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Kansas City Blues

Snoozer Post-Season

by
Guy Bacci

Please excuse me as I wipe the drool off my chin. Somebody just woke me and told me the season was over. Forgive me if Iíve been asleep for so long, but that baseball playoffs was the biggest snoozer of my lifetime.

I thought I could attribute my boredom to í05 hangover, but apparently, fans all across the country are in agreement: This was a brutal playoff field, so brutal that the stumbling St. Louis Cardinals were able to sneak away with the title. And now, in the wake of an 83-win team winning the championship, baseballís playoffs have become the subject of an intriguing debate.

The question goes a little something like this: Why do other sports get praised when an underdog steals the show, but baseball gets ridiculed?

The NCAA basketball tournament, for example, receives an annoying amount of adoration for its ability to produce Cinderella stories. In the NFL or NBA, when a goliath gets taken down, the fans of the sport are giddy. But when a team like the Marlins of í03 or the Cardinals of í06 win the World Series, the response is usually a mixture of perplexity, jealousy and disappointment.

Bud Selig, of course, defends his system. "When the Yankees win every year, people hate the predictability. This is the unpredictability. Well, you cannot have it both ways. And quite frankly, I prefer the unpredictability. That's what makes this game the best sport in the world. There are just so many things you can't predict."

Jayson Stark of ESPN agreed in his final column on the World Series: ďThis isn't an episode of American Baseball Idol. You can't just dial some toll-free number and vote for which teams you'd like to see in the World Series. This is how it's supposed to be -- a system where every team in the field has a chance. It's not an indictment of baseball's playoff system. It's proof that the system works -- way better than anyone gives it credit for.Ē

Stark fascinatingly notes that in the history of the Super Bowl, there has never been seven different champs in seven straight years, as there has been in baseball from 2000 through 2006. Clearly, spreading the wealth is where baseballís wild-card format has shined. More cities have experienced the post-season, and more cities have experience ticker-tape parades as a result. And thereís no question thatís a good thing.

But thereís something that Selig and Stark have left out of the equation. Baseball is rooted in a history of having the most meaningful regular season. For more than 70 years, only two teams made the post-season. With such a long regular season, it seems perfectly fair to reward the team that survives the grind with an immediate trip to the World Series. The whole purpose of a long regular season is to determine which team is sincerely the best, because unlike football or basketball, the cream doesnít always rise to the top after 16 games or 30 games or even 80.

Baseball fans groan when they constantly see wild card teams walk away with the trophy because they know those teams didnít truly survive the infamous grind. Baseball is unique in that fans become emotionally invested over a long summer. They watch their team every day; they start to connect with the players. Itís not the same in other sports. When you dutifully watch your boys win night after night, you expect to be rewarded. You donít expect to get bumped in the first round at the hands of a stinkiní wild card team.

Keep in mind, wild card teams rarely succeed in the NFL or NBA, hence the lack of unique champions from year to year. Chicagoans know it better than anyone when it comes to the NBA. When the best teams always win, upsets become an admired novelty. In baseball, dynasties are more novel than upsets. As Selig said, baseball is unpredictable, so the more teams you throw into the post-season, the more random the results will become. In baseballís wild-card era, upsets are the norm. While Stark is thrilled to see seven different champions, thereís something uneasy about knowing five of those seven champs would not have existed pre-1995.

If you want to be admired for your Cinderella stories, youíve gotta stop having so many of them.

Some folks have suggested dropping the wild card, giving the best team in the league a bye while the other two divisional winners play in the first round. That would certainly add more tension to the regular season, but it would also drop more teams out of post-season contention by the All-Star break. And even that idea would not have kept the 83-win Cardinals out of the 2006 playoffs.

Maybe this is all just growing pains for the wild card format. After all, itís only been around for 13 years. Just as we admire the quirkiness and unpredictability of baseballís long regular season, maybe we will come to admire the quirkiness of its post-season.

And maybe weíll look back at 2006 and say, ďHey, remember when those barely-above-.500 Cardinals won it all? Wasnít that great?Ē


Guy Bacci is from the north suburbs of Chicago, where he couldn't avoid growing up as a pampered and snotty Cubs fan. Luckily, he saw the light in 1985 and never looked back. He loved the hard-working, old-school tactics of Carlton Fisk, who would become his all-time favorite player. His most memorable moment was going to a Sox double-header with his grandfather, who insisted on staying all nine hours (including a long rain delay). Guy is a journalism grad from Northwestern, currently residing in Seattle, where he works as a computer programmer and freelance writer. He can be reached at guybacci@yahoo.com.

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