Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Doubleheader

Back when I was young, there used to be such things as baseball doubleheaders, which is to say, two games on the same day, for the price of a single admission.  In baseball lore, this virtually always used to draw a reference to Ernie Banks, Hall-of-Fame shortsop-first-baseman for the Chicago Cubs (and anyone who could make the Hall of Fame playing for the Cubs in those days was a special ballplayer, indeed), who, aside from being a great, great ballplayer, was also one of the happiest men ever to put on a major-league uniform.  Ernie (and now I'm wondering if there isn't just something associated with baseball happiness that attaches to the name 'Ernie'?) was often heard to say, "It's a beautiful day; let's play two."  Back in my childhood days, most Sundays, as well as holidays like Labor Day, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July, were occasions for doubleheaders, as if there were just something celebratory about twice as much baseball as usual (and, honestly, who can argue with that?).

Nowadays, there is pretty much no such thing as a doubleheader anymore.  Oh, teams will schedule doubleheaders to make up for rainouts, and such, but they're not 'doubleheaders' in the sense defined above; they're 'day-night' doubleheaders, in which, rather than play two games back-to-back on a single admission, they'll play an afternoon game, then clear the stadium and charge a second admission for a separate night game.  It's directly traceable to the baleful influence of money on what is, at its essence, a bucolic, pastoral game (if you'll allow me briefly to go all Bart Giamatti on you).  Teams need every one of those 81 paying crowds in order to meet their expenses (read: player salaries); 70 or so simply won't feed the bulldog (or, you know, the $27-million-a-year third-baseman).  So, no more doubleheaders.  It is, for baseball fans, a significant loss. . .


I grew up a long, long drive from Detroit, so we didn't go to many Tigers games when I was a kid; once a year, maybe.  But when I went to college, and suddenly realized that Tiger Stadium was only an hour-and-a-half from campus, it became much more reasonable to think about heading down for a game on the weekend, and we did, maybe a couple times during the spring term, and a couple more times in the summer.

It was 1981, I'm pretty sure (because it was one of the last games before the players' strike that took out the middle third of the season), that my buddy Steve and I went down to Tiger Stadium for a Memorial Day doubleheader against the Baltimore Orioles (I was 25 years old, and hadn't yet marked my first wedding anniversary; Jen wasn't even pregnant, so it was a LONG time ago).  The Tigers had an up-and-coming young team full of players like Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish and Kirk Gibson (who, only a couple years previously, had been wandering the same college campus as I had), still three years away from their World Championship of '84.  The Orioles, on the other hand, were a team of established veterans midway between a pair of World Series appearances in '79 (they lost) and '83 (they won).

My buddy Steve and his wife had just moved to Our Town from Texas a few months before, and we had instantly hit it off with each other.  Steve was a 'ticket guy' - he was always on the lookout for tickets to really cool sporting events.  Whereas I was mostly content to watch stuff on TV, Steve would come to me from time-to-time, saying, "Hey, I got tickets to the Indy 500 this year; you wanna go?"  So yeah, I went to the '84 Indy 500 (won by Rick Mears, the second of his four Indy wins), with Steve.

So, in '81, with the threat of a strike looming, Steve came to me with tickets for the Memorial Day doubleheader between the Tigers and Orioles.  We had a regular pattern when we attended Tiger games, in those days.  We'd buy reserved seats in the upper deck (in front of the posts, if possible), usually on the 3rd-base side.  From there, we'd spy out empty seats down by the visitors' dugout, and 'move up' for the end of the game.

In the first game, Dan Petry started and won for the Tigers; Steve Kemp homered and had 4 RBI.  For the Orioles, Ken Singleton was a one-man wrecking crew; he came into the game hitting .380 or so, then went 3-for-4 with a double.  But that didn't really capture how well he was hitting the ball.  Every ball he hit was crushed; even the out he made flew over 400 feet to the center-field warning track.  Kenny was seeing the ball real good that day.  (Even pretty devoted baseball fans might not remember, but Ken Singleton was a 3-time All-Star, and twice finished top-3 in the MVP voting)

For the second game, we duly moved up to seats between the Orioles' dugout and home plate, in the second row from the field.  We were so close, that we couldn't see the shortstop's feet, or the left-fielder's legs, because of the crowning of the field (for drainage purposes).  We could hear the catchers jawing with the umpires (in only the most deferential, respectful tones, you can be sure) over balls and strikes (without ever actually arguing over balls and strikes; it's a subtle art).  And we could talk to the on-deck hitters.

So when Ken Singleton appeared in the on-deck circle in the top of the first inning of Game 2, he was standing about 8 feet from where we were sitting.  "Come on, Ken," I implored.  "You killed us in the first game; take it easy this time, OK?"

He smiled.  "Can't do it, man.  You won the game; what do you want?"

We laughed, and then engaged in similar good-natured banter every time he appeared on-deck.  He ended up going the most awsome 0-for-4 I think I've ever seen, again hitting every ball hard, and a couple of them a long, long way, but right at the defense; he hit one line drive that Trammell caught out of pure self-preservation instinct, just before it would have exploded his skull.  The Tigers ended up winning when Lance Parrish hit a 2-run homer in the 8th, breaking a tie, so we went home happy, having seen the Tigers sweep a doubleheader from a pretty good team. . .

But you won't see anything like that anymore, because there aren't any doubleheaders anymore. . .


  1. I truly had no idea there weren't doubleheaders anymore! Then again, I'm always surprised to hear that certain teams no longer exist!

