Baseball lets TV call shots with all night games in World Series

It had to happen sooner or later, and now the inevitable time has come: day baseball is a relic of the past as far as the World Series goes. This year even the weekend games are going the way of Madison Avenue and the dollar sign -- thus removing another of the game's traditions.

Although regular-season night baseball began nearly half a century ago and has increased to the point where weekday afternoon games are now a rarity in most cities, the World Series managed to hold out with all day games until 1971. Since then the general pattern had been to play weekday games at night and weekend contests in the afternoon, although cracks did appear in the armor now and then.

In 1976, for instance, the Sunday game was moved to prime time -- only to have poetic justice strike Bowie Kuhn & his TV puppeteers as a pleasant fall afternoon in Cincinnati turned into a bitter evening. That was the night on which then-commissioner Kuhn showed up sans topcoat, sparking a decade of ``thermal underwear'' jokes and making the whole thing look so ridiculous that they went back to Sunday afternoon games the next year.

In recent World Series, though, ``Sunday afternoon'' has come to mean 4:30 p.m or so -- the better to squeeze in an NFL game on the tube beforehand. Thus the only ``pure'' day game of late has been Saturday's -- and now that is going the way of the Dodo Bird as well.

Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, in announcing the new format, said ABC, which is televising this year's Series, had called the shots as to starting times. He said the network had the right to do this according to its contract, which, he noted, had been signed during Kuhn's reign.

That information will come as a surprise to anyone who may have believed Kuhn's frequent denials over the years whenever it was suggested that he and his sport were dancing to TV's tune. Of course it goes without saying that not many people ever believed Bowie to begin with -- unless the public is even more naive and gullible than I think it is.

Anyway, this new wrinkle certainly will have interesting implications if the Chicago Cubs, whose Wrigley Field has no lights, are contenders again. Last year, it will be recalled, they were to lose the home advantage under a switch whereby they would host the middle three games, including Saturday and Sunday, which were day games anyway.

The Cubs solved that problem by managing to lose the playoffs, but maybe baseball won't be so lucky this year. And now, if they should get into the World Series, they would presumably have to give up their home field altogether.

All of which points toward the next inevitable development in the gradual transformation of the Series from a great sporting event to a TV spectacular -- removing it from the cities involved altogether and putting it in a warm weather site `a la the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, that one is probably not too far down the line either.

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