with controversy and disagreement — and without a clear mandate. Indeed, a torrential midsummer storm in Washington in 1969 helped convince baseball to move its championship round to prime time.

Baseball began playing the All-Star Game at night in 1967, and the change was an instant hit – with excellent TV ratings in 1967 and 1968. But when a rainstorm at RFK Stadium the next year caused that MLB hosted the ’69 All-Star game the following afternoon, ratings plummeted only to bounce back in 1970 when the game was played overnight in Cincinnati. That gave MLB the ammunition it needed to try a World Series game even in prime time.

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Six months later, in January 1971, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn announced that Game 4 of the 1971 World Series would be played at night.

“This innovation will allow millions of additional fans to see baseball’s postseason classic. I think the television audience will be the same size as the 1970 All-Star game in Cincinnati,” Kuhn said.

It was and then some: The October 13, 1971 World Series game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles drew 63 million viewers, the largest television audience for any prime-time sports event.

The following year, MLB expanded to two World Series night games — both weekdays — but it sparked a backlash. As the Associated Press wrote a month after the 1972 World Series: “’Television calls the shots,’ argued some critics. ‘Baseball sold his soul to the subway.’”

Kuhn pushed back on that narrative, telling the AP he was “deeply disturbed by the suggestion that baseball is now subject to the lash of television interests and that we have relinquished control of baseball.”

On the contrary, Kuhn said it was baseball, not the networks, that pushed for night games.

“I approached NBC about the issue,” recalls Kuhn. “They were skeptical and resistant. The World Series comes to the TV networks in the first 13 weeks of the new season. It’s a time when they’re trying to establish viewership habits. They didn’t want to interrupt their regular shows with a one-shot deal like the series. We’ve been working on it; they didn’t work for us.”

And Kuhn boasted, “We beat ‘All in the Family’ and other established shows on competing networks.”

Oakland Athletics owner Charlie Finley, who had championed night World Series games since the early 1960s, argued that playing after dark gave workers a chance to see baseball’s flagship event. “I’m a working man’s best friend since the guy who invented a time and a half,” he crowed, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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Still, critics continued to complain about the World Series night games, citing two main arguments. One is that since postseason games often drag on for three or four hours, East Coast kids have to stay up past 11 p.m. or midnight to see a full game — and baseball risks losing the next generation of fans .

The other is that October baseball is often too cold to play at night — and this year’s World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros could prove a challenge. Though the weather won’t matter in Houston, where the Astros play in a retractable-roof stadium, Philadelphia will play up to two games in November when nights can be chilly.

Weather became an issue in some of the early night games of the World Series, such as Game 2 of the 1976 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Cincinnati Reds in Ohio.

“When Game 2 of the World Series was about to take place, the temperature at 1 p.m. was a chilly 49 degrees — hardly ideal, but acceptable,” New York Times columnist Dave Anderson wrote at the time. “When the game got underway at Riverfront Stadium tonight, a ‘Freeze Warning’ had been issued and the temperature had dropped to over 30 degrees – totally unacceptable for what is known as a summer game.

“But baseball’s TV producer, Bowie Kuhn, demanded that the show go on. Bowie Kuhn was more interested in a Nielsen rating than championship terms, a betrayal of his commissioner’s responsibility.”

In its 2007 obituary for the former commissioner, the Times noted, “As Kuhn sat uncovered in the stands during Game 2 of the 1976 World Series on a cold Cincinnati night, seemingly in denial while everyone else shivered, he became an object of mockery.”

Baseball continued to mix with daytime games, usually on weekends, for the remainder of the 1970s. But in 1985, Kuhn’s successor, Peter Ueberroth, announced that every game of that year’s World Series would be played at night – and on television was call the shots.

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“The contract is older than me,” he said. “ABC has the right to do so under the contract and I’ve told the owners I’ve been informed we’re going to have games all night.”

The last World Series competition of the day was Game 6 of the 1987 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Minnesota Twins — and it was played indoors in the Metrodome, meaning it didn’t feel like an afternoon game.

As baseball author Joe Sheehan observed, “It’s special when you see how quickly it happened. As of October 12, 1971, there had never been a World Series night game. There has never been a World Series day game since October 24, 1987. It took baseball 16 years to turn its crown jewel into another television program.”

As MLB forever stayed up all night in 1988, Sports Illustrated writer Ron Fimrite advocated a return to daytime games — with a nod to viewers who stay up late.

“October night baseball just doesn’t make any sense to anyone outside of a network boardroom,” he wrote, adding that it robbed baseball of its distinctiveness. “Baseball’s main attraction became another prime-time miniseries, losing much of its grandeur and charm in the process.”

Noting that some of the 1988 World Series games ended around midnight in the eastern time zone, Fimrite added, “It’s hard enough for school kids to watch games that are on TV this late, but what parents of the East Coast could be in good conscience taking his kid to the ballpark knowing little Nipper wouldn’t make it back to the sack after one in the morning? And chances are that if the boy had gone to the game, he would have come home sniffling and hacking after spending half the night in an almost arctic cold.”

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Fay Vincent, who was baseball commissioner from 1989 to 1992, the early years of the All-Night Fall Classics, said in a phone interview that East Coast fans are primarily the ones who have been pushing for World Series Day Games.

“I remember all the frustration and talking about why the games are so late? Why don’t they run earlier in the day?” he recalled. “And I’ve always said, ‘Look, the people who are whining about the game being late are people who live on the East Coast. If you live in California, the game starts at 5 p.m. and the parents say to me, “Then why is it on? The kids are just getting home from school, and if they have anything to do after school, the baseball game is over at 8.” ”

Vincent also dismissed concerns about losing young fans.

“The advertising dollar decides how you maximize profit and maximize audience — and it works,” he said. “It only works to the detriment of some people who wish the world to focus on New York or Washington. There are many ways to attract young people.”

Speaking at the National Press Club, Manfred, who seemed a little annoyed when asked about World Series daytime games, commented that the sport hosts a lot of daytime playoff games. And he pushed back on the narrative of baseball missing an opportunity to attract young fans.

“I understand that there is a romantic notion out there of a World Series game being played during the day and kids will be flocking from all over to see this game,” he said. “The fact is we know who is watching. In the off-season we play day games. In fact we are no longer attracting children to these games and given that fact we will continue to host games at the time we can reach the largest audiences we can possibly attract because we feel like that is how we serve ours fans.”