« What I meant to say | Main | Book Report: Dune »

Baseball in October

This is probably the ideal time for Your Humble Blogger to admit this thing: I don’t like Major League Baseball playoffs. In general, I mean, I don’t like the playoffs. I’m enjoying these games—well, by enjoy I mean that I am totally wrapped up in them, my mood swinging from despair to ecstasy, jumping up and down in triumph or frustration, all that sort of thing. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Because my Giants are in it, and even though they kinda stink, they are my Giants, and I want them to win it.

Having said that, though, most years my Giants aren’t in it, and I don’t give a damn who does win. If you go to a web site where fans of the Cubs or the Tigers chat, if there is anybody there at all these last couple of weeks, they have probably had a conversation about how to decide which team to root for in the playoffs. Because they don’t really care—they may hate some other team and be willing to root because of that, or they may have a favorite ex-Cubbie or ex-Tiger and be willing to root because of that, but really, they are done. They will probably watch the games, or some of them, if there isn’t something else worth doing, but that’s as much because this is the last chance to watch baseball before a long cold winter as out of wanting to watch these games.

As for me, it’s more than not giving a damn about them, because I actively dislike them. They are, as Billy Beane famously said, a crapshoot, and it’s irritating to me to hear people talk about the series as if there is a serious argument to be made that the Giants are better than the Phillies because they won four games from them—and as if there were not a serious argument to be made had they only won three. The whole thing devalues the long season, and I like baseball because I like the long season. Or I like the long season because I like baseball. Or, at any rate, what I like about baseball is the long season, and I am irritated, even when the Giants are in the playoffs, by the focus on these few games as being meaningful, as opposed to those April games when the team is finding its feet (hint: below the stirrup socks) or the September games when they are trying to stay healthy. They are all meaningful, because that’s what baseball is: a long season where every game counts.

The good thing about the playoffs, of course, is that the teams are all good teams, or at least they aren’t terrible teams. It is fun to watch good teams play each other in the playoffs, although of course it’s fun to watch good teams play each other all year long, and it happens pretty frequently. People argue that the players are at their best in the playoffs, but then people also argue that certain players are “chokers” who don’t rise to the occasion. Those seem incompatible to me. Plus, just from watching the playoffs this year, some players are banged up, some players are playing way above their heads, some players are stone cold, some players are nervous because of the extra pressure, and some players are pretty much playing like you might expect. And that’s true every year, and I haven’t seen any empirical evidence that most players (or the best players, or the bit players, or any consistent groups of players) do rise to the occasion.

In fact, I have occasionally said that I would enjoy an extended all-star series nearly as much as I enjoy the playoffs. And, having said that, I feel like I should say it publicly, and say it when the Giants are in the World Series so it doesn’t seem so much like sour grapes. Here’s the idea: at the end of 162 games, each league has a pennant-winner based entirely on wins and losses during the season. That’s it. No World Series, no playoffs, just the season and the pennant, the way Uncle Nick Young meant it to be. Also, no All-Star Game in July.

In October, after the season is over, we have an All-Star mini-season of 21 games in six cities. Actually, seven cities, or six cities and a town: the first game is a Hall-of-Fame Game at Cooperstown, NY. Then they do a four-city tour of three games each at the second- and third-place cities of each league, and then four games each at the two pennant winners. Obviously, the league that wins 11 or more games is the champion for the year.

The current post-season is set up for 19 games with a ridiculous number of days off; my 21-game all-star season should be done by Hallowe’en, I would think. And of course the home city’s team gets the gate; there is a huge benefit to finishing third over fourth in your league.

The benefit, to me, is that you could really see all-star baseball: with a 40-man roster playing a mini-season, you still might not see pitchers trying for complete games, but you would see the starter go twice through the lineup, and maybe three times. And that’s the thing—by the nature of baseball, watching Zack Greinke face the best National League hitters once is fun, but doesn’t really tell you very much about them. Watching him face them twice, and then do it again five days later, and then again five days after that, well, that’s a different kettle of proverbial altogether. Similarly, you might see infielders and outfielders learning to work together in the field, you might see batters responding to game situations, and you might even see the managers (presumably this year’s pennant winners) reacting to being two or three games behind.

Of course, every fan would have somebody on the league’s team to root for, even if that player didn’t make it into very many games, but then you could root for your league more seriously, because of course it really would count—not because of home-field advantage in some other, more important series, but because this is what there is. And, I hope, the players would take it seriously because (in my imaginary world without playoffs) this is what there is—well, and there would be RINGZ and money at stake, too. But mostly, it would be the best players playing the best players in something that is close to what we see from April to September—which is not what happens in October with the current system.

So. Look, I am deliriously happy about my Giants winning the pennant, and I am looking forward to this World Series like I haven’t looked forward to a World Series since, well, 2002. Which is my point, really. I mean, I’m only going to look forward to the World Series every eight years or so, or maybe I’ll get incredibly lucky and have three pennants out of five, and then nothing for decades. I could live without that.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

thumbs up and you know what if it WERE open like that UK football club -- 'bringing fantasy baseball to life' -- could you do both, or would it be too much risk of injury? grr i can't find the nice gov 2.0 documentary that explored how the crowdsourced lads won their division....


What would you think about a system with multiple levels, say two given the current number of teams, in which the best teams played each other all year, and at the end of the year, one or more of the worst moved down the B level, and a corresponding number of the best of the B teams moved up to the A level? You could even do this twice a year, at the start of the season and in the middle.

I like your idea a lot too.


For a few years, I really liked the idea of promotion/relegation, and I think it does work well in most sports leagues. In MLB, there are some problems with it, and the main problem starts with a Y and ends in ankees.

More seriously (although, really, that is a pretty serious thing), the entire set-up, with the Draft, the trading deadline, the farm systems, free agency, the national TV money—all of that would have to be different to have promotion/relegation work. And, frankly, I like the draft and the farm system, so I think that would be a loss. Although of course the gain would be that three-quarters of the teams would be playing for something real in September.

My answer, I suppose, is that I don't think p/r would increase my own personal enjoyment of the games very much, so I'm agin it. But again, I will listen to the games no matter what, so they shouldn't “fix” baseball to make me happy, any more than they should deaden the ball. Which, you know, would be awesome, just deaden it enough to bring home runs back to where they were before the big power surge in the 20s. Just for ten years or so, then juice the rabbit again. A change is as good as a rest, right?

Thanks,
-V.


It seems to me that promotion works well as a reward for a game that is primarily of interest to the players, and in which the players have some shared responsibility for the team. In a league with professional teams owned and managed by someone other than the players and supported by a broad fan base, it seems less suitable.

As to the all-star game model--Oh for the good old days when sports were less lucrative and the unorganized players were less well paid. _Then_ the players would barnstorm after the season ended, with their own all-star teams. And the grasping (segregationist) owners didn't get any of the profits! Very cool!

My sentiments about the current playoffs are similar to our Gentle Host's, of course. I love to watch skilled players play (or read about skilled players playing, since I don't have time actually to watch the games), so in that sense the playoffs are great, but I'm much more interested in quality of play than I am in anointing a winning team in glory because the breaks fell their way in a short series. Oh wait, that's how we identify who is favored by the gods, which is what really counts . . .


i used to watch soap operas like that, in wonder of high emotional tugging, and confused at supermarket magazines with closeups on fake people


Comments are closed for this entry. Usually if I close comments for an entry it's because that entry gets a disproportionate amount of spam. If you want to contact me about this entry, feel free to send me email.