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Original Issue

The National Past(bed)time

Here's living proof that playing the World Series at night is unfair—and misguided

I had to give him the news over the breakfast table. He hung on my every word. He wanted every detail. I tried to explain why Doug Drabek had been pulled in the ninth, after pitching eight innings of shutout ball. I tried to describe Francisco Cabrera's single into left and Sid Bream's slide into home. I tried to portray the emotion of the Atlanta Braves' fans. I tried to re-create the camera shot of a forlorn Andy Van Slyke, sitting in centerfield, head down, a full two minutes after the game had ended. But it was not until he asked me who had relieved Drabek that I fully realized the injustice of it all. I couldn't remember. Because of my slim knowledge of the Pittsburgh Pirates' relief corps, I couldn't even make an educated guess.

"Mooommmm," he groaned, with a slight air of disdain. "It had to have been Stan Belinda." Had to have been.

My six-year-old son is at that magical point in his life when he lives and dies baseball. So why is it, I wonder, that he's being penalized? Why is it that this 162-game fan is being deprived of the action at the season's glorious culmination?

I know. The games are at night because CBS wants them at night. And CBS wants them at night because its advertisers want them at night. Try explaining that to a six-year-old who goes to bed at 8 p.m., or a half inning later, most every night. Funny thing, he has to go to school. Funny thing, he has to get some sleep.

After that magnificent seventh game of the National League Championship Series ended, I walked into the kitchen. The clock read midnight. What a shame. Just because I am an adult, I have the privilege of watching postseason baseball games. My son, who would appreciate them even more, gets shut out.

It is my son, not I, who can give you the starting lineups of a half dozen major league teams. He is the one who sits on his bedroom floor for hours, poring over a baseball card collection that now consumes two bulging albums (we have to buy a third), giggling with glee when he makes a discovery. ("Hey, this is weird," he'll say. "Jeff Reardon used to pitch for the Mets.") And he is the one who tosses the ball endlessly against the wall, the one who learned to read this summer by devouring the daily box scores, the one who spent all four hours during a recent car trip from New York to Boston playing his "who's better?" game.

"Mom," he would ask from the backseat, "who do you like better at first, Mark McGwire or Cecil Fielder?" "Mom," he would ask, the barrage of questions continuing, "who do you think is better, Roger Clemens or Tom Glavine?"

At some point Major League Baseball messed up. The World Series has gone strictly prime time. Some say television is to blame, but baseball signed the pact with the devil. You can argue the historical pros and cons of the sport's television contracts, but the bottom line is that baseball has been shortsighted. Make the TV revenue now. Neglect the fans of tomorrow.

The last time I checked, baseball was in trouble. Attendance is down in many cities. Television ratings are down. Salaries are insanely up. There is no commissioner. Maybe it's time baseball looked at its football and basketball counterparts. The Super Bowl kickoff is scheduled for dusk, as are the tip-offs to the NBA Finals weekend games. That may be one reason that Michael Jordan is a household name.

Of course, one also can argue that there are always the taped highlights. My son was two years old when Kirk Gibson homered for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1988 World Series, but thanks to videotape he has Gibson's home run trot down pat. I have secretly watched him playing a pretend game against an invisible friend, hit an imaginary homer and circle the bases, his right arm pumping back and forth, exactly as Gibson had done.

But videotape is not good enough for him. I want him, as well as his younger brother, to have the same kinds of precious memories that I have. The memory of sitting in the den with my dad on a weekend afternoon when I was seven, watching Roger Maris hit a ninth-inning game-winning home run against the Cincinnati Reds in the 1961 World Series. (This memory is particularly vivid because my brothers and I were excused from raking leaves.) The memory of sneaking a transistor radio into my purse so that my friends and I could huddle at my junior high locker between periods to catch our beloved Boston Red Sox in the early innings of the '67 World Series. The memory of my father, who had stood at the Fenway Park ticket booth for hours, returning home triumphantly with tickets for us to the sixth and seventh games of that same Series. The memory of being excused from Mr. Hooker's eighth-grade math class so I could attend the seventh game: Jim Lonborg, on two days' rest, versus Bob Gibson. "We" lost, but I still remember it as a grand autumn afternoon.

I did a little research. The first game of the 1967 World Series began at one o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon. It drew more than 40 million television viewers. Last week's Brave-Pirate finale attracted less than 30 million viewers.

As the telecast signed off, CBS broadcaster Sean McDonough said, "And the fun is just beginning. We hope you'll join CBS Sports Saturday at 8 p.m. Eastern Time for Baseball '92 followed by Game 1 of the 1992 World Series."

And I thought, the children will be sleeping.