The Tournament

I was discussing the post season with a friend of mine who is about my age. It is interesting how we both feel the World Series was so much better years ago (when it really meant something). It used to be special when we could not watch on TV because the games were played during the day and we were in school. I remember sneaking a transistor radio to school so I could try and listen to an inning or two. The series was usually over between October 7th and 10th when the weather was still pretty nice. Now a days, the series encroaches November. The regular season seems like the Fourth of July picnic, so very long ago. So what has changed?

My friend and I grew old. That’s what changed.

Not too long ago I read an article that described how what we grew up with as kids seemed so much better than it is today. That theme was the premise of Woody Allen’s most recent film “Midnight in Paris”. The main character, Gil Pender played by actor Owen Wilson, longs for the past because he thinks things were so much better. As he walks around Paris late at night, he magical travels backward in time and discovers that his literary heroes from yesteryear feel the same way he did. Their past clearly was better than their present.  I often remember fondly of a ten team American and National League who sent their champion to the World Series. No divisions, no wild cards–ah the good old days.

But in fact, the ten team leagues of the 1960s was one of the shortest lived major league configurations in baseball history. It lasted from 1961 (1962 in the NL) to 1968. In 1969, the leagues were split into divisions, adding a league championship series to the post season mix. Since then, all hell has broken loose—or has it?

Divisional play has now been around for forty-three seasons. If you consider 1900 as being the start of the modern baseball era, divisional play has been around for 38% of the last 112 seasons. Prior to 1961, there were eight teams in each league (the AL was born in 1901). A 154 game season concluded with a best of seven World Series. The only changes were minor such as a few franchises moving to a new city. That was 60 years or 54% of modern baseball history.

I grew up in the sixties. The format that I wax poetic about, ten teams in a league, was around for just 7% of modern baseball history. So what makes me think it was the best of times for baseball?

It’s simply a matter of perspective. Those twenty teams just happened to be in that format when I first fell in love with baseball.

So the idea that anyone’s memory of the past far outshines the present is only opinion and not based in real fact. But when discussing the World Series, there is an important distinction. Prior to 1969, the two teams in the World Series were the two best teams, a first place team from each league. As soon as divisional play was introduced, that claim could no longer be made.  Then it was possible for a team with a lesser record within the NL or AL could represent their league in the World Series. Many considered that sacrilege at the time. One can only wonder what those opinions would have been had they known that some day (our present) a team with the fifth best record in their league would be able to compete on the grandest baseball stage of all.

That brings us to today where the San Francisco Giants just completed a four game sweep of the Detroit Tigers to become the world champions of 2012. Neither of these teams had the best record in their respective leagues. In fact, the Tigers did have the fifth best record in the American League, even less wins than the two wild card winners. In the NL the Giants record was better than the number two wild card Cardinals and tied with the 94 win first wild card Braves. But the Nationals (98 wins), Reds (97 wins), Yankees (95 wins) and Athletics (94 wins) all went home early, losing out at a chance to be in the Series.

No hard feelings. That’s the system all parties, the owners and players, agreed upon. So if the Yankees, who won 95 games, are now being considered a failure, were do we go from there?

Around this area, Yankee fans continue to call in the talk shows blasting their team’s failure in the post season. Here’s a team that has been to the post season every year but one since the last ice age. Yet their fans are acting like the Bombers are the Houston Astros. It is absolutely ludicrous that so many fans believe that the only day they can be happy is when their team wins the last game of the World Series. Do you know the odds of that? It’s one in 30 and that does not take into account the talent on the teams. Of course the odds are different for every club.

How is it that a team that wins 90 or more games is a failure? They are not a failure. That is a very good season. But only one team can ultimately come out on top. The Yankees won 95 games, hit 245 home runs during the regular season, staved off a huge challenge for the division title by the Baltimore Orioles down the stretch, won the first round of the playoffs with less than stellar offense but then got swept in the ALCS by a buzz saw from Detroit. So they’re a failure? If so, what does that make the Cubs?

Here’s the way we need to look at the baseball season. There are two parts, the regular season then there is the Tournament. Yes, I purposely capitalized the word.

The regular season serves the purpose of giving one third of the teams an opportunity to participate in the post season Tournament. A team does not have to have the best record in the Tournament but the team with the better record gets a better opportunity because finally seeding makes sense.

Certainly it is better this year than ever before if your team wins a division. The six teams that win a division title now get at least three games in the post season. The two wild cards from each league must fight over who is the better wild card by winning a single game. I love this idea because it gives incentive and motivation for a team to win a division.  The Atlanta Braves were upset with the format because after 94 wins, they were bounced by the Cardinals. Well Atlanta, that’s the way it goes. Next time, try and win the division.

So to the fans of the Yankees, Cardinals, Nationals, Athletics, Rangers, Braves, Reds, and Orioles…rejoice. Your teams did not fail. They got to the Tournament and that is an accomplishment. If your team made the league championship series even better yet. Am I saying you should not be disappointed your team didn’t get to the end? No, of course not.  Just have some perspective. Enjoy every regular season win and put each loss into perspective. Baseball should be an escape, not the cause of acid reflux.

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