erik lundegaard

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Saturday October 17, 2009

Countdown to the World Series-III

We're still 11 days away from the start of the 2009 World Series—and y'all know how I feel about that—but today, Oct. 17, is particularly significant as a demarcation point between how we did things then and how we do things now. Except for the anomalous years of 1910 and '11, every World Series from 1903 to 1971 was finished by this date. Every one. Since the advent of the division series in 1995? Only one World Series had even begun by this date, and that one, in 1998, began on this date. Here's your chart. The gray vertical lines are the first and last days of October; the light-green vertical line is October 17:

How's the weather where you are? It turned pretty crappy here in Seattle a couple of days ago. Yesterday it dumped. Today it's damp, drizzly, gray. But at least it's not as cold as it is in New York.

The solution to this problem, as I've said, is to play through, play through, play through. No dayoffs during the playoffs. Maybe no days off during the World Series, either. This is hardly unprecedented. For your reading pleasure, a list of the 22 World Series that were played through without even one stinkin' day off or postponed game:

  • 1906: Chicago White Sox 4, Chicago Cubs 2 (Oct. 9-14)
  • 1907: Chicago Cubs 4, Detroit Tigers 0, Tie 1 (Oct. 8-12)
  • 1908: Chicago Cubs 4, Detroit Tigers 1 (Oct. 10-14)
  • 1913: Philadelphia Athletics 4, New York Giants 1 (Oct. 7-11)
  • 1922: New York Giants 4, New York Yankees 0, tie 1 (Oct. 4-8)
  • 1923: New York Yankees 4, New York Giants 2 (Oct. 10-15)
  • 1924: Washington Senators 4, New York Giants 3 (Oct. 4-10)
  • 1927: New York Yankees 4, Pittsburgh Pirates 9 (Oct. 5-8)
  • 1933: New York Giants 4, Washington Senators 1 (Oct. 3-7)
  • 1934: St. Louis Cardinals 4, Detroit Tigers 3 (Oct. 3-9)
  • 1935: Detroit Tigers 4, Chicago Cubs 2 (Oct.  2-7)
  • 1937: New York Yankees 4, New York Giants 1 (Oct. 6-10)
  • 1940: Cincinnati Reds 4, Detroit Tigers 3 (Oct. 2-8)
  • 1944: St. Louis Cardinals 4, St. Louis Browns 2 (Oct. 4-9)
  • 1947: New York Yankees 4, Brooklyn Dodgers 3 (Sept. 30-Oct. 6)
  • 1948: Cleveland Indians 4, Boston Braves 2 (Oct 6-11)
  • 1949: New York Yankees 4, Brooklyn Dodgers 1 (Oct. 5-9)
  • 1950: New York Yankees 4, Philadelphia Phillies 0 (Oct. 4-7)
  • 1952: New York Yankees 4, Brooklyn Dodgers 3 (Oct. 1-7)
  • 1953: New York Yankees 4, Brooklyn Dodgers 2 (Sept. 30-Oct.5)
  • 1954: New York Giants 4, Cleveland Indians 0 (Sept. 29-Oct. 2)
  • 1955: Brooklyn Dodgers 4, New York Yankees 3 (Sept. 18-Oct. 4)

I figure if they didn't have off-days for travel between Chicago and Detroit in 1907, players don't need them now, a century later.

Playing every day, as baseball was meant to be played, is the only way we're going to get back to some semblance of good, World Series weather. Jimmy Rollins will thank you, Robinson Cano will thank you, and I'll thank you.

Posted at 10:39 AM on Oct 17, 2009 in category Baseball
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Thursday October 15, 2009

How to Fix the World Series—In a Good Way

The graph below charts on which days (and nights) in October (and September and November) the World Series played—from 1903 to 2009. Orange represents game days, yellow represents off-days. The gray vertical lines represent the first and last days of October:

I was surprised that many of the first World Series games were played in mid-October. In two years, in fact—1910 and 1911, those orange lines sticking out at the top of the chart—they didn't begin until mid-October, and, because of a weeklong rain delay in Philadelphia, the 1911 Series didn't end until October 27th. But they learned their lesson. Not that one shouldn't play the World Series in Philadelphia (although...), but you need to start earlier to hopefully hit the good October weather. So they started earlier. After 1911, October 10th (1923) was the latest Series start until 1969. That's a good time to play the most important games of the year. Indian summer, we used to call it. World Series weather, Billy Crystal used to call it.

Four events have pushed the most important games of the year deeper into the darkest, coldest part of October: the introduction of the 162-game schedule in 1961; the introduction of the best-of-five playoffs in 1969; the shift to a best-of-seven playoffs in 1985; and the introduction of the best-of-five division series in 1995.

