erik lundegaard

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Tuesday October 28, 2008

An Open Letter to Bud Selig

Dear Bud:

My friend Jim came over to watch Game 5 of the World Series last night. We were both hoping for a Rays’ win. We were both hoping for at least six games. We haven’t seen that in a while.

The game started at 5:30 p.m. for us, 8:30 p.m. on the east coast, standard fare under your watch. Bad enough the 162-game schedule and three tiers of post-season play have pushed the most important games of the year into late October, when cold weather becomes more and more of a factor; but, for the sake of TV revenue, which is to say MLB revenue, you make them play at night, when there’s no hope an autumn sun will warm things up a bit. Hell, because of Saturday night’s rain delay, you made them play into the darkest part of the morning. The nine-inning game ended at 1:47 a.m. No wonder you got your lowest ratings ever. You warp the game to get it into prime time and then Mother Nature pushes you into a timeslot reserved for infomercials for the lonely and pathetic. Nice irony.

Jim and I talked about this last night. We talked about the weather — even before the rains came. Gametime temps were in the low 40s, and there was a fierce wind blowing in from left field, and I said, for the thousandth time: “This isn’t baseball. This isn’t fun. It’s not fun to watch guys freezing their asses off in the most important games of the year.”

Then the heavens opened up. In the regular season the game would’ve been called, or postponed, by the 5th inning if not sooner. But these guys, playing the most important game of the year, were forced to keep playing. You could see them wondering about it. Looking up, shaking their heads, getting drenched. It was a joke.

The Fox broadcasters seemed oblivious, or muzzled, for a time. While Jim and I were yelling at the TV set, they blathered on about everything but the need to suspend the game.

When they did talk about it, they, or at least Joe Buck, implied that the power to call or suspend a game belonged to the umps during the regular season but to someone else during the World Series. Is that right? Does it belong to you, Bud? If so, what took you so long? Why did you wait for the infield to become a swamp? Did B.J. Upton really need to tie the game, as many have implied, before you acted? And if he hadn’t, would you have kept playing? In that cold swamp? It seems unimaginable.

You want to know what else Jim and I were talking about before the rains came? How long it’s been since we’ve seen a decent World Series. Sweeps in three of the last four years, no sixth game since ’03, no seventh game since ’02.

If this Series doesn’t go to Game 7, that’ll be a record. Since the Series became a best-of-seven affair in 1922, the longest Game 7-drought has been five years, 1935 through 1939, and we’ve already tied that.

We’ve already had four years without a Game 6. That’s a record. The previous record was three years, set several times.

In a way, we’re spoiled. In the 21 years from 1955 through 1975, the World Series went to seven games 14 times. Glory years: Amoros’ catch, Mazeroski’s homer, Gibson and Brock, Fisk waving the ball fair, “Why couldn't McCovey have hit the ball just three feet higher!”

In the last 20 years? We’ve watched a Game 7 only four times: ’91, ’97, ’01 and ’02.

In the last 10 years, we’ve watched five sweeps.

I know. This is beyond your control, beyond anyone’s control. But it seems indicative that something is wrong with the game.

Baseball is a sport where, during the regular season, the worst team wins and the best team loses a third of their games. For the World Series that would mean, in general, a Game 6. October happenstance occasionally takes you to Game 7. So where is it? Why aren’t we getting it? At all?

Is it the extra tier of playoffs? Are teams getting too many off-days? Is the problem playing until late October, and often past midnight, in weather conditions meant for football?

Is this fun?

In the past I always thought it out-of-the-question to ask you guys to give up short-term revenue to think of the long-term interests (and revenue) of the game, but that’s what I’m doing now.

Start off, yes, by taking us back to a 154-game schedule. Then end the season sooner. The last week of September should be the first week of the post-season. The Series should be over by October 20, not beginning on October 22. Late October turns nasty. By scheduling the most important (and potentially, the most-watched) games of the year during this stretch, you’re just inviting the disasters of Monday night.

Then, at some point, whenever you work out your next contract with the next network to cover the post-season, schedule some World Series games during the day. Let’s see the boys of summer play in the sun. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get lucky. Maybe a day game will be postponed right into prime time on the east coast. Maybe some kids will be able to watch it. Maybe they’ll become fans. Nothing’s impossible.

Do this soon. Please.

