erik lundegaard

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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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Tuesday October 06, 2009

My Top 5 Metrodome Moments

the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome

The Metrodome knows how to go out with a bang, doesn't it? No meaningless final baseball game there.

On September 30, 1981, I was at the Twins final game at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn., and it was about as meaningless as they come. A cold drizzly day, a loss to Kansas City, a speech by Calvin Griffith. It was the last home game of a godawful baseball season split in two because of a June/July work stoppage. The Twins were abyssmal in the first half (17-39) and merely lousy in the second (24-29), and overall finished in last place in the seven-team A.L. West. Yes, behind even Seattle. Attendance in that final game reflected their record, and the gametime temperatures (in the 50s), and the day of the week (Wed. afternoon). Only 15,900 bothered to show up to say good-bye.

In the middle of Calvin's speech, one of those 15,000, a lanky fan with long hair, jumped onto the field and loped from first base to home, where he did a bellyflop onto the plate; then he stood, arms raised, like he'd accomplished something. Since no security guard stopped him, others jumped onto the field, too. They ran the bases, gathered infield dirt, tore up the grass. They tore up seats and signs. My friend Brian McCann and I dropped onto the field, too, ran the bases, gathered nothing. Former cross-country runners, we'd brought socks to keep our hands warm, and we walked out to left-center field and took turns tossing the balled-up socks to one another, as if the balled-up socks were a ball, as if were making a great catch against the wall. It was fun but melancholy. We were 18 and already nostalgic. We were all moving indoors.

The final regular-season game at the Metrodome was supposed to be Sunday but the Twins went on a tear, winning 16 of their last 20, and caught first-place Detroit on Saturday, stayed even with them Sunday—both teams won—and beat them in a 12-inning, back-and-forth, incredible 163rd game this afternoon. No hippies rushed the field. No seats were torn up. It was a party, not a wake, and now the party's moving outdoors.

Everyone and their brother is counting down their favorite Metrodome Memories—Hrbek's grand slam in '87; Puckett's catch and game-winning homerun in '91; Gaetti and Brunansky and Morris and Knoblauch and Hunter and Santana and Mauer and Morneau. Here's mine. It's limited to the games I went to, which wasn't many. I was living in Taiwan during the '87 Series, Seattle during the '91 Series. The only post-season game I attended at the Metrodome was Game 1 of the 2006 ALDS, Oakland vs. Minnesota. My boss had a luxury suite and me and my friend Dave P. got in on the action. Except there wasn't much action. We had Johan Santana going, the surest thing in baseball, but freakin' Frank Thomas hit two homeruns, and the Twins lost, 3-2, on their way to being swept by the freakin' A's, who would then lose to the freakin' Tigers in the ALCS, who would then lose to the freakin' St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, in what was, give or take a Yankee trouncing, a pretty lame post-season.

Here are my moments. I'd love to hear yours:

  • 5. Murderball at the Dome. In May 2006 I invited family and friends to the company suite for a Twins/Mariners matchup. Around the seventh inning, the son of my friend Jim Walsh, leaning out of the box, pointed out someone on the walkway below and Jim began to chat him up. I assumed an old friend. But it was Mark Zupan, the poster boy for the 2005 documentary “Murderball,” a scene from which had topped my MSNBC list of the top 10 scenes of 2005. A bunch of us went down, talked to the dude, and had a great time.