Overall, as many as 20 games (162-154+5+7), and at least 15 games (162-154+3+4), have been added to the post-season schedule.

For a while, MLB accommodated these extra games by pushing up the start of the baseball season into early April and sometimes into late March. But eventually MLB began running out of room here, too, and the long push into late October began. Al Qaeda prompted the first November Series in 2001; and now Commissioner Bud Selig, with a nod to the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March and a yes-man attitude toward the networks, has adopted al Qaeda's schedule for 2009. Game Four is set for Nov. 1st. Game Seven, if we get there, is scheduled for Nov. 5th.

Can anything—short of reverting back to the 154-game schedule or eliminating a tier of playoffs—be done to reverse this trend?

Of course. Eliminate most of the off-days in October. I've written about this before.

This year the regular season ended on Sunday, October 4th. Assuming each playoff series goes the maximum, there are, for each team, 11 off-days before the World Series even begins. In other words, half the days in October are off-days.

So why not have the players play through? That's what they do during the regular season. With this method, we could've had the following 2009 post-season schedule:

  • Division series: Begin Tuesday, Oct. 6 (game 1) and play through, if necessary, to Saturday, Oct. 10 (game 5). Day off Sunday, or for postponed games.
  • Championship series: Begin Monday, Oct. 12 (game 1) and play through, if necessary, to Sunday, Oct. 18 (game 7). Day off Monday, or for postponed games.
  • World Series: Begin Tuesday, October 20.

We save a week, we don't go into November, and teams have to play the kind of games they played to get to the post-season: notably, using fifth starters and more of their bullpen. Teams dance with those that brung them. Hell, with this method, in a non-WBC year, we could start the World Series as early as mid-October. Maybe as early as Oct. 12. And we haven't done that since 1984.

Arguments against?

  • Wait! That means four games per day are played during the division series! How can I watch them all? Don't you have TiVo? Or DVR? Or the Internet? I might also suggest not watching them all and, you know, getting a semblance of a life.
  • Who wants to watch fifth starters when you could watch C.C. Sabathia? Nothing would please most baseball fans more than watching the Yankees fumble with their fifth starter.
  • Is the weather really that important, Uncle Erik? Not sure if anyone would actually raise this objection but here's the evidence: the average monthly temperatures for the following cities, according to weatherbase.com, which suggests it makes sense to lean toward September rather than play into November:
City Sept. Oct. Nov.
New York 68 58 48
Philadelphia 68 57 47
Chicago 65
53
40
Minneapolis 61 50 33
  • Dude! The networks won't allow it. And the networks rule! I admit I have no idea what kind of negotiations go on with your FOXes and ESPNs and TBSs, or why the networks would want off-days in the first place, since off-days cause fans and casual observers to lose the thread of the storyline. "What day is it on again?"  Etc. But it feels like MLB could push this if they wanted. They could push this because they have their own network now. Hell, if they got the MLB network on basic cable—and, again, I'm not sure what you'd have to do to get a network on basic cable—they could elminate your FOXes and ESPNs and TBSs completely. Maybe that's their strategy. I hope it is.
  • Why mess with a good thing? Because it's not a good thing. And not just aesthetically or historically; it doesn't make market sense, either. The trend in television ratings, and thus ad revenue, has been down since the early '80s. Look here. Or here. The ratings for the first game of the 1986 World Series? 24.2. The ratings for the first game of the 2008 World Series? 9.2. In fact, last year, for the first time ever, every game of the World Series had a rating below 10—while the third game had a rating of 6.1. Ouch. I don't know if what I suggest would reverse the ratings trend; I just know that what they're doing now isn't turning people, and television sets, on.

Baseball has a problem but it has an easy solution. Eliminate off-days. Maintain the thread of the storyline. Dance with the guys that brung ya. It's win-win-win-win. 

Baseball is supposed to be played every day in fair weather. We're now playing the most important games every other day in horrendous weather. And that's not baseball.

Posted at 09:11 AM on Oct 15, 2009 in category Baseball
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Wednesday October 14, 2009

What the World Series Needs

Must be tough being a columnist, coming up with an angle everyday, but can't say much for William C. Rhoden's angle in The New York Times two days ago:

Still, what Major League Baseball needs is a great World Series, a Series for the ages. And with all due respect to those two other potential matchups, it’s a Yankees-Dodgers World Series that could take the game back to its roots at a time when baseball desperately needs to recover a portion of the trust, if not the innocence, that it has lost in the steroid era.

First, I think there are three other potential matchups: Yankees vs. Phillies; Angels vs. Phillies; Angels vs. Dodgers.

Second, I don't think this is what Major League Basebal needs.

