Post-season baseball a puppet to prime time TV considerations
Baseball's playoffs and World Series are just about upon us again, which means it's time for another installment of ''Dancing to TV's Tune.'' Over the years, sadly, we've had far too many examples of this unfortunate trend.
The first and still perhaps the worst one involved changing from the once-traditional Wednesday start of the Series to a rushed and inappropriate Tuesday opening. This is a big inconvenience for all involved, but the really important objection is that it disrupts pitching rotations - significantly increasing the advantage of the team that happens to have had the easier playoff series. Of course this means nothing compared to accomodating the television schedule and avoiding a possible conflict with Monday Night Football.
Then there is the ridiculous scheduling of what are still laughlingly called ''travel days.'' These breaks in the action used to be inserted only when the teams were located far apart. But nowadays they do it all the time regardless of sites - again because it works better for TV and keeps away from Monday Night Football. There were ''travel days'' last fall for the 90-mile drive between Baltimore and Philadelphia, and it will be the same thing even if there's another ''Subway Series'' in New York one of these years.
Those in charge also have a unique way of assessing the weather once the words ''prime time'' come into the picture. A few years ago, for instance, a virtual monsoon engulfed Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia during a Saturday night playoff game between the Phillies and the Dodgers. The only reasonable course was to postpone the game, but that would have wreaked havoc with the television schedule - so of course it continued to the bitter, drenched end.
And who can forget that famous frozen spectacle in 1976 when for the sake of a few more dollars the traditional daytime start on Sunday was switched to night , only to have a beautiful autumn afternoon in Cincinnati turn into a bitter cold evening? This fiasco did have its bright side, though, since it has given us nearly a decade of jokes about Commissioner Bowie Kuhn's thermal underwear.
Now even before post-season play has begun in 1984, we have a 50-50 chance of at least one more such outrage. This, of course, is the decision announced a while ago that if the Cubs make it to the World Series, the whole schedule will be switched around - including the home field advantage - to make sure television doesn't lose too many prime time spots.
Under the standard alternating procedure which has been in effect almost continuously for more than half a century, this year's Series is supposed to open in the National League city for Games 1 and 2 on Oct. 9 and 10, move to the American League site for Games 3, 4, and 5 (if necessary) on Oct. 12, 13, and 14 , then return to the NL field for Games 6 and 7 (if necessary) on Oct. 16 and 17 .
That's what will happen, too, if the San Diego Padres defeat the Cubs in next week's NL playoffs. Should the Cubs prevail, though, such an arrangement would mean playing all those Tuesday and Wednesday games in the daytime, since Wrigley Field is the only major league ballpark that doesn't have lights. Obviously this prospect didn't meet with much enthusiasm on Madison Avenue. So Kuhn in one of his last acts a commissioner (he is to be succeeded by former Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee chairman Peter Ueberroth next Monday) decreed that if the Cubs are the NL representative they have to give up the home advantage and take the three weekend contests, two of which are supposed to be day games anyway.
Kuhn's ruling didn't sit well with Cub fans, one of whom actually went to court in an attempt to block the change. A judge dismissed the case this week, however, ruling that baseball's basic agreement grants the commissioner ''unbridled discretion'' in altering schedules.
So that's that - and all we can do now is sit back and wait to see what other gems Kuhn and his TV puppeteers come up with as the playoffs and Series go along.