Next season, I see, you have Game 7 (if we ever make it there again) scheduled for late night on Nov. 5. November!

This isn’t baseball. This isn’t fun.

Best,

Erik
Posted at 02:26 PM on Oct 28, 2008 in category Baseball
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Sunday October 26, 2008

Jamie Moyer: Class Act

A shout-out to Jamie Moyer, 46 years old next month, whom so many people, including myself, have underestimated. He was thought to be washed up in the early 1990s — some suggested a coaching position for him back then — and now it’s 15 years later and he just started Game 3 of the World Series. Probably would’ve won the thing, too, if not for a bum call on a great play. In the top of the 7th, Carl Crawford dribbled a ball down the first base line that Moyer reached for, gloved, and, as he dove, tossed, with his gloved hand, into the bare hand of first baseman Ryan Howard, barely beating Crawford to the bag. Beautiful bang-bang play. But the ump called him safe. A subsequent double meant second and third with nobody out rather than a man on second and one out. Big difference. Both of those Rays’ runs scored — the second after Moyer left to an ovation from the normally boo-happy Philly crowd — and, an inning later, after B.J’s Upton showed what speed can do (infield base hit, stealing second, stealing third and scoring when the throw bounced off his foot) the game was tied and Moyer was no longer the pitcher of record. Still, and even though I’m rooting for the Rays, I’m glad the Phillies went on to win the thing in the bottom of the 9th. That “W” is yours, Jamie. Hope to see you on that stage again soon. Game 7 maybe?

Game 3 was an exciting one but, because of the late start required by Fox, plus those longer half-inning breaks required by Fox so they can squeeze in an extra commercial or three, not to mention the hour-and-a-half rain delay, the game didn’t end in Philly until 1:47 a.m. Brutal. That’s not baseball. At least it wasn’t too cold there. In the ALCS, a friend of mine, who didn’t care between BoSox and Rays, rooted for stadiums, and thus chose classic Fenway over the Tampa Dome. But the Dome, in Florida, is merely an extra reason (as if I needed it) to root for the Rays. I’m tired of watching the best players in baseball play the most important games of the season past midnight in 40-degree weather. I mean, seriously. Get your head out of your ass, Bud. Fix this.

I know: Lotsa luck. It’ll be even worse next year. Game 7 is scheduled for Nov. 5, 2009, which means “The Simpsons” Halloween special will probably air on Nov. 8. Another tradition effed up because of the demands of the marketplace.

Moyer, by the way, as he always does, tipped his cap to the ump after he left the mound in the 7th, saying, “Nice job.” Class act. Someone to emulate.
Posted at 10:20 AM on Oct 26, 2008 in category Baseball
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Monday October 20, 2008

Tampa Bay Rays: Champions of the American League

A quick shout-out to all the Tampa Bay Rays fans out there — particularly those who’ve been following the team, and its many futilities, for years. More than owner Stuart Sternberg (who didn’t own the team until 2004), general manager Andrew Friedman (who didn’t GM it until 2005) or even the players (who did the heavy lifting, but whose senior member, Carl Crawford, has been with the club all of six years), this pennant’s for you. You supported a crappy club. You went to a crappy stadium when there was no hope. You cheered on a team that was last place in its division every year but one of its existence, that never had a record above .500, that never fielded a superstar. Seriously, drink up.

I’ve been rooting for the Rays all year, certainly more than I have for the Mariners, and only slightly less than I have for the Twins. Didn’t know how much I cared for the Rays until the collapse in Game 5, the finger pulling in Game 6, the twisting into pretzels in the 8th inning of Game 7.

I think I was rooting for the Rays not merely because they were the underdog of underdogs but out of some measure of schadenfreude as well. The freude I felt wasn’t so much for the schaden done to the Red Sox (whom I like), or even the Yankees (whom, everyone knows, I despise) but to the Mariners, who were once my team but whose front office effed things up beyond measure throughout the ‘90s and into this decade, until the M’s, who were the Rays of the ‘80s, are now the Rays once again: the worst team in baseball.

But how does the Rays’ success hurt the Mariners? The subhed here says it all. Now that the Rays are World Series-bound, the three teams who have never won a pennant are the Senators/Rangers, founded in 1961; the Expos/Nationals, founded in 1969; and your Seattle Mariners, founded in 1977. And the Mariners are the most embarrassing of the bunch.