I understand the impulse. It's a classic match-up: the two teams that have met the most—11 times—in the fall (now almost-winter) classic. You have the Torre angle, the Manny angle, east coast and west coast. You have coast-to-coast and in living color.

But this is what the World Series needs more than that match-up:

  • 7 games
  • World Series weather
  • Day games
  • Games that end before midnight on the east coast
  • No games in November
  • No games on Halloween
  • No games, really, the last week in October

What the Series doesn't need is another appearance by the Yankees, who have been 39 times, more than twice as often as the second-most successful team (the Dodgers: 18 times), and who have a payroll twice as high as most other teams in the Majors, including the Dodgers ($208 million to $100 million), to ensure that they keep on coming.

There have been a lot of problems with the World Series in recent years but the Yankees not being there has always been a pleasure. Hell, it should be the Series' official motto:

The World Series
Yankee-Free Since 2003

Posted at 06:14 AM on Oct 14, 2009 in category Baseball
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Saturday October 10, 2009

Countown to the World Series—II

Fun fact! By this day, October 10, every World Series in the 1930s had ended:

  • 1930: Oct 1-Oct 8 (six games)
  • 1931: Oct 1-Oct 10 (seven games)
  • 1932: Sept 28-Oct 2 (four games)
  • 1933: Oct 3-Oct 7 (five games) *
  • 1934: Oct 3-Oct 9 (seven games) *
  • 1935: Oct 2-Oct 7 (six games) *
  • 1936: Sept 30-Oct 6 (six games)
  • 1937: Oct 6-Oct 10 (five games) *
  • 1938: Oct 5-Oct 9 (four games)
  • 1939: Oct 4-Oct 8 (four games)

What are the asterisks for? Mathematicians? Anybody?

Those are the years when there were no off-days (or even rain-outs) during the World Series. That's right. Despite traveling between New York and D.C. (in '33), St. Louis and Detroit (in '34), Detroit and Chicago (in '35) and, well, the Bronx and Coogan's Bluff (in '37), and travel being limited to 1930s-type travel, they played straight through. I don't know why we can't do this 70-80 years later. It's pretty awful scheduling the brunt of the World Series in November when the LCS's are allowing three days off per series—including in the middle of homestands. I mean, WTF? The fewer days off, the more teams will have to dance with those that brung them, including especially fourth and fifth starters. The more it'll be like the rest of the season. The better weather it'll be played in.

Countdown to the start of the 2009 World Series: 18 days. Every team has, at most, 10 games to play to get there. 10 games in 18 days.

Is baseball being run or run into the ground?

Posted at 03:14 PM on Oct 10, 2009 in category Baseball
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Friday October 09, 2009

Countdown to the World Series

Welcome to October 9, the day they played the final game of the World Series in the following years: 1966 (Orioles 4, Dodgers 0), 1961 (Yankees 4, Reds 1), 1958 (Yankees 4, Braves 3), 1949 (Yankees 4, Dodgers 1), 1944 (Cardinals 4, Browns 2), 1938 (Yankees 4, Cubs 0), 1934 (Cardinals 4, Tigers 3), 1929 (Athletics 4, Cubs 1), and, most infamously, 1919 (Reds 5, White Sox 3).

By this day, 29 World Series had already ended. Some quick facts:

  • Earliest final game of the World Series: Sept. 11, 1918, to accommodate World War I (Red Sox 4, Cubs 2).
  • Earliest final game of the World Series in a non-war year: October 2, in 1932 (Babe Ruth's called shot) and 1954 (Willie Mays' catch).
  • Earliest final game of the World Series after the 162-game schedule was instituted in 1961: October 6, 1963, when the Dodgers swept the Yankees in four games: Koufax, Podres, Drysdale, Koufax.
  • Earliest final game fo the World Series after the best-of-five playoffs were instituted in 1969: October 14, 1984: Tigers 4, Padres 1.
  • Earliest final game of the World Series after the best-of-seven playoffs were instituted in 1985: October 20, in 1988 (Dodgers 4, Athletics 1) and 1990 (Reds 4, Athletics 0).
  • Earliest final game of the World Series after the wild-card round was added in 1995: October 21, 1998 (Yankees 4, Padres 0).
  • Earliest final game of the World Series this decade: October 25, 2003 (Marlins 4, Yankees 2)

Countdown to the first game of the 2009 World Series? 19 days. The Series starts October 28, 2009. Only two World Series have lasted longer than this year's start date: Last year's, which ended on October 29, and the Sept. 11, 2001-interrupted season, which didn't end until November 4.

Nice planning.

Posted at 09:44 AM on Oct 09, 2009 in category Baseball
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