Jim Walsh and Mark Zupan at the Metrodome, 2006

  • 4. Caffeinating Jordy. My sister, Karen, found it funny that I was nervous about being solely responsible for my nephew, Jordy, 5, for an August 2006 weekday afternoon game, but I was. I imagined, in the huge crowds, taking my eye off him for a second, turning around, not seeing him. Jordy? Jordy? That panic. Nothing like it happened, of course. We had box seats along the first-base side for Francisco Liriano's comeback game, but Liriano, injured worse than they thought, lasted, I believe, three innings. Jordy lasted five. At first I tried to get his attention away from the puzzles in his program and onto the field by talking up numbers: on the players' backs, and on the radar gun that measured the speed of each pitch. He liked this last part—even if it was the fact of the number, rather than what the number represented, that impressed him. “Wow: 93 miles per hour!” he said. “Wow: 72 miles per hour!” he said. Then I made a rookie mistake. Buying him a slice of pizza, I asked what he'd liked to drink with it. Lemonade? Coke? Oh, Coke? You want Coke? I think I bought the medium, 20 ounces, for a kid who'd never had caffeine before. By the time I gave him back to his mother at the nearby Star-Tribune, he was climbing the walls. Literally. The two rode the elevator to the third floor and Jordy tried to scale those walls. No need to thank me. It's what uncles are for.
  • 3. Precursor to the '87 magic. In September 1987, a month before I left for Taipei, Taiwan, I went to a game—my first game at the Dome in a long while—with my friends Dave P. and Terri, who had recently moved (for Terri), or moved back (for Dave), to Minneapolis. The Twins were in the thick of a division race but attendance was slim. We got bleacher seats and kept moving about: Now in left, now in center, now in right. Which is where we were sitting when Kirby Puckett won the game in extra innings with a homerun. Exciting! People cheered a bit, then went home. They expected little because Minnesota never won big. Minnesota comes in second: the '65 Series, four Super Bowls, the presidential elections in 1968 and 1984. That's how we roll. So imagine my suprise, a month later in Taipei, hearing about the huge roar of the crowds at the Dome, and the frenzied fans waving...what? Homer whatsis? When did that start? I got the final skinny listening to the radio in the Chens' living room in the middle of a flood: “The Minnesota Twins, behind the pitching of Frank Viola and the decibels of the Dome, beat...” Half a world away, I made my own noise.
  • 2. Kent Hrbek is trying to kill me! In April/May 1991, a month before I moved to Seattle, Dave P. and I bought some scalped tickets, then moved closer and closer and closer. This was the year after the year the Twins finished in last place, so it was a sparse crowd again and easy to move down. By the middle of the game we were maybe 10 rows back on the homeplate/third-base side of the field, but closer to homeplate. Kent Hrbek, a lefty, was up. Here's what Dave remembers: ducking, as the foul ball rocketed towards his head but curved towards mine. Here's what I remember: my hand stinging, and the ball about 10 rows behind me. “If you had worse reflexes, you could've wound up in the hospital!” friends told me. “If I'd had a glove, I could've caught it,” I responded.
  • 1. A one-hop strike to third. In August 2006, our publisher got an invite for a post-afternoon-game fundraiser at the Dome. You'd go on the field, meet Tony Oliva, play a softball game. Sounded fun. The publisher couldn't make it but asked me if I wanted to go, and I brought along my sis and her family, and the old man, who even in his 70s plays softball three times a week. Meeting Tony-O again was fun. He was one of my favorite players growing up, and the recipient, on a long-ago Camera Day at Met Stadium, of the butt-hug visible on the bio page. Everyone else gave him fundraiser-provided baseballs to sign but I brought along that picture. “Who's this handsome fellow?” he said, looking at it. One of the organizers took a Polaroid of me and him, along with the picture, 35 years after the original. The greater fun that evening, though, was shagging flies in left field. I'd been playing softball in a tavern league for about 10 years, and was a serviceable fielder with a pretty accurate arm. With someone hitting fungoes from third base—baseballs not softball—I tracked them against that teflon roof and caught them in that Major League stadium. One ball I caught near the warning track, and a bit of the kid got ahold of me. I threw the ball hard against the wall, speared it on a hop, turned and threw a one-hop strike to third base. Just like the big boys. OK, just like the young kids.

R.I.P., ya big marshmallow. You were the only Major League stadium I ever played in.

Posted at 11:05 AM on Oct 06, 2009 in category Baseball
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