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All-Star Break

Your Humble Blogger is far out of baseball country, but the All-Star Break is here, and besides I haven’t been reading any other news either, so it’s time for the Hope and Faith report. Now, I don’t actually care very much about ‘competitive imbalance’; not only did I never think there was much of a problem, but I wouldn’t actually care very much if there was. I’d like to get rid of bad owners, of whom there are more than a couple, but I have no particular interest in making sure that each team only wins one World Series every thirty years. I say this as a Giants fan; my Giants haven’t won a World Series since well before I was born, and I’m clam-happy. So there.

Also, I loathe the wildcard, so the fact that Hope and Faith includes the wild card makes my argument a trifle kaleidoscopish; I’m using something I would happily abolish to argue that a problem I don’t care about doesn’t actually exist. Still, I’ve been doing it for years, now, so here we go again. In the Senior Circuit, there are four teams whose fans may now give up hope: the Pirates, Les Expos d’Norfolk, the Rockies, and the Eighteen-and-a-half-backs. Those teams suck. For the Diamondbacks, sucking is a new thing; after a bad expansion year, they have been over .500 every year, and made the playoffs three years out of five. Oh, and they won a World Series. So that’s all right.

The Rockies, well, they are going through a rough patch. They’ve been sub-.500 five of the last six years, and haven’t made the playoffs since 1995. This isn’t close to a historic stretch of uselessness, but it is dispiriting, particularly as the owners aren’t totally incompetent, nor are they clearly refusing to invest in a good team on the field. There isn’t a structural problem, though; the Rockies are in a Big Market (whatever that means), and should come out of it soon.

Les Expos d’Norfolk are, well, that’s just sad. I mean. One bad owner, then another, then thirty at once. There ought to be a law. If there is any reason to support drastic changes to MLB’s structure, it is these hapless real-life Rupert Mundies, and the fans thereof. Exhibit number one on the get-rid-of-crap-owners case was Mr. Loria; and I know he’s had different results on the field elsewhere. He’s still a bad ’un. I still think that Montreal is a Major League city, and that therefore there should be a team there with a competent owner who is willing to invest, but if MLB can’t or won’t find that owner, well, what can be done.

And the Pirates. Well, they were awfully good in the 1970s, weren’t they? Can’t we focus on that? Seriously, if there is any town that was once Major League, and is no longer, and therefore justifies having a team removed from it, that town is Pittsburgh. It is simply not a Major League town anymore. That doesn’t excuse bad owners and worse GMs wasting money on long-term contracts for losers; they could be occasionally competitive, and they haven’t been for five years. Still, it’s hard to believe that the Pirates will be more than occasionally competitive ever again. Sorry.

Houston fans, by the way, should not be giving up hope and faith, despite the fact that they will not make the postseason this year. They are four and a half out of the wildcard, and playing .500; an injury or two to St. Louis and they could even win the division. They won’t, of course, but the point is not that everybody gets to root for a winner every year, just that everybody gets to delude themselves that their team might win, right?

The American League is probably more dire. Kansas City may well be, like Pittsburgh, no longer Major League, but then with the filth running the team there is no way to really know. Baltimore has finished fourth for six years running and has to hope for a seventh; Toronto was good for a long time without ever sniffing even the wildcard. That’s a brutal division, and it sounds like a structural problem, and if it goes on for another ten years, I will admit that it is one. Seattle is having its first hopeless year in a while so the coffee-suckers have no cause to complain. Tampa Bay fans, I think, are the only others in the Junior Circuit that should give up now, and they have some reason to start thinking about next year.

Anyway, that’s nine teams out of thirty who are out of contention now; by my math that’s twenty-one teams still in it. By the way, those twenty-one all have some chance of winning the division. Chicago, Cincinnati and Milwaukee have to hope for St. Louis to fade, but that’s likely enough. Cleveland and Detroit are in worse shape, but they are as likely to win the division as the wildcard; if either gets hot, it will probably be against teams in the division, and will stack up losses in those columns. Boston, perhaps, is the team playing for the wildcard, but that has as much to do with psychology than the standings and schedule. They have nine games left against the Yankees, six at home; if they win even six of those, they are in it for the division title.

My point is not that there’s no reason for anyone to complain. Complaining is an important part of being a fan. My point is that there are only four teams which seems to be Problems: Les Expos, due to more than a decade of bad ownership; the Royals and Pirates, due to both bad ownership and the decline of their home towns; and the Rockies, whose problems may have to do with physics being tricky. The Orioles, Devil Rays and Bluejays are unlucky, certainly, and I sympathize, but don’t think that will last much longer. Competitive imbalance, whatever that actually is, doesn’t seem to be preventing most of the teams (twenty-six or at least twenty-three out of thirty) from being competitive most years.

And that’s just focusing on Hope and Faith; in almost every other way, this is the Golden Age of Baseball as well. We have astonishingly good players; Clemens and Bonds are far more dominant than anyone in YHB’s youth, and Maddux and Albert and others are pretty damn good, too. I can listen to radio broadcasts whilst overseas, and replay individual at bats by clicking on the box score. I have more information in better format than my father had at my age, or his father before him. Well, his uncle. Anyway, baseball’s in pretty good shape, no matter what the Commissioner tells you.

In short, go Giants!

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