January 4, 2011
When baseball commissioner Bud Selig announced the formation of a committee last December with one of its charges being to analyze and then suggest solutions to postseason scheduling issues, I looked upon it with a great deal of cynicism. With his track record of failures too long to enumerate (the All-Star disaster, overseeing the steroid era, etc.), I didn't expect much - though I still held out hope that at least a few positive steps would be taken to modify the awful spectacle that is the current state of October - excuse me, November - baseball.
But sure enough, any hope was dashed this week as the only change - and it's actually an affront to the word "change" to label it as such - to the playoff scheduling fiasco was to eliminate the off day between Games 4 and 5 of the league championship series. That's it. No attempt to start the season slightly earlier or eliminate other days off in the postseason. Nothing.
It is an utter travesty and cruel joke that a committee containing such upstanding characters of integrity like Mike Sciosia and Frank Robinson failed to produce anything substantive. It's an insult to fans and, more importantly, to the sport itself.
Much like a hearing in front of the public from the New York MTA to debate possible subway fare hikes, I believe the entire charade of Selig's committee was a foregone conclusion to start with. After all, has there been anything in his turbulent and terrible tenure to doubt where Selig's true allegiance is? That is, namely, to the networks, in this case Fox Sports, and the owners.
So once again we'll have a November World Series and an extended playoff schedule that will allow teams to reset their pitching rotations and other players unfairly. And it's not just the fact that with each successive autumnal day on the calendar the risk of colder and nasty weather increases. More to the point, the extended schedule robs the game of its inherent rhythm by allowing too many off days in a sport where teams are used to playing up to 15 or 20 consecutive days at a time.
To draw a parallel with golf, it's turning baseball into match play rather than major tournament competition. If the current system stays as is, it will further rob the regular season of true importance. Baseball is a marathon, not a series of sprints which is what the playoff is becoming.
What's so frustrating is that the solution to the scheduling situation is so obvious. If Selig had any backbone at all in standing up to the networks and owners (well, he was an owner and sort of still is) and in some cases the players' union, he'd be the one dictating the schedule rather than having the media or other parties doing so. It's in his job description to be the guardian of the game.
Quite simply, baseball should do the following:
* Start the season earlier, say the first of April, every year. April Fool's Day would become synonymous with the return of our pastime. This season, Opening Day for most teams is Monday, April 5. So right there is a savings of four days.
* Schedule more day/night doubleheaders - or for that matter how about reviving that ancient tradition that lasted for decades called the "regular" doubleheader. Say if each team scheduled four doubleheaders, that's additional four days of savings. So now we're up to eight days saved.
* The postseason is scheduled to commence three days after the last day of the regular season. Why not make that two? So now we're up to nine days saved.
* Instead of allowing two - and sometimes three! - off days in the five-day divisional series, reduce that to one. New Total: 10 days of savings.
* Have a firm rule where the World Series starts no more than two days after the completion of the last League Championship Series game played. And if both League winners have won their series in fewer than seven games then start even earlier. As it stands now both teams can wait nearly a week to play a Series game. This would save at least two and possible six days total.
* TOTAL SAVINGS: 12-16 DAYS.
If Selig were to configure the postseason as such then the Fall Classic would end sometime around Oct. 22 instead of well into the first week of November. AS IT SHOULD. If baseball is truly as sacred as its literature would lead one to believe, then isn't the scheduling of the World Series in November akin to moving Christmas into January?
Perhaps the commissioner's office should look to that other league that takes up residence just down the block on Park Avenue, the NFL. Say what you will about the new overtime policy that will take effect in the 2010 postseason, and the new rules have been met with both hearty applause and opposition - I for one think it's a good, gradual change - but the fact is that commissioner Roger Goodell was firm in his commitment to achieve change and went out and did it. Quickly. (The league also has a new rule whereby teams only play divisional games in Week 17, something intended to eliminate the resting of players, another good step in the name of integrity.)
And Goodell's maneuvering to vote on the motion in the swiftest fashion would have made any Congressional parliamentarian proud. Perhaps Washington should take notice? And I doubt one could argue that the new rules will make things more interesting for the most important interest group - the fans.
Maybe Selig will do the right thing one day? Nah, what am I saying?