The season ends with a mighty roar just a half stride before the gathering storm. November beckons. It is time – maybe overdue – to put the baseball season to rest. They were shivering in the seats as the Detroit Tigers vainly expired. Not that the San Francisco Giants were unworthy. Baseball generations down the road may well marvel at what they did with so much casual élan.
To survive against the Reds, the Giants had to win three straight with their backs to the veritable wall, and they did it. To survive against the Cards, the Giants had to again win three straight with no margin for error, and they did it. It was thereby no surprise that the Tigers submitted so meekly before them, acquiescing to the inevitable. That, of course, would be the very same Detroit Tigers who had so smartly humiliated the lordly Yankees just 10 days earlier.
You ask, who could have programmed this illogical scenario? The glory of this wonderful game is that sometimes it makes absolutely no sense.
We scorned the Yankees for their pathetic performance against the Tigers. Recall how inept their core sluggers at the heart of their bloated lineup – Brothers Cano, A-Rod, Granderson, Chavez, and Martin – were made to look as they went 4 for 58 while the team bowed in four straight. You may also recall how the Tigers were guffawing about all that. Then, against the Giants, Detroit’s mighty Bash Brothers – Messrs. Cabrera and Fielder – went a sorrowful 4 for 26 and the Tigers, too, were over and out, in four straight.
Give the Giants the credit they deserve. It was a most impressive performance and it verified the notion, developing among the game’s better students, that their manager, the quiet and totally unassuming Bruce Bochy, now ranks as the best in the business. Which hopefully takes as little as possible away from his defeated foe, the estimable Jim Leyland of theTigers. Let’s just say he’s second best.
It wasn’t a bad World Series; just too swift, one-sided, and lacking in ultimate drama. Maybe way back in the good old days of 1914, when the “Miracle” Boston Braves vanquished Connie Mack’s almighty Philadelphia Athletics in four straight, a bloody sweep was considered a thing of beauty. Nowadays it’s generally regarded as a bit of a bore.
Whatever, we can be thankful that it’s over, ending mere minutes before the descent of early winter gales began to bring half the Republic to its knees. As the last out was being recorded in Detroit, the temperature was dipping into the 30s. No thanks!
Mercifully, it’s over. So what grades do you give the entire 2012 season? Mixed at best, it says here.
Other small market franchises like the cost-conscious Giants also fared well. The dramatic rise of the Orioles, A’s, and Reds was immensely pleasing. The most stirring such tale was in Washington where the Nationals, drawing on the colorful legends of Joe Cronin and Goose Goslin and Heinie Manush, gave the capital its sunniest summer since the otherwise unforgettably bleak season of 1933. The young Nats had baseball’s best record until a sincere if misguided decision to shut down their meal-ticket, Stephen Strasburg, ended their fanciful run with a thud.
Necessarily, the rise of traditional weaklings means problems for traditional high-rolling, big-spending, large-market bullies and that fact is something the Great Unwashed Baseball Public always finds amusing. West of the Connecticut River there were very few tears shed for the disgraceful season the Red Sox conjured. The Phillies, Angels, Dodgers, and Mets were other big-market big-footers that failed notably. Then the Rangers and Braves expired meekly in the first round and the Yankees soon followed with huge embarrassment. It was not a good year for baseball’s purveyors of conspicuous excess.
Otherwise, business was good, though not great. MLB attendance remained strong despite the on-going sluggishness of the economy. But TV ratings, especially at the almighty network level, continue to tumble, reaching historic lows in the World Series. It’s still more troubling evidence that baseball’s connection to the vast middle ground of the casual sports consumers – those not wedded to a team or cause but mainly just seeking entertainment –continues to slip sharply.
This is the audience pro football owns. Baseball has feature events that don’t much out-draw hockey on the tube. This should worry the baseball moguls. Already fretting are the network moguls chagrined that commercial revenues aren’t rising in step with broadcasting-rights fees.
Various controversies spawned by the contrivances of the Bud Selig era that remain unresolved will command more attention on the off-season agenda. Leading that list should be the profoundly dumb idea that hands precious home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the trivial and otherwise pointless All-Star game. It’s more and more under fire and deservedly so because it’s an awful way to do business. Most importantly, it totally fails to appreciate how important that edge is with its guarantee that the first two and (if necessary) last two games will be played on the field of the team that enjoys the home field.
It’s an advantage that should go to the team with the best record. Period! Yes, that certainly imposes a greater burden on the finalists trying to deal with ticket sales, logistics, accommodations, etc. Tough! They’ll find a way. “Best record” is the only standard that makes sense, and it ought to have been that way since the first October opus, 109 years ago.
There has never been better verification of the point than the 2011 season, when the Cardinals, with by far the worst record of the eight post-season qualifiers, got home field advantage over the Rangers, who had the best record. There’s no way of proving it but I’d bet the ranch there’s also no way St. Louis would have pulled out their larcenous seven-game coup had they not played the last two in their chummy and very raucous backyard.
As it happens, this year the Giants, who won six more games than the Tigers, got home field and deserved it. But the fact that the All-Star game had anything to do with it remains ridiculous. If the erstwhile “Mid-Summer Night’s Classic” were to have no more meaning should this “honor” be stripped away, then so be it. Let the thing fade away if need be. It will not be greatly missed.
Admittedly, Boss Selig’s ever expanding post-season format otherwise passed its first test with a minimum of aggravation. Doubling the wild cards added to the buzz, however regrettably. That odious gimmick is here to stay, one sadly acknowledges. But there’s no way the one-game, wild-card playoff will be tolerated. It has to be adjusted to two out of three games – immediately. The one-game showdown is just too much of a crapshoot. The teams want these showdowns to be two-out-of-three deals. So, too, do the networks, recognizing it as a certain ratings and revenue booster.
Interestingly, the earlier rounds of the playoffs, which tend to feature more intense and competitive action, have become the more desirable attractions. As the playoffs proceed, quality tends to recede. Save for last year’s heavily tainted but decidedly exciting Cardinals-Rangers Pier-Sixer, and perhaps the Yanks-Phils shebang of ‘09, the alleged Fall Classics of this millennium have been consistently ordinary, with the ‘07 thing between your Red Sox and the Rockies being Exhibit A, at least until this year. Sorry about that!
The World Series has begun to suffer from Super Bowl syndrome. The real challenge is in getting there, and more often than not, all the drama is expended in that process, allowing too often for the grand finale to be disappointing. What baseball most needs is a genuine epic of an end-game, like the 1975 gem. Dream on, McDuff!