Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
This Next One Will Burn
2006-10-26 23:49
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Whoa! Finally, a World Series game that felt like a World Series game. Unfortunately, it may be this season's one and only example of the form. The Tigers look for all the world like a team fate just seriously doesn't want winning a championship, and who could forgive them for packing it in after this one? Outfielder wipeouts! Yet still further pitcher defensive miscues! Dropped third strikes! Curtis Granderson trying to hit the curveball! (Was I right about Detroit awaiting a colossal karma boomerang from those absurdly overblown celebrations upon winning the ALDS and ALCS, or was I right?) Call it the Leyland follies, and also call it the game of the postseason so far, with apologies to Endy C. In keeping with my affection for lost causes, I try to support Denver's local music scene as well as the Rockies, and I went out to see some bands at a bar tonight assuming that this game would operate on the same level as the three previous half-asleepers and thus command no more than one-third of my full attention. Not so much. My apologies to the timid folksinger I mostly ignored and occasionally upstaged with my uncontrollable Granderson-provoked laughter.

I don't want to incur the wrath of thousands of Cardinals fans for jinxing this thing, but hey, this is the age of instant analysis, and if you don't start wrapping things up before they're actually over, everyone else on the interweb will beat you to your own ideas. So I'm going to go ahead and weigh in on the whole debate that is sure to rage, or indeed rages already, about whether a team with only 83 regular season wins claiming a championship banner is bad for baseball. Here's my nuanced take: no. It could well be a generational thing. If you grew up watching the Reds, A's, and Yankees of the 70's, well, yeah, the Marlins, Angels, and (presumptively the) Cardinals of the 00's are not as good. Baseball was first introduced to me in the golden era of collusion, where underwhelming teams like the '85 Royals, '87 Twins, and '90 Reds won championships all the time. What was great about the 80's is that a different team won every year. Granted, the mechanism through which baseball delivered this desirable parity was the systematic chiseling of a generation's worth of players out of the rewards they deserved and a breach in labor-ownership trust that is only beginning to get repaired now some twenty years on.

So, what accomplishes the same thing as collusion only without the unpleasant, illegal, and borderline Communist elements? The wild card does. You want to hate the wild card, fine. When you double the number of teams that make the playoffs, you greatly increase the chances that some dicey teams are going to get invited to the dance. Hey, I'll be the first to admit it. The 1995 Rockies? Not a playoff team. This is not the space nor am I the sort of analyst to get all stat-funky about it, but if you play enough seasons with a shaky team or two getting into the final eight every year, eventually one of them is going to win it. I'm no mathemagician, but I'm miles smarter than the average "Deal or No Deal" contestant, and I believe this to be true.

Baseball is different than than football, which gives huge postseason advantages to the teams with the best regular-season records to offset the inherent randomness in having one game decide each round. (That said, when the sixth-seed Pittsburgh Steelers won the AFC and then the Super Bowl last year, nobody complained. Except Seahawks fans.) The NBA invites twice as many teams to the playoffs as baseball does but it's a different game; over the course of a seven-game series in basketball the better team will win far more regularly than under the same conditions in baseball. Six-, seven-, and eight-seed hockey teams make deep Stanley Cup runs all the time, but this doesn't bother anyone. For one thing, nearly everybody except the completely hopeless teams made the playoffs for ages in the NHL. For another, the idea that the postseason is a completely separate entity is more prevalent in hockey than in other North American pro sports. There's different rules, different intensity, and beards. There's a trophy for accumulating the most regular-season points that they don't take away if you wipe out in the first round. And finally, Canadians are just a mellow people in general. I think it's because many of them are part moose.

Baseball culture is different, for certain, but it's not forever unchanging. The game grows and develops. We're not likely to see complete teams on the model of the 1929 A's ever again. There were 16 teams then, something like half of which were fiscally insolvent, there are 30 now, and only the Pirates and Royals are completely hopeless. They also don't travel by train so much anymore. And they let black people play. Onward and upward!

You know what, I'm a fan of a team that's not so good and not so rich. But I have hope. I'm crazy with hope right now, because while they aren't a perfect comparison for a potential Colorado world champion, these Cardinals do illustrate one vital fact that a lot of struggling franchises are going to take to heart this offseason. All you have to do is get in. If you get in, you could win. Maybe there's no way to build a 105-game winner for fifty million bucks these days, but get a break or two, draft smart, keep everybody healthy (one area where the young, poor teams actually have an advantage), and you can win 85 games, back into the postseason and win the World Series. The real one! The MLB one! How cool is that?

