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ESPN gives in to Yankees on Sunday night schedule (and the Yankees are right)

Further, this raises a larger issue on scheduling in general.

Al Yellon

We had quite a bit of discussion here about the Cubs being forced to play a Sunday night game in Chicago (a game that ran 3:31, incidentally) and then a Monday afternoon game in Pittsburgh that started only 14 hours after the Sunday game ended.

Those game times were on the schedule when it was released last September and doing that is within the rules, as teams can schedule a short turnaround like that if:

  • The flight between cities is not more than 90 minutes, and
  • The game is either the team’s home opener or a holiday

The Memorial Day game in Pittsburgh met both those criteria. The Cubs managed to make the most of a tough situation by winning both games, but still, Joe Maddon wasn’t happy about this sort of thing:

“I just think if you’re playing the Sunday night game, which is fine, wonderful, there’s got to be some built-in concessions for Monday,” Maddon said. “There’s got to be a method, a formula written that says the team that plays Sunday night, great. If they play a Monday game, wonderful, but it just can’t start at 1 o’clock.”

I agree with Joe. And so do the New York Yankees, who, shortly after agreeing to play a doubleheader in Baltimore July 9 to make up for a rainout May 31, were told by ESPN that the national network wanted their game against the Blue Jays in Toronto for the Sunday Night Baseball featured game July 8.

Well. This is an even worse situation than the Cubs found themselves in, because:

  • It was a last-minute change (though MLB claimed the Yankees knew this game might be chosen)
  • It’s not only travel to another city, but from Canada to the USA, so a customs/immigration check is needed
  • There are three games involved, not two

Even though the Orioles offered to start the doubleheader at 5 p.m. instead of the original time of 4 p.m., that would still have the Yankees forced to play three games in two cities in about 27 hours.

The Yankees balked, and made a fairly powerful threat:

In an effort to change the time of the July 8 “Sunday Night Baseball” telecast, the Yankees are threatening to boycott ESPN personnel all year, according to sources with knowledge of the team’s thinking.

“It is a tool in the toolbox,” one source said.

While the Yankees couldn’t prevent ESPN from broadcasting future games, the players’ and management’s boycott would include being uncooperative with ESPN for its broadcasts and any extra features, like the ones commonly seen on “SportsCenter.” For “Sunday Night,” the ESPN booth team receives a special session with Boone during the pregame, as well as in-game access. ESPN often asks for TV interviews with players prior to the game and special access. The Yankees would just say no to all requests, a source said, if the July 8 game remains on the “Sunday Night” schedule.

Well, that apparently did it. MLB, the MLB Players Association and ESPN sat down and discussed the matter, and that resulted in this change:

Instead, the network chose Angels/Dodgers, which is a perfectly suitable game between big-market contending teams.

It’s not like ESPN doesn’t feature the Yankees all the time — in fact, they are scheduled for the previous week, July 1, when they play the Red Sox. (What a surprise.) They’re also going to appear on Sunday Night Baseball July 22 against the Mets at Yankee Stadium — a repeat of this coming Sunday’s Mets/Yankees matchup at Citi Field, also an ESPN game.

The larger point here is that just because you can do something (and MLB and ESPN were completely within the rules to do what they did) doesn’t mean you should do that thing. It’s an open question whether MLB and ESPN would have backed down if any team other than the Yankees had been involved, but they were eventually forced to do the right thing.

It’s also true that the MLBPA agreed to these conditions in the last CBA. They’re certainly likely to try to negotiate changes in those conditions next time around, but the relationship between MLB and the MLBPA seems a bit contentious right now. If MLB wanted to anger players by doing this, they’ve succeeded.

Hopefully, cooler heads prevail in general and things like this can be worked out in the future without threats of boycotts.

And MLB should, at the very least, try to schedule teams in the Sunday Night game who have to travel after that game with an off day the next day, or, at least, a night game.