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Oakland Athletics to schedule doubleheader in 2011

By Jerry Beach

The Major League Baseball postseason isn’t nearly as good as it used to be for purists, who fondly recall the days when only the two division champions in each league advanced to the playoffs — or how, before 1969, there were no divisions and no League Championship Series and the regular season champions of the American and National Leagues went straight to the World Series.

MLB, which added a wild card in each league in 1995, may be ready to add one more wild card to each league as early as 2012. Commissioner Bud Selig discussed the idea during the World Series and owners and general managers at last week’s general manager meetings in Orlando, FL offered ideas on the new format — either a best-of-three between the two wild card teams or a one-game playoff — indicating there is little to no resistance to the idea.

But this latest dilution of the playoffs could bring with it for the purists a return of one of the best parts about the good ol’ days — single-admission doubleheaders during the regular season.

The Oakland Athletics aren’t even waiting for the playoffs to expand to schedule a single-admission doubleheader: The Athletics will host the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in a traditional doubleheader July 16 — their first old-fashioned twinbill since 1995 and the first scheduled doubleheader anywhere since June 7, 1996, when the Minnesota Twins hosted the Athletics.

While a return to the days when doubleheaders were played every Sunday is not going to happen, the Athletics probably won’t be alone in scheduling old-fashioned doubleheaders if the playoffs expand in 2012. The 2011 season is starting earlier — March 30 — so that the World Series ends before November, and if the season is to still end before November with an additional round of playoffs, baseball owners will probably be more willing to play a doubleheader or two than reduce the season from 162 games to 154 games and cost themselves four home dates apiece.

Doubleheaders necessitated by postponements, of course, remain, but most of those are of the day-night variety in which there are two separate admissions. The postponement-caused single-admission doubleheader is rare and only hosted by teams that are far out of the pennant race, eager to complete the schedule and reluctant to play in front of acres of empty seats twice in the same day. During the final week of the 2010 season, the sub-.500 New York Mets and Baltimore Orioles each played single-admission doubleheaders in order to make up rainouts.

It is appropriate that the Athletics are the team trying to bring back the traditional doubleheader. During their final years in Kansas City, where the team didn’t draw well, the Athletics used doubleheaders to lure fans to the park. According to The Hardball Times, the Athletics played an AL-high 29 doubleheaders during their last season in Missouri in 1967, when they ranked ninth in the 10-team league in attendance.

The current Athletics have long struggled at the gate at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, where barely half the seats — 35,067 of 63,026 — are made available for baseball games. Oakland finished 13th in the 14-team AL and 29th among the 30 MLB teams in attendance last year, so with almost nowhere to go but up, it doesn’t hurt the Athletics to get a little nostalgic and creative in putting together their 2011 schedule.

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