Best time for baseball, if only Phils, White Sox were still playing
IT'S OCTOBER and the baseball playoffs have begun. It's an exciting time and there are some great story lines to follow. For example, the Tampa Bay Rays reached the ALDS by winning three sudden-death road games in a row - the last game of the season at Toronto, the wild card play-in game at Texas, and the wild-card game at Cleveland.
Sometimes the playoff format seems unfair. Cleveland had a great turnaround season and won its last 10 to reach the wild-card game, and then lost, 4-0, to the Rays. Having two wild-card teams is good, as it keeps many more teams in the chase for the playoffs up to the end of the season, but having their chances determined by a single game just isn't right! The wild-card teams should play two out of three. This would guarantee each team at least one home playoff tilt for their fans, and it would be a much fairer way to determine which wild-card team advances.
MLB says that would make the season too long (which it already is), but the answer for that is to end the season a week earlier than now. Each team would still play 162 games, but would play six scheduled doubleheaders. The teams would make up for the lost revenue by charging more for doubleheader tickets. I would love to see true doubleheaders back (not the phony day-night, two-admission ones). It would bring back memories of my youth, when I would pack a lunch and get to the stadium 2 hours before game time so that I could get the best unreserved seat and stay till the last out of the second game. Often, I would be at the ballpark for nearly 8 hours, and I loved every minute of it.
Well, this baseball season was a bummer for me as a fan. My two teams, the Phils and the White Sox, were pitiful (73-89 and 63-99, respectively) and were out of it way too early. If you follow this column, you know I like the baseball season best, because of its length and its ebbs and flows. Of course, all fans want their teams to win it all, but, secretly, we'd settle for our teams being in the hunt all the way. We want to watch games that matter in September. Last year's White Sox season was a perfect example. They were in first place in the AL Central Division for 119 days. With 2 weeks to go, they had a three-game lead over the Tigers. Then they folded and won only five of their final 19 games. It was agony, but it was delicious agony. Jerry Reinsdorf, the wonderful owner of the Sox, is a good friend of mine, and we often text each other during games. As the Sox were tanking and were about to blow a big lead in a game near the end, Jerry texted me, "I can't breathe" - I felt the same. Ahhhh, baseball!
The great thing about the baseball season is that, because of its length, it's hard for teams to fall out of the race early. Take this year's Los Angeles Dodgers team, for example. On June 22, the Dodgers were 31-42. They went on to finish the season 61-28, winning 92 games and easily capturing the NL West.
In 1983, the White Sox started the season 25-31 and went on to win 99 games to win their division by 20 games (they were an unbelievable 74-32 down the stretch). That's why this year was so disappointing. The Phils started out slowly, but rallied to 48-48 at the All-Star break. I was stoked - we were going to be in the playoff hunt all the way. We pounded the Mets, 13-8, in the first game after the break, and I was dreaming about late-October baseball. Alas, that was the high-water mark. We lost the next eight and never came close to .500 again. The Sox were even worse. They too stumbled out of the gate, but, on May 26, they completed a sweep of the hapless Marlins to reach 24-24. They, too, lost their next eight and went on to lose almost 100 games. I couldn't watch one meaningful game where I had a rooting interest in August, no less September.
I do love watching meaningful playoff baseball, so I have decided to root for two teams from beleaguered cities - the Tigers and the Pirates. I'm rooting for Detroit, because it is a totally depressed city facing the very real possibility of bankruptcy, and its citizens could use an emotional lift. Pittsburgh is doing fairly well as a city, but its Bucs had set a major league record with 20 straight losing seasons. During a few of those seasons they raised hopes by doing well early, only to tank in August and September. This year was different. They started out well and only got hotter. They are a team without any big names, but they believe in one another and have a fighting chance to go all the way.
So, let's go, Tigers and Buccos. Let's give the TV network execs a World Series they'll hate!