Baseball postsMonday October 07, 2013
What's a Level Playing Field?
Here’s a quick quote from Tyler Kepner’s piece yesterday defending Major League Baseball from the likes of, I assume, Jonathan Mahler, who, in the Times last week, wrote about how baseball was no longer central to the culture. One of Kepner's talking points is how MLB has leveled its playing field:
Twenty-six of the 30 teams—all but Kansas City, Miami, Seattle and Toronto—have reached the playoffs in the last eight seasons.
Fans in Seattle: *heavy sigh*
Not sure why Kepner limited it to eight seasons, though. Two years earlier, Miami, then Florida, won its second World Series title, so he could've eliminated them by making it an even 10. Toronto has its two titles, of course (’92 and ’93), while KC its one (’85). Which leaves our Seattle Mariners as the worst of the worst. No trips to the postseason in eight years; no trips to the World Series ever. Despite the talent that came through here in the 1990s. Despite “Refuse to Lose.” Ever since, it’s been “Stallin’ to Win.” They’re good at that. I’m talking the front office. I’m talking Lincoln and Armstrong.
Kepner’s math is also a bit off. Does he mean the last eight seasons including this one? That’s the only way you include the Pirates. Or does he mean 2005, too? That's the only way you include Houston. In eight seasons you can't have both, yet he includes both. So he obviously means eight-plus seasons. Nearly nine.
What does Kepner's level playing field look like anyway? Here's a chart of the post-season trips, etc, dating back to 2005, and including 2013 thus far:
Not that level. A few teams still dominate, and titles are won by those few teams: Yankees, Cards, Phillies, Red Sox. The ChiSox and especially the San Francisco Giants are the exceptions to this latter rule. Generally the more often you get to the post-season, the better your chance of winning it all. The Braves, Twins and Reds are exceptions. Numerous trips, not even a championship series, let alone a pennant, let alone a title.
At the least, though, these eight-plus years are more level than the previous 10, 1995-2004, when the Yankees won four titles and six pennants. That's the sad thing about this unlevel playing field. It's comparatively level.
The Giants are 2 for 2 in recent postseasons.
Why Baseball is No Longer Central to the Culture
Sunday there was an interesting piece in The New York Times by Jonathan Mahler (“The Bronx is Burning”) on the whys and hows of the waning popularity of Major League Baseball.
He says a lot of what I say. Yes, attendance is up, yes, revenue is up. But TV ratings for national games are down and the sport is no longer central to the culture in the way it once was. People rarely talk baseball the way they talk football. If they talk baseball, it's local. If they talk football it can be the playoffs or the Super Bowl or the Super Bowl commercials. If they talk basketball it can be March Madness. The World Series? Is that on?
So Mahler goes into why this is so.
Here's a key paragraph:
The N.F.L. has certain structural advantages over Major League Baseball: teams play only once a week, and when the postseason arrives, every game is an elimination game. But its real advantage is that it’s louder, faster and more violent — which is to say, better in tune with our cultural moment. “We are a shouting culture now, shouting connotes excitement and engenders excitement,” says Daniel Okrent, who is considered the founding father of fantasy baseball. “Baseball is quiet and slow.”
We're a more loutish country so we have a more loutish national sport.
It’s telling that professional football has been around for about 100 years, but that it didn’t find cultural traction until the age of television.
If baseball was a game you followed, football was one you watched. Beneath the surface, it was an enormously complicated sport. But the passing, the running, the tackling? This was great television. And under the lights, on Monday nights, with Howard Cosell making you feel like the country’s fate hung in the balance of even the most meaningless game? Forget about it.
But he stops there. He doesn't go far enough.
Why has TV been kinder to football and basketball and hockey? Think of those sports. Think of the shape of the football field or basketball court or hockey rink. What is that shape?
Now what is the shape of your TV screen?
Put those sports on your TV and they fit right in. Baseball? Not so much.
Those other sports are two-dimensional. You follow the ball. Wherever the ball is, that's where the action is. Baseball? Well, the ball's in the right-field corner, the runner is rounding second with the tying run. Can he make it in time? Where's the right fielder? Where's the cut-off man? Where's the base-runner now? Around third? Here comes the ball! We want to be watching several things at once. It's requires three-dimensionality but TV flattens everything.
Final thought: If baseball is less central because of TV and because we're more loutish, are these things related? That is, are we more loutish because of TV?
Watching Harmon Killebrew at Met Stadium in the 1960s, I didn't know the sport's centrality was already waning.
Five A.L. Teams with Six Games to Go
Two weeks ago, Sept. 9, I wrote about the final wild card spot in the American League, adding:
Assuming the first wild card spot goes to Texas, which is 1.5 games behind Oakland but 3 games ahead of Tampa ...
Turns out that was a big assumption. Starting that very day, Texas lost seven in a row and 10 of 14. They're now a game back of Cleveland, who is a game behind Tampa.
