For the fourth time since 2004, Major League Baseball is going to mess up its schedule to start a series overseas with games that count before the regular season starts. It was bad enough that the first three started anywhere from four to five days before the regular season started. This year, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks will play in Australia a full seven days before the season starts. It’s messed up.
Zack Greinke made a bit of a stink about not being excited to go and a bunch of people fussed about it–especially those in Australia. But Greinke is right and this does pose quite a bit of a problem for the players.
But it is not just about the players. There has been a lot of talk about making baseball’s opening day a national holiday. Hey, I’m all for that. But first, all the teams would need to make Opening Day the same day.
The sentiment for this national holiday is that fans long for that magical start of the season after watching a month of Spring Training games. What does this do to the fans of the D-backs and Dodgers who have this day pushed all the way back to March 22 and the games are on odd hours and they are not played in an NL West stadium.
Sometimes I feel like that grumpy smurf. I hate this sort of thing. I hate the World Baseball Classic that messes up Spring Training and makes you worry about your favorite players. I hate that Opening Day is not the same for every team and not all day games. And I especially hate these overseas games that artificially start the season in places where the teams are not supposed to play.
I get that Bud Selig wants to make baseball a world cultural thing. But, Bud, it is already there. The game has spread around the world and Australia already has a big baseball culture and has sent players to play in the MLB. That push is not necessary.
Now let’s get back to the players for a second. Do you folks know how far away Australia is and how long it takes to get there? It is somewhat better from the West Coast like the these two teams are heading from (yes, I know Arizona is not on the coast). But even so, that is a long honking trip.
The players will get there in time to play exhibition games against Australian teams on March 21 and then play each other twice on basically the same day (our time) on March 22. The players’ systems will be messed up for at least a couple of days before the trip and a couple of days after.
But then they have a two-game record that stands frozen in time for seven days until the rest of the season starts and these two teams have to go back to some semblance of Spring Training in between. This will not be fun.
Rail all you want about Greinke, but he is dead on with this. Frankly, you expose these two teams to a whole lot more danger by having to make that long trip to foreign soil.
The other thing it does is accelerate the decisions that Don Mattingly and Kirk Gibson have to make. They have to set their clubs earlier than normal. And Greinke is right about messing up the routine that is a normal Spring Training.
Doing this is not aesthetically pleasing to the fans, to the players, to the managers and general managers or to anyone but perhaps the host country. It simply is another way for Selig to put some imaginary feather in his cap for his overstated legacy.
Let’s look back at a little history of this. In 2004, the Yankees and (then) Devil Rays began their season in Tokyo. The Yankees won 101 games that season and finished in first place. But they were only 11-10 in April, the team’s worst month of the season. April was also the worst month of the season for the Devil Rays that year with a .316 winning percentage.
In 2008, the Red Sox and Athletics began their season with two games in Tokyo. The Red Sox had a good month of April. The A’s also got off to a good start that season in April, but faltered in July and August. The Red Sox also had a poor August. Coincidental perhaps.
In 2012, the Athletics and Mariners started their seasons early (Puerto Rico?) for two games starting on March 28. They did not play again for a week and then played each other again in the states. The A’s had a horrible April and May that season and played .600 ball the rest of the season. A better start to the season could have seen them in the playoffs. April wasn’t that bad a month for the Mariners.
I am not really stating that there is a one to one ratio here and the results could be a coincidence. But doubt does creep into your mind and it makes you wonder if the long trip and throwing a team out of sorts has anything to do with it. And if any doubt is caused to creep in on anything, MLB shouldn’t be doing it.
I applaud Zack Greinke for saying what he said. He probably speaks for a lot of the players. He certainly speaks for the fans and for this particular baseball writer. I hate messing with the season in any way.
Opening Day is a sacred thing for many people. All the teams should begin their seasons on the same day and doggone it, they should all be day games.