Season’s start, Series to be earlier in 2011

By Barry M. Bloom
Updated: July 28, 2010

NEW YORK — Major League Baseball plans to open the 2011 regular season perhaps as many as four days earlier than the full slate has begun in recent years, an MLB official confirmed on Wednesday.

Playing games that count on a Thursday or Friday will have the two-fold effect of moving up the World Series by a week to complete the postseason during the month of October, and wiping out the final weekend of Spring Training games that have been played at neutral sites or at the home fields of MLB teams.

The season has recently opened with a Sunday night game televised by ESPN, followed by nearly a full slate on the following Monday.

“It’s a way of getting meaningful games played that weekend,” Commissioner Bud Selig told on Wednesday. “You’ve been around training camps so you know that these guys are ready to go at that point.”

USA Today first reported the plan Tuesday night on its website.

The tentative schedule would have the season ending on or about Sept.

28, a Wednesday, with the playoffs beginning the following weekend on Sept. 30 or Oct. 1. The World Series would begin on Wednesday, Oct. 19, meaning a seven-game Series could be completed on Oct. 27.

Selig said the idea of moving up the regular-season schedule has been bandied about by ownership for several years. It has also been a topic of discussion this year during meetings of his special committee. “We’ve discussed everything,” Selig said.

Taking out an off day during the middle three games of the two League Championship Series was also recommended by the committee, which includes managers, general managers and officials from throughout MLB.

That was accomplished earlier this year.

“A lot of people deserve a lot of credit [for the schedule change],” Selig said. “It takes care of our November problem, as I call it, and starts the season on a weekend. [Phillies president] Dave Montgomery and Katy Feeney [MLB senior vice president of scheduling] and I have been talking about it for the last few years, actually.”

The last time a majority of teams started the season on a Friday was in 1905, USA Today said, citing the Elias Sports Bureau as its source. It’s possible the regular season may start even sooner, if MLB and the union approve a proposed two-game series between the Giants and Diamondbacks for late March in Taiwan.

But the possibility of playing that series is only in its formative stages.

Because the World Baseball Classic pushed the end of Spring Training back a week, last year’s World Series between the Phillies and Yankees was finished on Nov. 4 with the Yankees prevailing in Game 6 at the new Yankee Stadium. Game 7 of this year’s Series is slated to be played in the National League city on the same date.

The official said that the Players Association is in support of the new schedule, which is under review by the 30 Major League owners and clubs.

It should formally be announced in September after Labor Day.

“Anything we could do to finish in October is what I wanted to do,” Selig previously told USA Today. “It shows how serious we are in doing this. I feel very good about it, and am pleased at everybody’s reaction.”

Aside from last year, only one other World Series has concluded in November. The 2001 Fall Classic between the Yankees and D-backs also ended on Nov. 4, with Arizona winning Game 7 in Phoenix. But that postseason was pushed back a week because MLB halted the schedule after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

It should be noted that November finishes had been avoided from 2004-08 because each of those World Series ended in five games or less. There hasn’t been a seven-game Series since the Angels defeated the Giants in 2002.

A union spokesman confirmed on Wednesday that organization’s role in moving up the start of the 2011 season.

“Starting the season midweek, as we understand it, will allow for a much better postseason schedule than if we had the season began on a Sunday night,” said Michael Weiner, the union’s executive director.

“We think that’s a positive step.”