Monday, October 3, 2016

I Liked It Better When... #5

-- By Tom Phillips

An elegy for the baseball season:  I liked it better when it was about winning the pennant.

Fenway Park, Boston 
Up until 1969, when Major League Baseball began divisional play, there were just two leagues, and two champions at the end of the 162-game regular season.  The two pennant winners then met in the World Series, a best-of-seven playoff, to crown one or the other.  But both were legitimate champions, and flew their banners proudly at their home fields.

Today, big-league baseball has 30 teams in six divisions, but just one winner.  The regular season is no longer a race to the finish line, but more like the starting line. Teams spend all spring and summer jockeying for position in the October post-season, where ten teams compete for the final two slots in the World Series.  Six times in the last 20 years, the World Series winner didn't even win its division, but sneaked in as a wild card in the playoffs.  Any team that's healthy after the grueling regular season stands a chance.

It's been good for fans, and baseball as a business.  Fans stay engaged when their team stays in contention, and more playoff spots mean more games, bigger crowds and TV audiences.

It's not so good for players.  The season used to end early in October, but now it goes until Halloween, 20-odd playoff games added to an already punishing schedule.  World Series teams face a short winter, less time to rest and recuperate.  Not once in this century has a World Series winner been able to repeat.