Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Phil Sheridan | Time to complain about lousy schedule

To paraphrase Mike Schmidt's famous epigram, Phillies fans experienced the thrill of victory Sunday and the agony of learning their team's postseason game times on Monday and Tuesday.

To paraphrase Mike Schmidt's famous epigram, Phillies fans experienced the thrill of victory Sunday and the agony of learning their team's postseason game times on Monday and Tuesday.

If you want an explanation for why you have to play hooky to watch the first two Phillies playoff games in 14 years, and why you have to overdose on caffeine to watch the next two, you're in the right place.

If you want to feel better about the fan-unfriendly starting times dictated by TBS and Major League Baseball (in that order), well, we can't help you there.

It's a lousy schedule, and an unfortunate one for the Phillies and their fans. This is a franchise that turned a significant corner by stealing the National League East title from the New York Mets. The drama of Sunday's game, Brett Myers' joyous mitt toss, the celebration that spilled spontaneously from the clubhouse back onto the field - those are the priceless shared memories that bond a city and a team, that will help turn Citizens Bank Park from a beautiful new house into a beloved, lived-in home.

And then the NL division series schedule hit like a bucket of cold water. The Phillies host Games 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, both at 3:07 p.m. After traveling Friday, the Phillies and Rockies play in Denver at 9:37 Saturday night.

Worst of all, if there is a Game 4, it wouldn't start until 10:07 p.m. Sunday. Given the times of playoff games, already lengthened by extra commercials, that means the game could end after 1:30 Monday morning.

That's too late for a lot of people, especially the young fans that baseball should be actively cultivating. Some area school districts are closed Monday for Columbus Day, but others are open. Either way, it's asking a lot for young children and even many adults to stay up that late to watch a baseball game.

So why did it happen this way? In fairness, the suits at Turner Sports and MLB's New York offices gain nothing by inconveniencing millions of postseason-starved Phillies fans. The reality of the baseball postseason schedule is that some team's fans get a lousy game time or two.

There are several factors at work: the size of the TV markets involved, the NFL schedule, and, of course, the pursuit of the almighty advertising dollar. That last one is a constant, so there's no sense dwelling on it. Television pays exorbitant sums to show these games, so television calls the shots.

If you view the four league division series as a jigsaw puzzle with up to 20 pieces spread out over four time zones, the challenge is to assemble those pieces (games) so each can be seen by as many people as possible. Then the challenge is to get the choice TV markets - New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago - into prime-time slots as much as possible.

Philadelphia is a very attractive TV market, too, but the Phillies didn't seem likely to be involved until late in the scheduling process. When the TV schedule was set Monday, the Phillies' two possible opponents - San Diego and Colorado - happened to represent the smallest TV markets in the eight-team field.

And that is why Games 1 and 2 are scheduled for 3:07 p.m., which presents serious ethical dilemmas for honest working people and schoolchildren all over the region. What's most frustrating is that the logic that led to weekday afternoon starts for the Phillies did not apply to the weekend games. TBS is broadcasting just two games Saturday, presumably to avoid conflict with the Sandra Bullock double feature airing that afternoon. The Phillies got the second slot.

Sunday is the killer. The Phillies would seem a more natural fit in the 1:07 p.m. slot occupied by the Cubs and Diamondbacks. That's just after a noon start in Chicago and just after 11 a.m. in Phoenix. But the Bears will play the Packers on Sunday Night Football, and going head-to-head with the mighty NFL is the last thing the network or MLB wants.

The Broncos will play at 4:15 Eastern across town in Denver. New York's Jets and Giants will play each other at 1 p.m. So will the Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots, who represent two of the TV markets involved in the baseball postseason.

And so Jimmy Rollins won't see the first pitch in Game 4 until 10:07 p.m. The last pitch? Better brew a second pot of coffee if you plan to see it.

Feel better? Didn't think so.

If the Phillies advance, they will play more reasonably scheduled games in the NL Championship Series.

And the Phillies do have control of one thing. They can wipe that late Sunday game off the schedule by sweeping the Rockies in three games.

That will allow their fans to get a good night's sleep so they can skip school and work for another pep rally.