Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 4, 2008
BASEBALL: Say What?

One of the broadcasters on the Brewers-Phillies game actually just said, on national television, that Geoff Jenkins left the Brewers because he got tired of watching young players like Jeromy Burnitz and Carlos Lee come out of the Brewers system and then leave.

Wow. Reminds me of the time Howard Cosell said during a Monday Night Baseball Mets-Reds game in about 1986 that Keith Hernandez had begged him not to mention on the air that Keith's lifetime batting average was .152. I'd love someday to ask Hernandez how he kept a straight face for that one.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:50 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

I beg the Crank's indulgence for going off-topic here, but the wild card is destroying baseball. I'm no Cubs fan, but having the best record in the league ought to earn you something more than one extra home game, especially in a five game series. I realize the Dodgers won their division, but their match-up w/ the Cubs was simply a result of the rule that WC team can't play a team from it's division in the first round. This curious rule, designed I suppose to prevent more games so soon between teams that played 19 already, gives the WC team an advantage-- it never has to play the one team in the league that has objectively proven to be its better until the championship series at the earliest. None of the division winners get this advantage. The playoffs are actually constructed to favor the one team which did not win anything during the regular season. This tangible benefit is backed up by the oft-observed intangibles deriving from having to scratch and claw during the season's final weeks to make the playoffs. Compare that to this years' Cubs and Angels, who wrapped things up much earlier and inevitably went into glide mode. It's hard for them to turn the competitiveness back on. Regular season accomplishment has been devalued, and with every passing year seems actually to be a handicap. Where's the benefit of opening up a large lead by July and August if it means your squad will cruise through September and be ambushed by scrappers with a (ususally) substantially worse record in the first week of October? It's a scandal, and should end. One way to re-incentivize regular season success, and frankly penalize the team in the league that has won nothing, proven nothing and should simply be glad to be in the playoffs, is to take first round home games away from the WC team, and have them play the team with the best record in the league regardless of division. Best of five on the regular season league champions' home field. If the WC can pull out a victory there, they've truly proven something and earned the right to three in the Championship Series. As it is, the WC gets something for nothing, and as I mentioned above actually has a fundamental advantage vis-a-vis the other three teams. The folks running the sport want to spread the wealth from playoff games around, I understand, but at what cost to their product? Clubs will, if they haven't already, start gaming the system during the regular season. Many are the mid-summer decisions that tend away from pursuing a division championship when the reliably advantageous wild card is available. This is not pleasant to contemplate. By historical rights, the Cubs should be playing the Angels in this years world series. Economic realities are persuasive-- extra games mean more money for everybody. But when the "champion" of baseball is, as is lately too often the case, a marginally better than average team that got hot for a month, the game's integrity is compromised. To the extent possible, the post season tournament should incline toward affirming baseball's 162 game reality. As things stand now, it actively undermines that reality.

Posted by: seamus at October 5, 2008 3:33 PM

As well as the the arguments above, it should be noted that a 5 match series is not really sufficient a measure of teams worth, I doubt that any team (Nationals, Mariners) is a smaller than 35% chance to win a 5 game series against anyone.

Posted by: Snag at October 5, 2008 7:07 PM

Seamus man, sorry but you're piling on a lot there. There's been a league championship series for 40 freaking years. Just because you have the best record doesn't mean you get ushered into the World Series any longer. The wild card team does play the best team before the LCS except in the instance of the two teams being from the same division (and I'll give you that I don't understand that at all). The Red Sox (AL wild card team) are playing the Angels (best record in AL) right now.

The wild card also ADDS an element of fairness that division play takes away as teams from weak divisions can get in while winning 85 games while teams from strong divisions that win 100 games would miss the playoffs simply because they were in a divsion where another team won 101 games. There have been plenty of teams that wrapped things up early that took care of business when the post-season came around.

The Cubs flat out played like crap. They fielded poorly, pitched badly and didn't hit. It's not because they wrapped things up 3 weeks ago. The Cubs weren't making 4 errors in a game during game 157 of the regular season. While I agree that there could be some tweaking of the system the idea that the Cubs should get to play in the World Series because they had the best regular season record was a concept that was ditched a long, long time ago and is not coming back. If you look at back at who has won the WS since in the wild card era the only team that really stands out is the 2006 Cardinals--and they won their division. Perhaps you are still feeling the pain from losing the 2003 LCS to the wild card Marlins. Right, the Marlins won 3 more games in the regular season that year than did the Cubs. The other 2 wild card teams to win the WS were the 2002 Angels (99 wins) and the 2004 Red Sox (98 wins) who were obviously legitimate teams that were better than divisional winners but in a division themselves with another excellent team.

