Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Winter Classic

The Yankees equipment manager, Rob Cucuzza, is getting ready for the playoffs. He’s gathering up dozens of pairs of polypropylene* thermal underwear, cold weather batting gloves made with Aegis Micro Shield technologies, officially licensed New York Yankees earmuffs, and fur-lined parkas for the coaching staffs.

*The polypropylene material used in some cold weather gear was developed by a Nobel Prize winner, back when Nobel Prize winners had to, you know, do something in order to win

Mr. Cucuzza has a collection of high-tech cold weather gear that would make Ernest Shackleton weep with envy. And he’s gonna need it because it’s frickin’ cold in New York. As Game 1 of the ALCS starts tonight, the temperature is forecast for 42 degrees, lower with the wind chill. And the baseball playoffs are still scheduled to go another two and a half weeks.

It wasn’t always this way. Babe Ruth and the 1927 Yankees won the World Series on October 8th. Mickey Mantle celebrated the 1956 title on October 10th, and that series went the distance. In 1978, Reggie Jackson had earned his Mr. October moniker by the 17th, and that included an ALCS. Heck, even Derek Jeter and the 1996 Yanks - the first Yankee team to win a championship in the Wild Card era - had wrapped things up by October 26th.

This year, the World Series won’t even start until October 28th. Even if it’s a sweep, it’s guaranteed to go until November. If it goes the distance, Game 7 will be on November 5th. If the Yankees win, they’ll have to combine the Canyon of Heroes parade with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. (They'll probably let Jeter ride in Santa's sleigh, and Yankee fans will truly believe he was more clutch than St. Nick)

Luckily, I’m not the kind of guy who just sits around and complains about the old days. I bring solutions. And I know how to fix baseball.

Cold Teams
But first, a little more complaining, because cold weather is only part of baseball’s problem. The other, more insidious problem, is that crappy teams keep winning the World Series. Think I’m kidding? Let’s look at recent history.

2006 Cardinals - LaRussa's team scratched out 83 wins during the regular season, had the lowest winning % of all 8 playoff teams, and a losing record in August and September. But they got hot for a couple of weeks and were crowned World Champion.

2004 Red Sox - a very good team, but not good enough to win the AL East. In 2004 they became the 4th Wild Card team in 7 years to win the Series.

2003 Marlins - this time of year, all the "experts", from Steve Phillips to Mike Francesa to the nameless newspaper guys, give their "predictions" about who will win the World Series. The 03 Marlins are a constant reminder as to why these predictions are useless, as everyone had them rated 8 out of 8 of playoff contenders that year.

2000 Yankees - the worst regular season team of the Torre era. They won 87 games, lowest of all the playoff teams, and fewer than every Yankee team since. But the AL East wasn’t very good that year, and 87 wins was good enough for a divisional title. Most years, this team wouldn't have made the playoffs.

Fixing Baseball
How, you are wondering, will I kill both birds with one stone, hit both balls with one bat, field both grounders with one glove? Easy - end the regular season on the last Sunday of September, and add another Wild Card team. Here are the Rules of the FreeTime Playoff system:

  1. No matter what, the season ends on the last Sunday in September. If the last Sunday is September 25, that is when the season ends. If the last Sunday is September 30, that is when the season ends. No nonsense like this year when regular season games were being played on October 4.
  2. To accommodate rule 1, if necessary the season will start in late March, add more day/night doubleheaders, and/or take fewer days off.
  3. All Northern teams will open up on the road. Send the Phillies and Mets down to Miami and Atlanta for the first week of the season.
  4. Now, comes the radical part: add a Wild Card team and a round of playoffs to each league.
  5. The regular season ends on the last Sunday in September; immediately following the two Wild Cards in each league will play a Mon-Wed 3-game series.
  6. The winner of that series - road-weary and pitching-depleted - will immediately fly to the home city of the team with the best record in the league to start the Divisional Series on Thursday.
  7. At this point, we essentially resume the same schedule we have now. But because our regular season has ended in September, we have guaranteed the playoffs will not extend into November.
The main benefits of this system should be obvious:
  1. An extra Wild Card team keeps more cities interested in baseball late.
  2. However, we have made it MUCH harder for a Wild Card to advance. The punishing schedule should eliminate most mediocre Wild Cards going all the way.
  3. We have restored something resembling the old Pennant Race. The reward for League Best Record - getting to play a tired, depleted Wild Card team - has real value, rewards season long success, and makes the likelihood of the worthiest team winning higher.
  4. The owners and television - Gods that must be given tribute - get their due. More playoff games, a greater likelihood of great teams advancing, and more meaningful September games for more teams.
  5. The World Series is finished in October - as God and Kenesaw Mountain Landis intended.
Bob Costas and other "purists" will hate this. But remember something about the purists - they don't care whether or not your team is playing meaningful September games because they get to go to the action wherever it is.
And ignore everyone who complains about the power of television. Television wants the most fans possible to see the games - a desire that dovetails with the needs of the most fans, no? Costas might like afternoon playoff games, but the rest of us have to go to work.
And as for the Yankees and Angels, bundle up. It's cold out there.

Note: This is part of the Volunteer Commissioner series, in which I graciously fix problems in various sports. The others posts in the series are:
Fixing Softball (Women's softball)
The Loser's Out Manifesto (Pick-up basketball)
The Beautiful Game's Flaw (soccer)
The Slowest Game (lacrosse).
Swimming is Boring (Swimming)
You're welcome.


Ruthann Fisher said...

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. But since you are a die hard Mets fan, who are you routing for in the Series??

ryan said...

"The other, more insidious problem, is that crappy teams keep winning the World Series."

"2004 Red Sox - a very good team, but not good enough to win the AL East. In 2004 they became the 4th Wild Card team in 7 years to win the Series."

I don't think I'd call the '04 Sox a crappy team or even just a very good team. They won 98 games and had the 3rd best record in baseball (coincidentally, they beat the teams with the best and 2nd best records). Also, their record matched their Expected Wins (unlike the Yankees who won 10 more games than expected).

I do like your ideas about when the season should end. I'm not sure about the Wild Card Mon-Wed series but it's interesting.

Keatang said...

No, the 04 Sox were definitely not a crappy team, and probably shouldn't have been included. I only did because by the time they won a ridiculous number of Wild Cards were winning titles (they were the 4th in 7 years) and teams like the Yanks, which won the division, didn't get much of an advantage from doing so.