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October 29, 2018

Angelo Cataldi: Want to fix baseball? Start by playing World Series games earlier

Opinion MLB
1029_World_Series_2018_USAT Jayne Kamin/USA Today Sports

The Red Sox won their ninth World Series in convincing fashion.

Hey, did you see that amazing Game 3 of the World Series last Friday night (and Saturday morning) between the Red Sox and the Dodgers?

Naw. Me neither.

The truth is, only insomniacs and baseball zealots watched all seven hours and 20 minutes of that epic event, for the same old reason. With attendance in decline and interest among younger fans negligible, Major League Baseball remains committed to keeping the best part of its sport away from the eyeballs of its fans.

Game 3 ended at 3:30 a.m. on the East Coast, the third contest this postseason that went past 1 a.m. in the region of the country with the highest concentration of baseball fans. This is an intelligent way to run a business only in a world of idiots.

Oh, commissioner Rob Manfred has offered profuse lip service to the notion that the game is too slow and too late for many fans, but not in a way that will inspire any urgent change. Just last week he said he was still trying to find a balance that would bring the biggest TV audience to the most important games.

This isn’t it, Rob. This most definitely isn’t it.

Asking fans to stay up so long for a game that plays so slow is a formula for eventual extinction. The real tragedy of Game 3 was how much good it could have done for the game. Codgers like me who remember when there were day games in the World Series became fans because of the drama of those events. Generations since then have been denied that opportunity.

When I woke up Saturday morning and savored the highlights of what was truly one of the best baseball games ever played, I felt affirmation that the sports can still be great, despite the efforts of the stat nerds to ruin it. Unfortunately, I also had to endure the reality of this new, less appealing form of the game.

For example, Manny Machado – who is about the make more than $300 million as a free agent, possibly from the Phillies – stood at home plate in the sixth inning of a one-run game and admired his . . . . single. That’s right. His Dodgers were up 1-0, and he didn’t make it to second base on a blast to left field that caromed off the wall because he, again, refused to run.

After the Dodgers won, 3-2, in 18 innings, Machado called the game “a must win” for LA. Ha, ha. A must win, but not a must run? Imagine how hard he will play after he gets his new contract.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers had a starting pitcher, Walker Buehler, who was brilliant against the formidable Boston lineup for seven innings. Ultimately, despite giving up two hits and no runs, he fell victim to an incurable disease called pitch count. After 108 pitches, there was simply no way he could come out for the eighth inning. Medical science shows that after 100 pitches, the human arm is likely to fall off.

Instead, over-managers Dave Roberts and Alex Cora sent a parade of other pitchers onto the mound, including some who had appeared in every game. At the end, Boston’s genius rolled Nathan Eovaldi into the game for six innings and 97 pitches, on two days rest. Hey, he kept the pitch count under 100, didn’t he?

Baseball is a wonderful game if humans would just stop screwing it up by favoring numbers over simple logic. Only a stat nerd cannot see what must happen for baseball to move, belatedly, into the 21st century.

The game has to be played faster; the next generation doesn’t find a man scratching his groin entertaining. Manfred wants to use a 20-second pitch clock between pitches. Do it. Also, teams need to foil defensive shifts by insisting batters hit the ball the other way. And while they’re at it, how about placing a priority on hitting the ball, period? There were a record number of strikeouts this season.

Above all, the best games have to be accessible to all fans. That means, yes, some day baseball in the postseason, earlier start times for the night games (6:30 seems to work well for the Super Bowl) and no more epic moments seen by only the apathetic West Coast.

Alex Cora said after the loss early Saturday morning that Game 3 of the World Series was “probably the best game I’ve ever been part of.” Then he added, with no sense of irony, that he hoped Boston fans woke up in time to see the end.

Only in the convoluted baseball world of today is that notion acceptable.

And finally . . . .

• How many seasons of mediocre (or worse) basketball will it take for the Sixers to admit their horrific mistake by drafting Markelle Fultz with the No. 1 pick two years ago? The bar is so low now, when he hits a three-pointer, he gets a standing ovation. Soon, it’ll be a derisive cheer. Fultz is far too sensitive, immature and overrated to ever rise above status as a spare part on a team with ambitious goals. In a year or two, maybe they’ll finally figure that out.

• The Flyers are playing uninspired hockey again this season. Gee, it couldn’t be because they have a see-no-evil GM (Ron Hextall), a dullard coach (Dave Hakstol) and an unemotional captain (Claude Giroux), could it? They also have seven goalies in the organization but no really good ones, a too-young defensive unit and a maddeningly inconsistent offense. Other than those few issues, I can’t understand why they are boring everybody again this season. It’s a real mystery.

• Gabe Kapler had absorbed his share of brickbats in this column over the past year, but he deserves credit for braving the winter here this off-season rather than heading back to his far more comfortable West-Coast home. He said his reason for staying is to get a better feel for the fans, and I believe it. I also believe he will be more honest in his public dealings next season. Let me reiterate: Kapler is not the biggest problem here. Clueless GM Matt Klentak is.

• There was a time when it would have been unimaginable to say this, but Eagles GM Howie Roseman needs to show his face more than he has since the parade. Before the trade deadline tomorrow, he must do something about the cornerback, offensive line and/or wide receiver positions, and he then needs to talk about what has happened so far this season. Nobody is asking him to bring back his radio talk show, but he’s been in hiding far too long.

• No one else has ever said it, so I will. Malcolm Jenkins needs to shut his mouth once in a while, especially when his political agenda takes precedence over the interests of the Eagles. Last week, Jenkins actually said: “I can turn on the tape of our opponent and see that Colin Kaepernick deserves a job.” In other words, the anthem protestor is a better player than Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles. On Bortles’ only touchdown pass Sunday, he faked Jenkins out of his jock and hit his target in the back of the end zone. If that doesn’t shut Jenkins up, nothing will.