Sorry, I get the frustration of losing but the Cubs lost because they sucked when they really needed to not suck. The wild card had little to nothing to do with it.

Posted by: jim at October 6, 2008 12:39 PM

The purpose of the wild card is, of course, to sell more tickets in September by increasing the number/likelihood of pennant races. The DS round is at most 20 games, not all of which could be watched unless you don't actually sleep or work, and televised on TBS anyway. The wild card at least doubles the number of teams in late August that have enough of a playoff shot to sell extra tickets, and impacts the gate at something like 200 games or more. It also means there are always games on the last weekend of the season that matters, and provides a build-up for the playoffs. The same reasoning applied when they split the leagues into divisions after the 1960s expansion - too many teams were out of it in August and just playing out the string.

This is actually the key balancing act, and what keeps MLB from further expanding the playoffs. There are 2430 regular season games, and at most 41 playoff games (more likely 30 or so). Baseball is all regular season attendence, and right now at least, the wild card helps (as does interleague play I suppose, another Selig sponsored abomination).

Having given up on the extra playoff round, my last real peeve about the playoffs is all the off-days. Baseball is all about the grind - worrying about overusing pitchers and catchers, using your whole rotation. All that goes more or less out the window in the playoffs, which come down to your top 15 or so players. My pet solution would be 3 7 game rounds, with an off day on between rounds.

Posted by: phwest at October 6, 2008 2:27 PM

I'm not a Cubs fan, so my thoughts on this matter are motivated by their dismissal only to the extent that it highlights, yet again, the system's fundamental injustice. I'm not advocating a return to pre-LCS days, or even pre-division days (though I think eliminating the divisions, balancing the schedule, and putting the top four teams in each league into the play-offs might not be an awful idea). I'd simply like to see more reward for accomplishing the very, very difficult task of having the league's best record. Likewise, I think there should, under the current three division system, be more of a penalty for the one team in league which has won nothing. The "weak division" argument is, well, weak. With the unbalanced schedule, every team plays the others in its division so many times that despite overall number of wins the division winner actually proves something-- it is better than the teams it plays most. The wild card team is, by definition, inferior to the one team in the league it will not have to face until the LCS at the earliest. That is a remarkable advantage. It simply leaves too much to chance to place that team in a short series with a team that has the best record in the league. And it's worse when those two teams are from the same division. In that case, the team with the best record in the league is just another division champion and can't even benefit immediately from taking on the one team it should have some confidence of beating, given the division standings. It's an equitable argument, certainly, but the farther baseball gets from rewarding the league's best record with the best shot to get into the world series the more it NBA/NHL-izes its regular season. Best record in the league is an accomplishment, and should be recognized as such. A best of 5 on its home turf against a team it has already proven itself superior to seems to me to strike a good balance between the modern day demands of keeping fan interest alive, making money, etc and maintaining some integrity and purpose in the regular season. Better anyway, than patting the team with the best record on the back and thereafter regarding them as no better than a team that literally accomplished nothing during the regular season. In other areas of human endeavor, that type of circumstance is called welfare.

Posted by: seamus at October 6, 2008 6:18 PM

How many games would the Cubs had to play at Wrigley before they won one? Seven, nine, fifteen? There was nothing the Cubs could have done to save themselves from themselves short of playing better. What remedy would you prescribe? The Dodgers KILLED the Cubs at Wrigley. One or two more games would have mattered little/not at all. Should the Dodgers only have gotten to play with 8 guys, used whiffle bats, gotten only 2 outs/inning? I realize that there are issues that could be resolved but ultimately what remedy would you prescribe that would avoid a team like the Cubs playing like crap? Ultimately they are responsible for winning games. I agree, I think the Cubs should have played the Brewers. I think the inter-division rule makes no sense at all. They don't have it in the NFL and it is not necessary. Wild card team plays the best team (although sometimes that means the best team is playing the second best team in the first round).

Posted by: jim at October 7, 2008 7:36 PM

If the league's best plays like crap against the wild card it plays like crap and deserves to lose. I'm not arguing that my proposal would have saved the '08 Cubs, or that the '08 Cubs deserve to be saved. My proposal simply aims to enhance, however slightly, the reward for, and therefore desirability of, winning the most games during the regular season-- the truest measure of an MLB team's quality. Under the current post-season rules, that coin is near valueless.

Posted by: seamus at October 11, 2008 10:41 AM
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