Here's where we stand. I didn't include Baltimore, who has lost five in a row, and Manny Machado (to the ghost of Earl Webb?), and is now five out with six to go:
|Tampa Bay||87||69||.558||-||51-30||36-39||664||622||+42||Won 4||7-3|
|Kansas City||83||73||.532||3||44-37||39-36||630||581||+49||Won 2||6-4|
|NY Yankees||82||74||.526||4||46-32||36-42||637||648||-11||Lost 1||4-6|
- Tampa Bay: @ Yankees (3); @ Toronto (3)
- Cleveland: vs. ChiSox (2); @ Minnesota (4)
- Texas: vs. Houston (2); vs. Angels (4)
- Kansas City: @ Seattle (2); @ ChiSox (4)
- Yankees: vs. Tampa (3); @ Houston (3)
I'm rooting for Kansas City, forever bottom-dwellers, who has the easiest schedule. I'm waiting yet again on the death of the Yankees (Start spreading the news ...). I'm assuming the one-game playoff is Tampa vs. Cleveland. But you know what my assumptions are worth.
Ideal situation? The Yankees ending their season on the road in meaningless games against the worst team in baseball.
A-Rod Sets Grand Slam Mark; World Yawns
Am I the only one who cares about the grand slam record? It seems so. Alex Rodriguez broke the mark, set by Lou Gehrig way back when, when he hit his 24th Friday night, and there's nary a buzz. Maybe if a better man had broken the mark, one not so universally reviled or tainted, it would've garnered more attention. As is, a blip.
But I think it's more than that. Here's how unimportant the mark is:
Baseball Reference --> Leaders --> .... Nada
Baseball Reference gives you Single Season/ Career/ Active/ Progressive/ Yearly League/ Year by Year Top 10s in these categories, among others:
- Times on Base
- Hit by Pitch
- Double Plays Grounded Into
- Outs Made
They'll also give you some of the newer stats: WAR (their version), RE24, WPA, REW.
But grand slams? Grand schlams.
Growing up, the grand slam mark meant something to me. Maybe because Lou Gehrig meant something to me, seeing as I was an overly sensitive kid and seeing as his was baseball's most melodramatic story. Or maybe it was because Gehrig was hanging out there all by himself with 23. The nearest guys? Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams with 17. Willie McCovey would eventually hit 18 but not until 1977 or so. There was Gehrig and then everyone else.
And Babe Ruth batted in front of him! How about that? The guy in front of you was baseball's most famous base-clearer and yet you hit more grand slams than anyone. Of course, the guy in front of you also walked more than anyone else. That helped.
Obviously, to do this, you need to be on run-scoring teams for a long time and during a high-production era, and Gehrig was and was, and A-Rod was and was. So now the mark is his. 24. Junior's number.
It was even important. It put the Yankees ahead. They were tied with the Giants, 1-1 in the bottom of the 7th, and A-Rod jacked it with two outs. A single, a HBP and a walk and then gone. And then magic. You could almost call it heroic.
What's sad about all of this for people in Seattle? Three of the guys that scored in that historic grand slam for the Yankees were former Mariners: A-Rod, Ichiro, Brendan Ryan. More power to them. It's nice to know that somewhere, something historic is happening.
Yankee mystique: Brendan, Ichiro, Alex.
The Wild Wild Card
After dropping three of four to Boston, the New York Yankees are 10 games back in the A.L. East ... and, thanks in great part to the lowly Seattle Mariners, who beat Tampa Bay twice in a three-game series at Safeco Field, only 2.5 games back for the second wild card spot. Which is turning into a wild wild-card spot.
Five teams are vying for it. Five teams are within 3.5 games of each other: Tampa, then Cleveland and Baltimore (2 GB), then the Yankees (2.5) and Kansas City (3.5). Assuming the first wild card spot goes to Texas, which is 1.5 games behind Oakland but 3 games ahead of Tampa, which of these five teams has the best shot at the post-season?
They each have six series left:
- Tampa Bay: Boston, @Minnesota, Texas, Baltimore, @Yankees, @Toronto
- Cleveland: KC, @White Sox, @KC, Houston, White Sox, @Minnesota
- Baltimore: Yankees, @Toronto, @Boston, @Tampa, Toronto, Boston
- Yankees: @Baltimore, @Boston, @Toronto, San Francisco, Tampa, @ Houston
- Kansas City: @Cleveland, @Detroit, Cleveland, Texas, @Seattle, @White Sox
red = .500+ team
The Yanks and KC are down to just two home series (vs. four away) while the other split theirs (three home, three away).
Cleveland looks to have the easiest schedule: they're playing KC twice and then the three worst teams in the American League: Houston, the White Sox (twice) and Minnesota. Baltimore, I think, has the toughest schedule, including Boston twice, but they're the only team that ends its season at home. Something to be said for that. Of course they end it against Boston while KC ends it on the road against the Mariners and White Sox, while the Yankees get Houston, the worst team in baseball. Something to be said for that, too.
What this really means? We've played 90% of the season, 145 games, and have really only eliminated six of 15 teams. Somewhere, Bud Selig is smiling. Are we? How close is this to the NHL?