For the New York Post’s sports media critic Phil Mushnick, few social issues have raised his ire over the years nearly as much as sporting events being played in prime time, particularly those that might actually end after 10pm eastern time.  With only the deepest concern for the ticket holders and viewers in their 80’s teens, Mushnick once again attempts to flog this particular dead horse, except this time he can do so against the backdrop of the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001.  The Mets are hosting the Cubs this coming 9/11 at Citi Field, and with ESPN’s announcement said game will be moved from an 1pm start time to an 8pm commencement to accommodate a national TV audience, Mushnick declares the decision to be “sickening”.

MLB and ESPN knew 10 years ago this would be the 10th anniversary. Who didn’t? So why wasn’t this game scheduled for ESPN at 8 p.m. last September, when MLB released its 2011 schedule? Or were MLB and ESPN unaware that 9/11 this year falls on 9/11?

Had Cubs-Mets originally been scheduled for 8 p.m. on a Sunday, ticket sales would have been flattened. Both the re-routing of the game — and the God Bless America pitch only lately attached to it — is worse than the usual bait-and-switch because it exploits 9/11.

Now it’s a “commemorative game”? But there will be ceremonies throughout that weekend — held at logical times and for the right reasons.

“Sensitivity” had nothing to do with the re-scheduling, not compared to the NFL lockout, which was on at the time. With NBC’s Cowboys-Jets opener, the same night, in jeopardy, MLB/ESPN saw a New York opening.

Now, with the NFL to be played as scheduled, 9/11’s Cubs-Mets will exist as a rumor, not as a soul-grabber. And those conditioned-to-know-better know better. This was about TV money and alternative programming.

Though I’ll admit it’s a bit curious why MLB and ESPN didn’t have this game on the network schedule much further in advance, there’s a number of holes in Mushnick’s logic.  For starters, has Phil attended a Mets game or watched one on TV recently?   Chances are, ticket sales for 9/11 had already flattened — the Mets are playing to tens of thousands of empty seats each game, and both they and Chicago are far out of contention.    If ESPN hoped to take advantage of the Cowboys/Jets game being cancelled, doesn’t it stand to reason they’d opt for another baseball contest now that the football game on NBC is scheduled to take place?  Surely someone as in touch with the pulse of the region’s populace as Mushnick realizes the Jets are likely to clobber the Mets in the ratings that night, both locally and nationally.

For all the hue and cry about the inconvenience to Mets fans, the game is nearly a month away. That’s plenty of time to exchange tickets, and perhaps make plans to attend the Jets season opener at the Meadowlands, a game which I’m certain will be a calm, low-key affair, guaranteed to finish in under 5 hours and feature a bare minimum of drunken car accidents, clumsy references to a national tragedy and absolutely no leering at women.

Unless Mushnick would prefer ESPN show no baseball game whatsoever on the evening of 9/11 — and if counterprogramming was really their biggest priority, they’d do exactly that — some team’s fans are gonna have to contend with an 8pm eastern start time.  There’s a Braves/Cardinals game that afternoon with far greater postseason implications than the Cubs/Mets pairing (and far less appeal to an audience inclined to follow the fortunes of Rex Ryan’s J-E-R-K-S) ; if MLB and ESPN came to their senses and opted for the St. Louis game instead, would there be a conscience of the central time zone’s sports media brave enough to howl in protest?

(ADDENDUM :  I had a brief telephone conversation with Phil Mushnick on the afternoon of August 22, and while the specifics of said chat were meant to be off the record  —at least the part where I pretended to be an Eastern European woman who couldn’t speak English — I will nonetheless state the following :  the gist of Mushnick’s argument in his Post column is that the Mets, MLB and ESPN knowingly changed the start time of the 9/11 game from 1pm to 8pm ages after the tickets were sold, thus inconveniencing fans. Whether there are 48,000 or 22,000 advance ticket holders doesn’t make their decision any more excusable.  MLB and ESPN are attempting to seek commercial gains from the anniversary of 9/11 — that they might end up being less than successful in doing so (ie. the Jets game is a far sexier draw) — doesn’t change their intent.

Phil contends that his gripe is with the 8pm start time of the 9/11 game, not that a ballgame might well run late. I sincerely apologize for misstating his views on that specific point.  Perhaps a more appropriate headline would’ve read, “Mushnick Accurately Accuses ESPN, MLB Of Exploiting 9/11”.)