It was good to see Reds fans treated to a doubleheader the other day—even if the first “game” lasted only nine minutes.
Because of torrential rain the night before, the Reds-Phillies 0-0 game after 8 and ½ innings was suspended and played the next day before the regularly scheduled game. So what the Lords of Baseball and the Most Powerful Labor Union on Earth (the Players Association) got rid of, God restored, at least for nine minutes.
So for you young fans out there hypnotized by our friends at ESPN and 24/7 sports coverage and WAR, before the designated hitter (DH) there were double-headers played in Major League Baseball. Lots of them. And they were a blast, at least for fans.
It was two games for the price of one. Imagine that. What a bargain.
Doubleheaders have been around for over a century. The number of DHs played during a season peaked during World War II. The record for most DH’s played in a year is held by the Braves, who played 46 of them (or 92 of their 154 games) in 1945. On the day of September 1, 1958 (Labor Day) every team played a doubleheader. But by 1959, the percentage of games played in DHs had dropped to 25%; by 1979 it was 10%.
There are still a few DH’s but they are “day/night” games meaning you watch the first game, leave the stadium, and if you want to see the second one a few hours later you have to pay full price to get in. The last “classic” doubleheaders were the Angels-Athletics in 2011 and the Padres-Phillies in 2003.
Owners didn’t like the old format of doubleheaders because they lost additional revenue. There were other factors involved as well; games are longer now than they used to be and today, there are five-man pitching rotations. There was also a lack of consensus among players if they should be played.
The first games I saw at Riverfront Stadium in 1972 were a DH against the Braves, which the Reds swept. (According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 26% of doubleheaders resulted in sweeps.) It was a Friday night, we got yellow seats and those were the first of a four-game series against Hank Aaron and Atlanta.
I remember some friends and I went to a DH at the Astrodome (Houston) during the 1979 season. The Reds scored two runs in the first inning of the first game thanks to a two-run homer by George Foster. Tom Seaver made it stand up and outdueled JR Richard in a 2-1 win. Unfortunately the Reds were shut out in the second game, meaning they went 17 straight innings without scoring a run. But Tom Terrific got them a split.
The longest baseball day ever was a result of a DH. On Mother’s Day 1964, the Giants played two against the Mets at Shea Stadium. San Francisco won the first game, which started at 1:05 (EST) but the second game lasted 23 innings. The Giants won that one too. It was Gaylord Perry’s first career victory.
A few doubleheaders sprinkled on the schedule would also possibly prevent the World Series being played in the snow late in the year and shorten the calender length of the season. It makes sense, but will never happen. It’s all about money. The likelihood of doubleheaders making a comeback are as likely as us getting rid of the designated hitter—slim and none. When the Reds were hot, you loved to see them play two. When they were on a losing streak, you prayed for rain.
The way the Reds are playing now after five wins in six games, nothing would be better than a classic twin-bill at Great American Ballpark— especially if they would keep the beer flowing for both games.