Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks (right) is known for the iconic phrase urging his team to play a doubleheader every day.
Let's Play Two! True doubleheaders made baseball twice as nice
Some summer Sunday mornings when I was a kid, my brothers and I would walk to Towers Sub Shop and order sandwiches to go to take advantage of the best deal there ever was. No, it wasn’t the subs, wrapped elegantly as they were in that thick, waxy white paper. It was free major league baseball. It was the scheduled doubleheader, an idea so outrageously fan friendly that every owner today -- every owner for the past 13 years -- regards it as verboten.
You paid one price, the same price you would pay for a single game, but you saw two games. In effect, the second game was free. So my brothers and I would take a bus and the subway to either Yankee Stadium or Shea Stadium. Yankees or Mets, it didn’t matter to us. Two games for the price of one was what counted. Of course, we always stayed to the last of the 54 outs.
The scheduled doubleheader -- not makeup doubleheaders and, good gracious, not those horrid day-night doubleheaders -- defines the charming simplicity of what has vanished from baseball, its loss as bittersweet as anything, including World Series day games, bullpen carts and pregame infield practice. The death of the doubleheader has many conspirators: the rise of the Players Association (which gained more power in scheduling), the modern specialized bullpen (making for longer games and the need for a greater inventory of pitching), and improved ease of travel (making for fewer off days).
But the main culprit is simple economics. The game grew too popular (and salaries too expensive) for owners to forfeit an entire gate. Case in point: the last scheduled doubleheader took place June 7, 1996, at the Metrodome between the Athletics and the Twins. Minnesota drew 22,164 fans to the doubleheader. In the other two games of the series, Minnesota drew a combined 28,290 fans. The doubleheader math gets much worse for franchises that typically sell a majority of -- or all -- available tickets to their single games, which is how the day-night abomination was concocted.
Something in the fabric of the game, however, was lost with the death of the doubleheader. Is there another aphorism in baseball more iconic and sweet than “Let’s play two!” -- the baseball philosophy from Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, guaranteed to put a smile on your face? The Lou Gehrig “Luckiest Man” Speech? Doubleheader. Stan Musial and Nate Colbert hitting five home runs in one day? Doubleheaders. Disco Demolition Night? Mike Vail striking out seven times? Wilbur Wood starting twice in the same day? Max Flack and Cliff Heathcote switching teams (and clubhouses) because of a between-games trade? All doubleheaders.
The 1969 Mets trailed the first-place Cubs by 9 1/2 games in the middle of August before doubleheaders came to their rescue. The Mets played back-to-back doubleheaders against the Padres at Shea Stadium (one caused by a rainout), and won all four games by scores of 2-0, 2-1, 3-2 and 3-2. The “longest” of the four games was over in just two hours, 37 minutes. The '69 Mets played 21 doubleheaders, going 28-14 in them, including a doubleheader sweep of Pittsburgh down the stretch by scores of 1-0 and 1-0.
The 1971 Athletics scheduled a doubleheader to open their home schedule after playing Opening Day on the road. They lost both games to the White Sox, but went on to win the pennant -- while finishing seventh among 12 AL teams in attendance.
Twinbill. Double dip. Double bill. By any name, the doubleheader began in the 19th century as a means to attract more fans, in the same way that the double feature at the movie theaters would do much later. The doubleheader grew into something even bigger than a promotional event. It became part of baseball tradition, especially on Sundays and holidays. Alas, it was too good to last.
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