Thursday, September 02, 2010
2010: If we still had pennant racesPosted by Joe Dimino
Let's take a gander at how good the "pennant races," 1969-93 style, would look this year. Obviously the schedules would be slightly different, but the impact of the unbalanced schedule is generally much less than most think anyway.
The Yankees and Devil Rays would be neck and neck with no safety net. 1993 Braves-Giants or 1980 Yankees-Orioles anyone? This would be one of the classic pennant races for the ages.
We'd have the Twins, Rangers and White Sox in an excellent three-team race.
The Phillies would be pulling away. Wow, the Cardinals really have fallen apart—five games back from Philly at the start of play today (Thursday). I didn't realize this one was turning into a clunker. Think about how the Phillies' season would look from this perspective.
Finally, check out the NL West: 1982 all over again . . . Atlanta and Cincy tied, San Diego a game and a half back and the Giants lurking 4 1/2 back.
The tension that would have been building over this season with these races would have been phenomenal. Instead I've barely paid attention to the season, knowing eight of these 11 teams are going to be in the tournament anyway.
And what has the wild-card and three division set-up given us?
A safety net for the Rays/Yankees. Boston would be just as far out, and there are no additional contenders (which is the whole point of the wild card) in the AL. Texas has no pennant race; the Rangers just get to cruise. The Twins have an extra cushion as well. Again, this completely sucks the life out of the regular season.
In the NL there are no additional contenders either. This alignment has made the Phillies' season more exciting, but really they've just swapped spots with the Rangers. The Phightins are a game and a half up on SF as opposed to five up on St. Louis. SF is a couple of games closer to the playoffs also, but the Giants are still a contender in either scenario.
So instead of three great month-long races, we get a week of manufactured playoffs where everyone starts even again. We also risk losing both of the two best teams in the AL from the final four, instead of guaranteeing one will be there in addition to the great final month of the season they'd provide.
I do follow the "old school" standings all season long every year. Generally in the first round, aside from the Yankees, I root for whatever the LCS would have been in that format. As a fan, I would gladly sacrifice the Yankees making the playoffs as often if it meant getting my pennant races back.
Almost every year the old pennant races would have made for a much more exciting September than the current one, and it's amazing how generally very few "extra contenders" are created, which was the whole point of the thing: to boost September attendance around the league. The extra week of playoffs was secondary in the motivation for changing the alignment.
There is so much public clamor for those games, that they've landed on cable: The networks don't even care about them. They'd rather show soap operas. Major League Baseball has devalued the regular season much like the NCAA Tournament has for college basketball (don't get me wrong, I love the NCAA Tournament, but I don't pay much attention to the sport before the conference tournaments). I'm obviously a serious baseball fan, but each year I find myself more and more focused on October and less and less on April-September, which is a shame.
Joe Dimino was an author with The Hardball Times who stopped writing several years ago due to real life taking up too much time, as well as the longest case of writer's block on record. He founded the The Hall of Merit. You can contact Joe by clicking here.