European Champions' League football, that is! Today I watched a very exciting match between Chelsea and Liverpool in the semifinals for the UEFA Cup, European club soccer's biggest prize. Liverpool's Luis Garcia scored a goal right at the beginning of the game that barely crossed the line before a Blue defender chipped it out. The rest of the match was as tense as soccer gets, with Chelsea needing only one goal (due to the same weird rules that make international soccer so unappealing to most Americans, a tie would have meant Chelsea's advance) and Liverpool working feverishly to deny it to them.
Okay, now here's why I think this is of interest to baseball fans. Liverpool is out of it in their own league, the English Premiership -- in fact, Chelsea wrapped up the title last weekend. Their fans still have something to go nuts for, however, with the team headed to Istanbul for the Cup final. I'll bet tickets for Liverpool's last regular season game at Anfield are selling pretty briskly with Cup fever in the air. All of the European soccer leagues have tournaments that run during the regular season of some kind or another; many have several. England's FA Cup matches teams from the minor leagues with the big boys from the Premiership; NCAA basketball-style upsets are not uncommon.
Wouldn't a single-elimination baseball tournament, carried on every few weekends during the regular season, be fascinating to watch? The major league teams could be seeded by their records from the season before and minor league teams could be selected to fill out the bracket by play-in games between the high finishers from every AAA, AA, and A league. Sure, the baseball minor leagues aren't like the English soccer ones in that they're controlled by big league clubs. But no one has to take this theoretical tournament too seriously.
The allure, in addition to something like Albuquerque Isotopes whipping the Braves in the first round, is a scenario like this: The Yankees draw the Royals, who've gritted out a few close wins, in the quarterfinals. The game is at Yankee Stadium on a Sunday. The Yanks face the Red Sox that coming Tuesday. The Royals, who are completely out of the regular season race by this time, pitch Zack Greinke. Are the Yankees going to put Randy Johnson up against him, or throw a middle reliever out there? Of course the Unit is saved for the Red Sox. The Royals win, and go on to meet the Lansing Lugnuts in the semis.
This will of course never happen. The scheduling would be a nightmare, and it's far too radical an idea for the current MLB regime. But when you really think about it, is it really that much crazier than interleague play, the wild card, or the designated hitter?