Thursday, November 17, 2011

Yay, Nobody!

Major League Baseball announced today that two more wild cards are being added, such that 10 of the 30 teams will make the postseason. Mediocre folks should be very pleased at the thought of increasingly rewarding mediocrity, but that’s beside the point. You know, from 1903 through 1968, people were perfectly okay with only one team from each league reaching the postseason. True, I prefer rewarding more than just two teams for having outstanding seasons, but any system MLB uses will have its detractors. For instance, I don’t like wild cards, period, because palpably second-place teams get to make the postseason. Having just division winners make the playoffs at least presents the appearance of only first-place teams battling for a championship. On the other hand, it’s hard to deny that the introduction of wild-card berths has made the pennant races more exciting, or at least agonizing.

During at least one Giants radio broadcast this past season, announcers Jon Miller and Dave Flemming discussed the proposal of adding a second wild-card team to each league, with a single-game wild-card playoff. They seemed to feel that this would eliminate the current problem, which is that first-place teams don’t seem to be rewarded a whole lot for finishing first (except for home-field advantage against the wild card in the Division Series). They have a point: How many wild cards have reached (and won) the World Series since 1995? A lone wild-card playoff game in each league would, at least, eliminate one wild card team from the picture, while the other will have been “penalized” by having to play that grueling “extra” do-or-die game. (I hope that game will count only in postseason statistics, as opposed to the current system in which one-game playoffs are counted as regular-season contests.)

I’d still prefer each league to have four divisions with four teams each, but those who disagree feel that there’s too much of a chance that sub-.500 teams will reach the playoffs (or, worse, go all the way). But that’s what they said when the leagues split into two divisions in 1969, and it hasn’t happened yet. Under my four-by-four setup, only first-place teams would make the playoffs (except that you know MLB would add approximately one wild-card berth per division). Another option, which may be reasonable, is to just put the four best teams—regardless of divisions—into the playoffs (or add wild cards if you feel you must), such that if a division winner goes 79-83, almost certainly there’d be enough teams with better records to keep that team out of the postseason; they'd still get to be division champions, but better teams would make the postseason.

MLB announced yet another coup, namely that the Houston Astros will be moving to the American League for the 2013 season. Right now I’m picturing someone plopping a big glob of peanut butter on the carpet, then trying to clean it up with Windex and a paper napkin—smearing and smearing it, making things worse on the whole, but managing nevertheless to scoop up enough of the peanut butter to enable you to feel like something has been accomplished. The glob was the Brewers. The Astros are the Windex. Nobody is the napkin. Okay, maybe the ever-present threat of contraction is the napkin.

The reason the Brewers moved in the first place, ostensibly, is that before the 1998 season, MLB wanted to put the Diamondbacks in one league and the Devil Rays in the other, meaning that to have an even number of teams in each league, one existing team would be forced to switch leagues. This way, see, they wouldn’t have to schedule interleague games every single day.

But now, instead of moving the team that caused the trouble back to the league where they found it, MLB is displacing another team because of an apparent belief that the more frequent matchups between the two Texas teams will lead to nirvana. Oh, and did I mention the bit about the Astros’ move signifying that each league will have 15 teams, thus ensuring interleague games every single day?

The peanut butter analogy, now that I think about it, might be a less apt one than the amputation of the wrong limb, again and again. I’d love to believe that only MLB could remove the wrong leg twice from the same patient, but I think I’ll go ahead and not believe it.

Friday, September 2, 2011

You Kind of Need to Hear It

Perhaps I should be ashamed that this is my first blog entry in months. But I’m not. Too bad.

So I was invited to a party last Sunday. (Yes, I do get invited to parties. I do! Okay, I wasn’t invited, but my wife was, and I got to go out in public.) Was talking baseball with one of the other attendees, an A’s fan of long standing, and he told me the anecdote below. Sadly, I can’t verify it, and I’m only going on what the A’s fan said and the way he said it, and even though it might lose its impact in words that you see onscreen rather than hear, here goes:

As Bill King and Ray Fosse sat beside him in the broadcast booth in Milwaukee, Lon Simmons was talking about baseball stuff when suddenly he stopped dead and said, “Uuuuugggggghhhh! An elephant died at the zoo!” Like the A’s fan, and like me upon hearing this story, you might be thinking, “What does that mean? An elephant? Is this some kind of baseball slang I haven’t heard before or something?”

“Oh my goodness, Bill! Those brats!,” said Simmons, referring to Milwaukee’s famous bratwursts. ”How many of those did you have?” And the next thing you heard was Simmons and Fosse making “ergh” noises and trying to get away from Ground Zero.

Now, how often do you hear broadcasters accuse their colleagues, rightly or wrongly, of emitting lethal gas? So obviously, if someone in my home and/or immediate family were to commit such an expulsion, which none of us would ever, ever do, the new expression of protest will be “An elephant died at the zoo!”

For some reason this reminded me of a Giants broadcast in which, returning from the break between innings, Hank Greenwald, after several seconds of dead air, made two “geh!”-type sounds, then an audible swallow of what, as I recall, turned out to be a sandwich. “My mother always told me not to talk with my mouth full, but I’m a grownup now and I can do whatever I want.”

Both stories, of course, pale in comparison with the now classic Ron Fairly tale from 1988, which the A’s fan reminded me of and which I seem to have recounted in EEEEEE! about four times: In what evidently was a boring game, Fairly told one of those old baseball stories—I think it was the one about the horse who visits Casey Stengel/Leo Durocher/Yogi Berra/Dave Bristol for a tryout: holding a bat in his teeth, he hammers pitch after pitch out of the park; in the outfield, he catches fly balls in his teeth, then drops them and boots them back toward the infield with his hoof; and when the manager in question asks if he can run, the horse says, “If I could run, I’d be in the Kentucky Derby!” Ah-hahahahahahahahaha!

Upon finishing the story, Fairly started laughing... and could not stop. I don’t know what was cracking him up, because it sure couldn’t have been the story. But eventually, as he’s nearly breathless with laughter, the crowd microphone picks up a fan yelling, “Get a hold of yourself, Fairly!” and then, later, “You should hear yourself, Fairly!” More silence from Ron, and then a snort and a “Hee hee hee!”

The A’s fan mentioned that Fairly and his partner, Wayne Hagin, didn’t get along, so Hagin just sat there, refusing to bail out his partner and pick up the play-by-play. I don’t remember being aware of any animosity between the two, but Hagin’s decision to stay silent would fit with what little I do know about the guy. I don’t miss either broadcaster, but I don’t miss Hagin even more than I don’t miss Fairly.

If you have deigned to read this blog entry and can think of some good broadcaster stories, I’d love to read them.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Buster: Smoked

I’ve written a new piece on Buster Posey’s horrific injury, in case you’re interested If you’re not, shame on you. Shame!