Red Sox Get to Play by Their Own Rules

The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays played a doubleheader yesterday, which wouldn't be newsworthy in itself except for the odd anomaly in the league's rules that made it happen.
The doubleheader rule, like Xander Bogaerts, should be struck out. Photographer: Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays played a doubleheader yesterday, which wouldn't be newsworthy in itself except for the anomaly in the league's rules that made it happen.

After Wednesday's game at Fenway Park was rained out, several hours of confusion ensued as officials from both teams and Major League Baseball tried to sort out when to schedule the makeup. The Red Sox had already sent out a news release announcing a split doubleheader the next day and started selling tickets in what seemed like a premature move, because MLB hadn't yet informed the Rays of the official decision.

Apparently, that didn't matter. The Tampa Bay Times succinctly explained the situation on its website Thursday morning: "Today's 1 p.m. game is set because MLB rules give the Red Sox anything they want."

That might sound cheeky, but it's pretty much accurate: League rules stipulate the specific conditions under which a makeup doubleheader may be scheduled while including an obscure provision that exempts the Red Sox and Chicago Cubs.

Kudos to the Tampa Bay Times' Marc Topkin for uncovering this little-known rule. Section C of the Collective Bargaining Agreement states:

(a) each Club shall have the right to reschedule any postponed game as a split doubleheader when ticket sales for the game at the time of postponement exceed, in any respect, the number of comparable tickets available to be exchanged by the Club for the balance of the championship season, and both the postponed and rescheduled game occur in the last regularly scheduled series between the two Clubs at the Club's park; and

(b) when there is no practical alternative to doing so, the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs shall have the right to reschedule a postponed game as a split doubleheader to be played in, respectively, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, even if the criteria set out in subparagraph (a) above are not met. Scheduling a postponed game as part of a conventional doubleheader will not be considered a practical alternative.

In short, the Red Sox and Cubs have final say in how and when to reschedule a rainout as a split doubleheader whether or not they meet the usual criteria and regardless of how the other team votes.

The Rays were not happy to learn that MLB upheld the Red Sox's decision. Ben Zobrist, the team's acting players' representative, had been pushing for practical alternatives, including postponing the game to Sept. 22 -- a mutual off-day before the two teams start another three-game set at Fenway. Red Sox manager John Farrell explained that the team wanted to save that date for another rainy day, while Zobrist expressed concerns that the weather on Thursday wouldn't be much improved. The truth is that both sides had on-the-field reasons for their stance on the scheduling: The Rays' rotation is in disarray, and their bullpen has thrown more innings than any other American League team except for the Chicago White Sox. (There was also talk about the Red Sox not knowing what to do with all the Dustin Pedroia bobbleheads they were set to give away Wednesday night, but this seems like the least of the logistical concerns.)

The real question is, why does this rule exist in the first place? Why had nobody, including Zobrist and the Rays and most sportswriters, heard of this exception until now? Remember, this rule exists in the current CBA, ratified by the owners and union in 2011. I can't imagine that most players outside of Boston and Chicago would have agreed to a direct scheduling disadvantage written into their labor agreement. (The MLBPA didn't respond to a request for comment.)

Apparently, the rule is a relic. John Blundell, MLB senior director of media relations, explained in an e-mail: "The provision regarding the Cubs and the Red Sox goes back to the mid-'90s. It related to their smaller stadium capacities compared to other ballparks, such as the multi-purpose ballparks that were once more prevalent and had far greater capacities."

OK, fine. Assuming "goes back to the mid-'90s" refers to the first CBA signed after the 1994 players' strike, which took effect in 1997, the capacities at Fenway and Wrigley were comparatively small for the time. As Baseball Prospectus notes, seating capacity peaked in the 1980s, with many teams residing in multipurpose arenas that fit more than 50,000 people. According to Baseball Almanac, Fenway had a capacity of 34,218 in 1997, while Wrigley only sat 38,884. But the owners and union have signed three CBAs in the years since, a period that also saw Boston and Chicago add seats to their stadiums as other teams reduced their capacities, thus narrowing the gap. Fenway and Wrigley currently have nighttime capacities of 37,493 and 41,160, respectively, and are no longer the smallest ballparks in the league. With new agreements in 2003, 2007 and 2012, the owners of the other 28 teams and their players have had three opportunities to question whether the exception to the doubleheader rule continues to be relevant. Given Zobrist and the entire Rays organization's surprise that they had no say in rescheduling the rainout, one has to believe that nobody was aware of this rule's existence, and both the owners and the MLBPA dropped the ball in previous negotiations.

Furthermore, I have a problem with the idea that it's MLB's prerogative to fix some perceived disadvantage of teams with smaller stadiums with an exception to an official rule that in turn throws all other teams in the league under the bus. If the Red Sox and Cubs think their stadiums' capacities are that much of a detriment, it's their responsibility to expand their seating, which both teams have done numerous times. MLB is unique in not setting stringent regulations around ballpark dimensions; some stadiums favor pitchers, others favor hitters, and still others feature kitschy (read: annoying) quirks like an out-of-place outfield hump or on-the-field bullpens. Hitters at Minute Maid Park might feel they're at a disadvantage with the largest distance to center field (435 feet), but is MLB clamoring to write an exception to the rules redefining home runs in Houston?

Whether this is a case of ignorance of the law or the league favoring two of its most storied franchises doesn't really matter. The Red Sox and Cubs' exception to this rule has been outgrown, if it ever really fit at all. The CBA is designed to give players a voice in the decisions that govern their own workplace conditions; this rule only serves to take that voice away from everyone who doesn't play for Boston or Chicago. "Based upon our wishes, that it didn't matter what we said, that's frustrating. That we didn't have any say in it," Zobrist said. "Besides that, it won't be frustrating if we win two games tomorrow."

And the Rays went out and did just that.

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