  2. April 23 was a rare occasion. Not only was there a back to back, it was a Monday and the visiting team swept it.
    Granted, the issue was forced by a rainout from the day before.
    What made it most enjoyable was the Giants swept.

  3. You be going to the wrong stadium, paying the wrong prices .....

    I'm not a big-league kinda guy. About the time I came into enough money now and then to afford a game the prices and greed of the bigs made me sick. I've been to a total of 2 pro games, one football and one basketball, and that may be it for me.

    On the other hand I love going to the local minor league games, both baseball and hockey. There's no need to jockey for better seats, there's not a bad seat in the house. The players, umps, coaches, and even the owners are still people and will chat up with you every game. Oh, and you can hear it all even from the cheep seats.

    And they still have double-headers. And Friday night fireworks. And the anthem is nearly always sung by a talented local who respects it. Well, so far anyhow ....

  4. I supposed I should say that they are not usually 'scheduled' double headers but are usually make-up games. But you do get both on one ticket ... without having to leave the stadium

  5. I truly mourn (not too strong a word) the loss of doubleheaders. It was the best bargain in sports, and especially so for a young fan. I recall being 14 and seeing the Red Sox play the Royals twice one Sunday, 75 cents for six hours of bliss in a bleacher seat.

    (It may have been $1.25, but little matter. Imagine even being able to get into a ballpark for such a price these days? I understand the money issues, and I'm very much an advocate of free markets, but what made your hometown team a bit more special in those days was that the guys on the team, even if they were bad ballplayers, were usually housed locally, weren't paid a salary that was totally out of reach of your dad [or, at least, wasn't beyond the bounds of imagination] and they stayed on your team for much longer than they do today. There was really a feeling of it being "your" team, as opposed to an assemblage of nomadic mercenaries.)

    Time for my nap. Hey, you kids! Get offa my lawn!

  6. Bijoux - Yeah, whatever happened to the Cleveland Spiders?

    Skip - Yeah, rainouts are the only reason there are any doubleheaders at all anymore. But I'm certain that the Mets still charged two admissions that day, for their fans to watch them go down to ignominious double defeat to yer Giants (and geez, the way you're gloating, I thought maybe it was against the Dodgers. . . ;) )

    Xavier - Yeah, we have both a Class-A minor league team, and a Big-Ten college team here in Our Town, and they'll both have honest-to-goodness single-admission doubleheaders (albeit, the doubleheader games are only 7 innings). 'Course, the minor-league team is only paying its players $1200/month or so, and the college just has to cover the tuition and fees for scholarships.

    You're right, tho - either one of 'em is a fine day at the ballpark, and for a LOT less cash. . .

    Suldog - I saw somewhere that, before free agency hit in '75, the average major-leaguer made a salary roughly 8 times the national average household income (and the major-league minimum was something your dad might actually make, or even exceed). Since '75, that's become more like 50-60 times. . .

    Not having grown up in a major-league city, I never got to enjoy those $0.75 bleacher seats; if Dad was gonna drive us 5 hours to Detroit for a ballgame, we were at least gonna get some nice seats (but even the reserves in those days were $5-6)

    And Bijoux reminded me of one of my favorite old trivia questions (so it's perfect for you and me) - who was the only player who played for the Braves in Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta? (You're probably not even old enough to remember the Boston Braves, are ya?)

  7. i'm all for a bargain. who the heck can afford a ticket to mlb games at all anymore? i remember a father of a kid on my son's LL team a few years ago talking about how he'd spent $300 a ticket to take his family to see a yankees game and this was not some private box or anything. obscene! we have enjoyed the minor league teams in the area though. $8 a ticket and not a bad seat in the stadium. what's not to love?

  8. Lime - I hear ya. I haven't priced Tiger tickets lately (I don't think I'd quite pop for $300, altho that wouldn't include any 'souvenirs').

    Like you say, the minor league games are $8 a seat, tops. And ours is even walking distance from our house.

    Once in a blue moon, one might like to get a look at the highest levels of baseball excellence, but they're makin' it hard to reach. . .

  9. I only went to Yankee Stadium three times as a kid, All were SUnday double headers. The Yankees swept all games (they usually did) They were great but as you say, never again. FOr one thing games in those days took 2 1/2 hours to play. TOday with all pitching changes and general slow play a game takes 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

    Did Detroit have friday night "Ladies" night - women got in for free? WOmans lib knocked those out.

    Fun Post!!

    Cranky Old Man

  10. No, I'm old, but I'm not so old that I was born when the Braves were in Boston! They left in '53, I believe, and I didn't become a franchise until '57.

    If memory serves (it sometimes doesn't...) Eddie Matthews was on all three squads. Is that right?

  11. Cranky - Damn Yankees. . . One of my earliest baseball memories is of the '61 Tigers, who won 101 games, and finished nine games out of first. . .

    The Tigers certainly had Ladies' Nights back in the day, but not being a lady at the time (or any other time, for that matter), I never kept very close track of what the parameters were. . .

    Suldog - Yeah, sorry. I was actually surprised to find that the Braves were actually the first of the 'original 16' teams to move, after the two leagues had had the same 16 teams in the same 10 cities (and only Chicago and St. Louis outside the Eastern Time Zone) for 50 years. But somehow, people just got way more upset about the Dodgers and Giants than they did about the Bees (or the Browns or the A's). . .

    And Eddie Matthews indeed! Well done! (Of course, I only care 'cuz he finished his career with the '68 Tigers. . .)

    Now I wonder if anyone played for the A's in Philly, KC and Oakland (altho somehow, I doubt it. . .)

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