You can point to any number of issues animating the current lockout that portend calamity, of course. But you can count on half your hand how many would bypass calamity into downright disaster. Expanding the postseason even further than it has been already is the big one.
As Deadspin analyst Sam Fels knows only too well, the fourteen-team postseason proposal is bad enough in and of itself, with the players “very hesitant, but mostly because they know it’s the biggest matzo ball they have to lob to the owners in order to get what they want in another area.”
That plus suggestions of tying the overdue and very needed universal designated hitter to other things either side wants are the skunks awaiting their invitation into the room. The universal DH should be made so with no strings attached. The further-expanded postseason should be rejected likewise.
“The players know that the more playoff teams there are, the more teams will be aiming for the middle and the bottom seeds rather than going all out to win divisions and top seeds which deflates salaries,” Fels writes. “But the players might want whatever they can get in return for expanded playoffs.”
Players, don’t do it. You’ll live to regret it. You’re under no obligation to validate the owners’ tunnel vision. You’re under every obligation to take up your share in reminding one and all that the common good of baseball isn’t the same thing as making money for it, or trying to inflate the profits that the owners will likely do all in their power to keep you from enjoying your reasonable share of it.
The incumbent postseason structure has already diluted both the meaning of the regular season and the depth of a real championship. Someone, anyone, needs to remind his fellow players, competitors that they are, that there’s no genuine competition or metaphysical engagement in playing or watching the battle and the chills, spills, and thrills of fighting to the final breaths to finish . . . in second place, or even further back.
Baseball’s three-division leagues need to go. Proposals that should be heard include making each league a four-team, four-division, two-conference league, which would require expansion of one new team in each league to even things out. While we’re at it, let’s do away with regular-season interleague play once and for all except the two occasions on which it’s supposed to mean anything substantial: the All-Star Game, and the World Series.
And I’m prepared to get even more outlandish, if that’s the way you think of that basic idea. But hear me out. In two-conference leagues, assuming interleague play goes the way of the Louisville Grays*, the regular season scheduling should be strictly intra-conference.
You still want a none-too-short postseason, then? There’s a right way to do it, and that’s the sort of thing that will facilitate it, without further fostering the oversaturation that’s been the real killer of postseason interest.
That, and eliminating the wild cards entirely. There should be no postseason reward for finishing in second place or further back. (You say you want to put the brakes on tanking teams? There you have it. They shouldn’t be that willing to tank if they know it’s either finish in first place or wait till next year. ) Everybody with me? Good. Now here ’tis.
The two division winners in each league’s conferences can play a best-of-five division series. That’s eight teams, ladies and gentlemen, with a maximum possible ten games. Then, the two conference winners in each league can play a best-of-five League Championship Series. Five more games maximum. (Which is the way the LCS was played from its 1969 birth through 1985.) Then, your league champions would still meet in a still best-of-seven World Series.
That’s 22 games maximum possible as opposed to today’s maximum possible 43 postseason games. With such prospectively reduced postseason saturation, think of the broadcast dollars baseball and the broadcasters can still mulct from advertisers. They’d still be glandular enough. And championship legitimacy would be restored at long enough last.
A splendid time should be had by one and all watching the regular season mean something once again, the broadcast ratings return, the interest never flagging, and the bank accounts still swelling. (Not to mention reminding one and all, the owners especially, that fans don’t buy tickets, or tune in, because they want to watch the owners.) It would be depth triumphant over mere width.
Would that help begin settling such issues as service time manipulation or owners’ continuing bids to suppress player earnings? Would it help get out of Commissioner Nero’s head such nebulous things as three-batter minimums for relief pitchers and into his head that umpires require true accountability at long enough last?
Would it help awaken both the commissioner and his paymasters that the real cause of game delaying is the two minutes or more of broadcast commercials not just between innings but with every pitching change?
Would it help get into the thick skulls of today’s organisations that if they’re that dismayed with one-dimensional offenses they ought to seek the next prospective Henry Aarons and bypass the next prospective Adam Dunns? That they ought to demand a universal, no monkeying around baseball that gives the pitchers and the hitters at least the appearance of an even battle? (Remember: Good pitching is still going to beat good hitting—and vice versa.)
Those are questions for which the answers now remain undetermined. But that realignment toward the greater and more meaningful postseason might be a start. Take me out to the real World Series again.
What should be the proverbial absolute no-brainer is the universal DH. The evidence is established long enough. Pitchers as a class can’t hit and never could. It’s not worth the periodic thrills from the outliers among them to continue perpetuating the farce (not to mention the dangers) of pitchers at the plate.
It’s not. worth. it. to continue seeing rallies ending when pitchers on the mound pitch around their ways out of jams (thank you again, Mr. Boswell) by handing the batters ahead of them passes so they can rid themselves cheaply of that pitcher coming up to the plate swinging a Ronzoni Slugger.
And it shouldn’t be tied to any other issue. Especially not to the postseason that requires rethinking back to the point where a championship means something genuinely substantial.
* The Louisville Grays were charter members of the National League in 1876. They lived long enough to be undone by major league baseball’s first known gambling scandal in 1877.
Pitcher Jim Devlin, left fielder George Hall, and utilityman Al Nichols were caught throwing games for payoffs and banned from baseball for life. Shortstop Bill Craver was banned for life for refusing to cooperate with the investigation that unearthed the scandal.