I suppose if you're a Yankees fan this argument doesn't make you feel at all better, but you know what, to hell with you. Also, I don't see any way of directly blaming Jim Leyland for the inexplicable collapse of what was baseball's best defense all year, but maybe I will think of something tomorrow morning. Could he make it rain? Wait, I've got something. Obviously, the net effect of the millions of cubic feet of cigarette smoke that Leyland has exhaled over the years was the cold pressure front leading to the rain in St. Louis which proved so deleterious to Craig Monroe, Fernando Rodney, Ivan Rodriguez, and Curtis Granderson's efforts to field their positions. Oh, Jim, I'm going to miss you when this series is over. You suck, though.

2006-10-27 07:28:51
1.   lentnej
That's fine if the mediocre team plays well in the playoffs or if their story is compelling (like the Tigers). But ST. Louis is a large market that played in a weak division and is winning because their opponent has played worse not because they've played well.
You look at the historically low regular season record and then combine it with the unbalanced schedule St. Louis played, and they truly will be the worst (regular season) team ever to win a WS.
Plus Weaver is a jerk, Eckstein running to first on a bb reminds me of Rose, another jerk, and they don't run like an NL team which makes them boring.
Baseball will survive this. Any year the Yankees don't win is a plus for MLB. But it's not good for the game to have a bad team win a mostly unwatched World Series.
2006-10-27 07:34:15
2.   Xeifrank
Nice post. I agree with almost everything you write. I get the feeling that many fans of big market teams would just like to see a playoff system that invited the top four payroll teams and let them duke it out. How dare the Cardinals rain on their parade.
vr, Xei
2006-10-27 09:37:28
3.   rbj
You forgot to add the Tampa Bay (shh, don't say Devil) Rays to the hopeless squad. Yes, they've got some good young players, but they're in the same division as the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles. And while Peter Angelos is doing his damnedest to help Tampa escape the cellar, none of the other three teams is quite so charitable.

Christ, how long to pitchers and catchers?

2006-10-27 10:23:08
4.   dianagramr

Do you really think Christ knows how long to pitchers and catchers?

(and for the atheists in the group ... how long to pitchers and catchers?)

2006-10-27 13:26:26
5.   Mark T.R. Donohue
3 I'm glad you challenged that, because I have a theory about Tampa Bay. I think that one of these years the competition between Boston and New York is going to kill them when both teams end up stuck with rosters full of $20 million guys who can't play anymore but are making too much money to sit. The Satanfish (probably with a new name by then) will seize the day! It could happen. In any event I have way more faith in their upper management than Pittsburgh's or Kansas City's. They do seem to be beset by rather awful luck when it comes to developing their prospects, though.
2006-10-27 16:19:08
6.   das411
The problem Mark is that Toronto will be up around $100m by then too and enough of it is already in good contracts (ie Glaus, Ryan, etc) that a NY/BOS-style nosedive from them also does not seem likely.

OTOH if they would just listen to me and swap the DRays and Nationals into the opposite leages, sooooo many problems would be solved...

And hey, isn't it more of an inspiration to the Pirates and Royals of the world that a team that lost 119 games 3 years ago is now in the Series?? All they needed were some sharp draft picks, a couple good signings, and oh yeah, that MANAGER!

2006-10-27 19:29:18
7.   Todd S
#1 What's with this garbage that the Cardinals haven't played well this post-season? I just saw a play where Pujols dove to his right and threw to the pitcher covering first. Weaver dug the ball out of the dirt and found the bag before the runner. Seems like they're doing a great job of keeping runs off the board in the post-season...just like a team from Chicago did one year ago.
2006-10-28 15:24:03
8.   Schteeve
As a Yankee fan, who never had any problem with your blog before, let me extend a hearty "to hell with you too!"
2006-10-30 13:47:05
9.   sanchez101
Personally, I enjoy watching really good teams play each other for championships ... not mediocre teams. This WS was poorly played and boring, from what I saw and heard, but I really didn't watch much of it becuase it didn't seem all that interesting. Would anyone have cared all that much about a series between St.Louis and Detroit back in July?

The World Series is supposed to crown, ideally, the best team in baseball, not the final series in a baseball tournament in which inferior teams regularly beat clearly superior teams. I'd like to get back to the point where the title "World Series Winner" was synonymous with "Best Team in Baseball". Can any one really claim that the Cardinals were the best team in baseball in 2006? No, they merely won a end-season tourney. Big Deal.

The cost of having mediocre teams in the WS every year, even if it does spread things around to more fan-bases, is that the WS is now kinda meaningless. The 'let everyone get a chance to win sometime' smacks of the lame youth sports leagues that don't even bother to keep score so that everyone can claim they're a winner.

Why is it bad for baseball to see two titanic teams face off for all the marbles, as in the NBA. Did anyone have a problem seeing the Lakers and Celtics face off over and over again in the 80's, because a bunch of mediocre teams didn't get a chance to win it all?

What is the point of having a championship series? Crowning mediocre teams only encourages mediocrity.

2006-10-30 20:33:25
10.   das411
But how many people will watch the millionth Yankees/Red Sox ALCS and inevitable rematch vs the Mets that would follow?

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