Why most embarrassing? After all, haven’t the M’s been around the least amount of time? And haven’t they done the best of the three? Going to the ALCS three times? Fielding future Hall of Famers like Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson? As well as superstars like Edgar Martinez (who should go to the Hall), Jay Buhner and Jamie Moyer?

And that’s the very reason the Mariners should be most embarrassed. This team should’ve gone to the Fall Classic at least once. Hell, they should’ve owned the damned thing. Because every one of those players mentioned above was on the team at the same time. Future baseball historians are going to look back at the mid-to-late ‘90s Mariners, at the talent stuffing that team, and at how little they accomplished, and go: WTF?

Every team gets a shot. The Mariners had two: the Griffey-led team in the ‘90s, and the Ichiro-led team in the early ‘00s. Neither took. Now look. The M’s are in a hole it’ll take years of smart moves to dig out of; and I don’t know that they have the guys to make those smart moves. I think, despite all the firings, they have the opposite.

Enough of that. Here’s to a team that did the most with its shot. And here’s to seven games.
Posted at 05:01 PM on Oct 20, 2008 in category Baseball
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Saturday October 11, 2008

Reporting the Forecast: Sports Illustrated's Baseball Preview Predictions

Since we’re on the subject of predictions...

I have SI’s March 31st issue, their baseball preview issue, and of course they include their predictions for the coming season. Not sure when this became de rigueur for publications. Growing up in the ‘70s, I don’t remember reading how the experts predicted the coming season in, say, the March issue of Baseball Digest. Were we more of a history-based culture then? This is where we’ve been, who knows where we’ll go? Now we ignore the past, are jittery in the present, pull the future towards us like Al Pacino pulling the fax out of the fax machine in The Insider. Haven’t seen it? See it.

Anyway, SI. Six divisions in baseball and they picked only two division winners correctly: Cubs and Angels. I know. Who knew the Rays would rise, the Tigers and Rockies would tank, the Mets would repeat last year’s September slide? They also correctly picked the bottom-dwellers only twice: Orioles and Pirates. They figured the Yankees would have the best record in baseball (94-68) while the O’s would have the worst (64-98), when it turned out to be Angels (100-62) and Nationals (59-102). They had the Mariners second-place in the West, five games out, rather than last place and 39 games out. They had the Twins in last place in the Central rather than playing the White Sox for the title in a one-game playoff.

None of the four teams remaining (Rays vs. Red Sox, Dodgers vs. Phillies) are the four teams they predicted (Tigers vs. Yankees, Cubs vs. Rockies). Their World Series is a classic matchup of Tigers vs. Cubs, with the Tigers winning. Reality? The Tigers finished the season in last place in the A.L. Central. Yeah, worse than the Royals.

But at least SI's predictions were from last March when 30 teams were in play. ESPN.com’s team of 18 experts made their postseason predictions on October 1 and after just one round only five World Series winners are left. Seven experts predicted the Angels would win it all while five gave it to the Cubs. Poof.

Yes, I know, predictions are fun, but we do too much of it. We predict and events play out, and we predict and events play out, and we never own up. I’m reminded — again — of Ron Suskind’s 2004 interview with an official in the Bush administration:
The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” ... “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.
Is it too easy to say, now, particularly now, that that's not the way things have sorted out?
Posted at 10:21 AM on Oct 11, 2008 in category Baseball, Culture
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Wednesday October 08, 2008

More Wrigley Blues

One of the nice things about my day job is that I get to have contact — phonically, internetally — with some good writers around the country, and one of the better ones, out of Chicago, is Will Wagner. Poor bastard's a Cubs fan. Wrote a book about them a few years back, and, following their ignominious trashing in this year's NLDS, he's got a good piece on Sports Illustrated's Web site.

All sports fans play games with themselves, and they, and I, go from being the most superstitious lot this side of Salem ("The Vikings scored a touchdown when I held my breath; I'll have to hold my breath from now on") to the most logical thinkers this side of Mr. Spock ("Really, how does this team's victory or loss affect me? My life's still the same. I've still got the same job, the same friends, the same problems. Really, it doesn't affect me at all.").

Will's piece is an example of why the latter almost never works.

Posted at 08:12 AM on Oct 08, 2008 in category Baseball
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