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Postseason Scheduling Simply a Disgrace

In 1968, the troubled but brilliant Denny McLain had one of the great pitching seasons of all time when the right-hander became the last hurler to win 30 games, posting a 31-6 record as his Detroit Tigers won the pennant and went on to face the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

But it was his teammate Mickey Lolich who turned in one of the most heroic - if often

overlooked - pitching performances ever in the 1968 Fall Classic when the portly left-hander tossed three complete game victories to lead the Tigers to the title (in so doing, the Tigers also became the third team in World Series history to overcome a 3-1 deficit).

What made Lolich's feat all the more extraordinary is that he pitched the seventh game - against Bob Gibson, no less - on only two days of rest. Unfortunately, baseball fans will likely never witness such a feat in current and future postseasons as never again will a team even have to even consider using their ace on two days of rest.

The reason for this is the inane and utterly heretical way in which the postseason schedules are fashioned. What Bud Selig and the other MLB executives ensconced in their Park Avenue offices - along with the players union - have accomplished is to further diminish the importance of the grueling regular season.

The manner in which the schedule is currently configured in the postseason, especially in the cases of the Divisional and League Championship Series, is far too accommodating to teams in terms of time off during and between the series. This allows far too much flexibility in preparing a team for the playoffs, most crucially with the pitching staffs, thereby extinguishing the advantage of those teams with the deeper rosters - which allowed better, more equipped teams to withstand the rigors of the 162 game season and feel justifiably rewarded.

It's an unwarranted and unnecessary way to level the playing field, all in the name of ridiculously promoting parity and supposed competitiveness.

Now, there was considerable consternation among baseball purists when both the American and National Leagues were expanded to include three divisions and the Wild Card was introduced following the disaster of the 1994 strike. There were complaints that the amplified postseason format would turn baseball into hockey and basketball where the regular seasons are rendered mere preludes to the playoffs.

But this proved to be an unfounded concern. The Wild Card was indeed needed. After all there are now 30 teams and with only eight reaching the playoffs, so it's still only 25 percent of the league playing in the postseason - significantly lower than the other three major team sports.

Additionally baseball did the right thing by maintaining the sanctity of the strength of a division, whereby the Wild Card team cannot meet the division winner from their respective division in the opening round - this certifies that an especially strong division will be born out. So baseball has at least kept the playoffs legitimate in that sense.

But those who consider themselves the moral guardians and spokespersons for their beloved sport have neglected the issue of scheduling and have failed to make the connection between the lax playoff scheduling format and the resulting diluting of postseason integrity.

There was a time when the postseason commenced two days after the final day of the regular season, in both leagues. This was actually the normal procedure for the first 30 years of divisional play in baseball. In fact, in many years the playoffs started the very next day after the season ended.

And consider 1978, the year the Yankees made their historic comeback and forced the one-game playoff against the Red Sox. The one-game playoff was played the day after the season ended on a Monday, and the Yankees then traveled to Kansas City to take on the Royals in the LCS on Tuesday. This resulted in the Yankees not being able to start their ace Ron Guidry in the opening salvo of the LCS and the Royals were able to rest an additional day.

Now, the Yankees did end up winning the series but it was made more difficult with having to travel twice in two days - but it was a warranted task, a type of penalty for being stuck in a tie. But their resulting LCS and World Series victory was made all the more honorable because of their circumstances.

This year, at the start the divisional round, there were either three or four days between the regular season and the playoffs. Why? All this did was allow teams to better set their pitching rotations and to alleviate some of the fatigue that is inherent after six months of playing nearly everyday. And once the division series were finished this year there were four and five days off until the LCS.

What is even far more egregious is the daft and nonsensical insertion of a day off within the LDS and LCS - and I'm not talking about a travel day! There are now two (LDS) and three (LCS) days off during these series. So not only does it allow unfairly a team to regroup, it also arrests momentum from a fan's perspective. Baseball is not like hockey or basketball where one is accustomed to several days off between games. No, America's favorite pastime is an everyday sport and to allow all this idle time is to detract from the compressed intensity that short series bring.

Finally, after the LCS is completed we have more waiting time! Depending on when the championship series conclude, there will be between a four- and seven-day wait for the start of the World Series. Again, this just insults fans and doesn't aid the sport in any way - all it does is satisfy the TV schedulers. Baseball needs to go back to the days when each round of playoffs started two days after the completion of the previous round, including the World Series.

The 2001 World Series lasted until November because of the tragedy of 9/11. It was thought to be a once-in-a-lifetime event. I doubt it though - because if MLB continues on its current path, there will come a time when there will only be one or two games a week in October and baseball will attempt to upstage football as the sport of choice on Thanksgiving.

Award-winning columnist Tim Joyce provides regular commentary for RealClearSports on Sundays and Tuesdays. Email: joyce.timothy@gmail.com

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