Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Putting baseball in perspective.

First, some background.  I am a Phillies season ticket holder and a fan since 1964.  I have seen the great, near great and horrible.  That's enough background.

If I can do nothing else (and perhaps I cannot) I think I can place things in perspective.  I was at last year's disappointing game 6 of the NLCS where Ryan Howard looked at a called third strike to end their season.  From my perch in section 204 I was devastated.  I left the ballpark feeling like I was punched in the stomach and I was bitter over it for several weeks.  After that, I vowed to never again allow sports to affect my life in a negative manner.  I didn't think it would be so soon that my resolution would be put to the test.

I went to the first game of the NLDS this year.  The Phillies fell behind early, 3-0 with their Ace Roy Halladay on the mound.  A couple of home runs later and they would go on to win the game.  Several of us in the stands were disappointed in the Phillies, but would wind up going home happy.

Almost one week later, that good feeling would turn sour as Ryan Howard once again made the last out of their season, this time with a weak ground ball in which injury was added to insult as he went down with a ruptured Achilles tendon.  I later found out that most fans had turned off the television before they found out that he didn't complete his trip to first base.

As I watched the game, I felt the looming doom that would eventually befell this team.  The 1-0 loss did, however, allow me the time to place baseball into a proper life perspective.  Baseball is different than other major sports because of the vagaries of the schedule and the players involved.

In football, basketball and hockey; teams go into playoff series with the same players that brought them there.  In baseball, the key player - the starting pitcher - is determined mostly by a draw of the schedule.  In a 5-game series (as the NLDS is) that draw has more to do with the outcome of the series than anything.  Not only that, but if a team goes into a hitting drought, the short series is magnified, because there is less time to work their way out of it than the overly long baseball season allows.  Sure, the Phillies won 102 games, but they were never faced with the prospect of having to win 3 out of 5.  All that mattered was that they won their division and advanced to the playoffs.

In olden times (before the NLDS or even divisions) a team could win its division and advance directly to a Championship series. Now, there is no benefit to winning the division.  Sure, you get what they call "home field advantage," but in a 5-game series, you get 3 home games.  True home field advantage would mean 4 home games.  In a 5-game series, having only one more home game is almost useless, as we saw.  First solution:  Give the team with the best record a true home field advantage and make the wild card team (the Cardinals) earn their victory by winning games on the opponent's field.  Otherwise, the 162 game season is pointless.  Why play all those games just to lose to a wild card team because you only got one more home game? Only in baseball.

Having the first series decided in only 5 games negates the entire (already too long) regular season.  Baseball was founded on a 154-game schedule.  That's because, after 154 games, the two best teams (the winners of the American and National League) would face off in the World Series.  Now, teams have to win 11 games after they go through an even longer 162-game season.  Does that make sense?  Why make the season longer and then add playoff games?  It doesn't make sense - unless you factor in television, which is the reason for almost everything in life - but that is a matter for another essay.

So, here's my solution:  Go back to two leagues with no divisions.  Play your 162 games if you must, but give some advantage to the team with the best record.  What's the point of playing the season otherwise?  Either a first round bye or some protracted home field advantage.  As it is now, it's more of a crap shoot than a pure talent competition.

So, fret not Phillies fans.  Your team was done in by television and modern thinking.  It had little to do with talent.  As we have seen, it doesn't matter what happens in the regular season. Baseball has become hockey and basketball.  Just enjoy the regular season like you would a movie - it's entertainment.  The real competition comes once TBS and Fox get involved and screw up your work day by putting playoff games on at 1:00pm and 4:00pm and players complain about shadows that they never see during the season.  That's where television has taken over the game and the fans and teams lose control.

You should not lose control over something over which you have no control.

1 comment:

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