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Baseball

OK, there's less than a week left of the baseball season, and there's been a ton of excitement. Last night, the three divisions in the American League all got clinched (well, the Yankees clinched a tie), and the wildcard races widened (sorry Jeff). It's been a terrific season (particularly for Giants fans such as Your Humble Blogger).

Meanwhile, this terrific year has occasioned lots of argument between wild-card enthusiasts and opponents. I number among the opponents, as it happens, but it occurred to me this morning that many of the arguments arise, in part, from disagreement about what the wildcard is intended to do, rather than whether it accomplishes its goals.

First, of course, the wildcard is intended to increase revenues for Major League Baseball. It has. On the whole, I don't care.

Second, the wildcard is intended increasing attendance (and ratings) for games in September. It does appear to have done that; I haven't really looked at the numbers, but I am told by people I think are pretty reliable that the September numbers have gone up. I don't know whether this comes at the expense of July numbers, but judging from the overall gate success of major league teams, there isn't much to complain about.

Third, I suppose, the wildcard is supposed to counter the alleged competitive imbalance in baseball. The main problem with this is that there isn't actually any competitive imbalance in baseball, or not enough to do anything about. There are currently no well-run teams that have not competed for a division title in the last three years. That's somewhat tautological, as it would be easy to look at any team that's been below .500 the last three years and conclude that it is badly managed. On the other hand, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Texas, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, San Diego, Colorado, and Milwaukee have all actually been badly run (with the possible exceptions of San Diego, which is rebuilding and had some bad luck, and Cincinnati, which had brutal luck and preferred to toss the towel rather than compete). Fans of the other seven have enjoyed a lovely combination of refusal to invest in the current team with foolish investment in overpriced veterans and, in many cases, pathetic handling of the farm system, leading to a team that is neither competing nor rebuilding, and feh to them.

Of course, once you start looking at competitive balance, you run into another set of definition problems: is the problem the teams that do well every year, or the teams that do poorly every year? Is the problem that there aren't enough teams in the pennant races, or that the races resolve themselves early?

There is another issue, which the wildcard is (I think) not meant to address but which comes up in the arguments. Is the winner of the World Series the Best Team in Baseball? Is that important? Is it fair? One of the complaints that I have (and many the anti-wildcard gang have) is that it increases the chances that a team who shouldn't even be in the playoffs will win the World Series. That is largely subjective, of course; there are many people who would argue that the Angels were, in fact, the Best Team in Baseball (or at least the American League) last year, while I would say that as they couldn't beat the A's, they weren't even the best team in their division, and so (arguing from the lesser to the greater) weren't the Best Team in Baseball.

My point is that the wildcard is not intended to ensure that the Best Team in Baseball wins the World Series; it was not devised or implemented by people who particularly care whether the Best Team in Baseball wins the World Series, and so my complaint about it goes right past its intent. Not that my complaint is therefore invalid; but it won't necessarily be persuasive.

Comments

Yeah, well barring a major miracle I'm now rooting for the Giants in the NL. I'm also rooting for Bowa to get his pink slip real soon, but that's probably not going to happen. Anyway...

As far as the attendance goes, it was a BP Premium article, but they took a look at September figures and came to the conclusion that the wild card produced a very small bump when it was first introduced, but over the past few years that bump has disappeared and the reverse is actually happening and they're losing a larger percentage of attendance than they had before.

I'm also wondering how much extra revenue it's producing. Fox is backpedaling very, very fast from broadcasting the Division Series. They are likely only going to broadcast Yankee games and deciding games. It's some extra revenue, but maybe not as much as you might think.

Finally as far as unworthy teams getting in, frequently it's less a problem with the wild card team than it is with the resulting smaller divisions. The 2001 NL East or this year's NL Central are good examples.

Needless to say, I'm with you on the "against it" front. And not just because the Phillies aren't going to make it this year.


Since wildcard play began (in 1995, since in the Strike Year there was no wildcard), the Giants have seen the whole wildcard thing from bottom to top. We've been in close races for the division title and for the wildcard. We've had the kind of division race where the loser is the wildcard, and the kind where the loser goes home to paint the garage. Oh, heck, look at the years:

  • 1995—cellar
  • 1996—cellar
  • 1997—scrapped for the division title, won, and got swept by the wildcard (from another division)
  • 1998—second in the division, but nowhere near first; scrapped for the wildcard and lost on the last day (or really, the day after)
  • 1999—second in division, but nowhere near either the division title or the wildcard
  • 2000—walked away with the division, and got ousted by the wildcard (from another division)
  • 2001—scrapped for the division, lost by two games, three back of the wildcard as well
  • 2002—scrapped for the division, lost by 2 but walked away with the wildcard, won the pennant, after that I don't remember much
  • 2003—walked away with the division, and will probably get swept by the Stinking Fish again

And ain't none of those years were as much fun as 1993, when we lost the division title on the last day, and there was no wildcard.

Redintegro Iraq,
-Vardibidian.


now if only the braves beat the cubs tonight, my baseball day will be flawless.


Well, the Braves lost, but that's OK. Two out of three ain't bad.

Actually, I'm torn on whether I'd rather face the Braves or the Cubs. I fear the Cubs pitching more than I fear the Braves bats, but surely having won 101 games the Braves are a better team, and thus harder to beat. Added to that is my loathing for Braves fans (talk about a reason for misanthropy) and happy memories of beating the tar out of the Cubs in 1989.

R.I.,
-V.


the tomahawk thing makes me wretch, but, i have sworn to take karmic pleasure in a cubbies-bosox series only if it happens by forfeit. until then i am sticking with my impressions of the cubbies and the braves in watching the giants play them both in the second half of the season, and dreaming of hittable pitchers.


i approve of: the cubbies; dusty; roughing up the marlins' pitchers (and wish the giants had done it). i am against: brawls between star pitchers and excitable old guys. i apologize to the superstitious for: "by forfeit."

i'm on the west coast (originally typed "coats") so i have no idea if boston-new york popular relations ("relatoins") were damaged by 9/11, or if the rocket's regular beanings really got sox ("sex") fans in an uproar ("uprorar").


Boston ain't quite the town it used to be, but I'd still say that Boston sex fans are less likely to be in an uproar than sex fans anywhere else.

As for the brawls, well, when a rotund 70-year-old with a metal plate in his head attacks a young athlete, I know it's Fox.

R.I.,
-V.


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