Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Zen Dayley: Thanks, Hank, for revealing yourself as a closet Jays fan

The best posts, like the best trades, are the ones you don't make.

Case in point: Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner last week pretty much ruined anyone who hates MLB's divisional alignment from ever begin taken seriously on the subject. It was a Carnation instant column. Steinbrenner, a member in good standing of the Lucky Sperm Club if ever there was one -- yaya, born on third base and thinks he hit a triple, just like Bush; thanks Tips, for the overly obvious connection that would have been ballsy back in 2003 -- is a fine one to complain about "unfair."

It was easily dismissed as a cheap shot at universally beloved ex-Yankees manager Joe Torre, whose Dodgers won the NL West with an 84-78 record.

The hell of it is, it was not a bad point. It simply a case of someone being a bad pointer-outer.

The current playoff system, which ensures baseball of having most major media markets in the U.S. and no markets in Canada represented in the post-season, is just slightly short of an abomination. Who knows, perhaps Hank Steinbrenner acts the way he does because deep-down, he really would like to be part of the Blue Jays -- they were the only visiting franchise that had a winning record at Yankee Stadium.

Don't get me wrong. You can still enjoy tonight's San Diego County Credit Union American League Central playoff between the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox. (That's not the official name, but a one-game playoff between a pair of 88-74 teams should have the same corporate imprimatur as one of those Dec. 28 college football bowl games, don't you think?)

The three-division, one wild-card team setup for the playoffs and the unbalanced schedule (quoth The Tao of Stieb: "Our kingdom for a balanced schedule") are in bad need of a divorce mediator.

Baseball tries to have it both ways. Maximizing revenues by having more matchups such Yankees-Red Sox, Dodgers-Giants and who can forget, Marlins-Nationals, is good for business. At the same time, though, it's hypocritical to have only one wild-card berth when not everyone runs the same race.

It's been mostly forgotten that before it instituted the three-division alignment began in 1994, baseball floated the idea about keeping the two-division setup and having two wild-card teams per league.

From a pure competitive standpoint, that would be an improvement. There should also be a balanced schedule (in the 1977-93 era, the Jays played each AL East team 14 times a year and played 13 games against the other half of the league; now the arrangement is more like 18 and nine -- and you wonder why they can't win in the same division with the Yankees, Red Sox and information-rich Tampa Bay Rays).

The current setup ignores the strength-of-schedule questions entirely. It's like having a 100-metre dash where some runners only have to run 75 metres and some have to run 125 -- and no one notices.

(Digression: It also ignores that the whole history of baseball is a history of money, as greater minds such as Charles P. Pierce pointed out long ago. One argument is that if you want to have three divisions, then divvy the teams up by the Forbes MLB Valuations.
AL Upper Class: Yankees (1st), Red Sox (3rd), Angels (6th), Mariners (11th), White Sox (14th)
AL Middle Class: Indians (15th), Rangers (16th) Tigers (17th), Orioles (18th), Blue Jays (22nd)
AL Lower Class:
Twins (25th), Athletics (26th), Royals (27th), Rays (29th)
Please bear in mind the Twins open a new stadium in 2010, so their equity will increase. In case you're wondering why a rich team like the White Sox, in a market the size of Chicago, doesn't play in the AL East, well, owner Jerry Reinsdorf is tight with Bud Selig, hence the cushy setup. It's like the old Norris Division in the NHL, where two out of the Original Six of Chicago, Detroit and Toronto was assured of making the playoffs -- and even that was not enough for the Leafs sometimes.)

I can already hear people going Bob Costas on this: But if you had two wild cards, then before long a third-place team would make the World Series. This season, the 89-73 Yankees had the fourth-best record in the American League, so wouldn't they have been bailed out if your idea was in place?

That is no worse than what is happening already. The Twins and White Sox, one of whom is eight wins from going to the World Series, played .368 baseball against the AL East. This includes a combined 1-13 record against the Jays. In other words, neither of them was demonstronably better than a fourth-place team:

Vs. the entire American League
Jays: .542 (78-66)
White Sox: .528 (76-68)
Twins: .514 (74-70)

Vs. AL East
Jays: .514 (37-35)
Twins: .371 (13-22)
White Sox: .366 (15-26)

Vs. AL Central
Jays: .667 (24-12)
Twins: .597 (43-29)
White Sox: .597 (43-29)

Vs. AL West
White Sox: .581 (18-13)
Twins: .486 (18-19)
Jays: .472 (17-19)

Twins: .778 (14-4)
White Sox: .667 (12-6)
Jays: .444 (8-10)
Please don't take this as an apologia for the Jays. There is no excuse for their results in interleague and vs. the AL West. (Give them the Twins' interleague record and the White Sox's record vs. the West, and they would have won 10 more games, enough to make the playoffs.) It just needs to be pointed out, at a time when cracker-ass cracker Canadian media outlets are calling an 86-win season in the loaded the AL East "dismal," that the system is broken.

It's broken as far as rewarding good teams goes, but baseball is getting what it's wanted. There is no New York team in the post-season for the first time since 1993, but the second and third-biggest TV markets on the East Coast, Boston and Philadelphia, are represented.

A White Sox victory tonight would put both Chicago teams into the playoffs for the first time since they met in the 1906 World Series. Only one team west of the Rocky Mountains played winning baseball outside its division, but both Los Angeles teams are represented, yes, even those Joe Torre-helmed L.A. Dodgers with a $118-million US payroll and 15th-best record in a 30-team league.

One has to keep the horse in front of the cart. Baseball is business. It's a lot more enjoyable, and more rewarding when the Jays get the better of the high-dollar Red Sox or Yankees and all the funny-sounding fans who follow them up from New England and New York State, not to mention the the soulless sellout Southern Ontario types whom you just know all of a sudden became lifelong Bosox fans sometime around Oct. 19, 2004. It would not be the same if they were playing in the same division with Chicago, Minnesota and Kansas City. (Does anyone even remember the Jays and Detroit Tigers had a rivalry?)

It's just needs to be pointed out that the balance between revenues and TV ratings and the true spirit of sport is out of whack.

Baseball went to this format in the mid-1990s because, in a desperate hour, it lost sight of the truth that the game will always win over all, eventually. That left us with this abomination of a playoff format. It also begat interleague play, unbalanced schedules the steroid era.

Anyone who keeps saying "the Jays missed the playoffs" is missing the point entirely. They have run out of excuses, that's true. Another truth is that their race is longer than certain other teams'.

Hank Steinbrenner argued the right point, just for the wrong reasons.

Damn, the Jays
  • Please read The Tao's fair and balanced take on the Paul Godfrey years. You have to credit a man who be president of a team for eight years and never learn a damn thing about the game.


eyebleaf said...

Excellent post Mr. Sager.

Duane Rollins said...

It was a good game though...

I actually was going to make a post about Hankie's comments last week, but didn't find time before leaving. I'm happy to see it up here...

Mike said...

great post!

agreed, it's been almost unfair for a while now for the AL East teams not making the playoffs because of the ridiculous strength of the Division. the system does need to be amended and fixed, that's for sure!