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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Speaking of Playoffs!
by Hal Vickery

I guess that when Major League Baseball decided to expand to the current 30 teams and split into three divisions instead of the ďtraditionalĒ two theyíve gone with since the 1969 expansion, the selection of a wild card team became a necessity.† †

More likely, though, is that the split into three divisions was an excuse to add a wild card and, therefore, another round of playoffs, with the not-so-coincidental effect of putting more money into MLBís coffers.†

Oddly enough, though, over the decade since the extra round of playoffs has been in existence, Iíve found myself becoming less and less interested in the Division Series.† Perhaps it has something to do with the Sox having made the playoffs only once since their addition.† More likely, though is that I really donít care about the playoffs until League Championship Series.†

I know Iím probably in the minority on this, and perhaps the reason is that I really do miss the eight-team leagues in which each league champion was determined by playing 154 games.† Heck, Iíll even concede I liked the ten-team leagues when the league championships were determined by a 162-game schedule.†

Even the league championship series after the 162 game season wasnít all that bad after the initial split into two divisions.† (As a side note, people have complained in recent years about the unbalanced schedule, but both leagues played just such a schedule for several years after the split into divisions.† The first league to go to a balanced schedule was the American League when they expanded to fourteen teams in 1977.† I personally hated the concept of playing more games outside your division than inside.)† It made sense for the division champions to play each other.†

My problem, I guess, is with the concept of three divisions.† Because a league cannot have fifteen teams, it was necessary for a 16-14 split between the leagues.† Going with two divisions in each league would have kept the American League at two seven-team divisions while the National League would have had divisions of eight teams, the same size as the original leagues before the first expansion.† Nobody complained teams being out of the race when the leagues themselves were that size.†

I guess the whole wild card concept keeps fan interest up in those cities in which there is a chance for the local heroes to make the playoffs as a wild card.† It certainly must have kept interest alive in Houston.† The Astros didnít have a chance at anything but the NL Central Wild Card slot after their horrendous start and unbelievable comeback.† †

I doubt if it helped keep interest alive in the Giants since they were battling the Dodgers until almost the very end of the season.† Did it keep interest alive in the Cubs?† Perhaps, but it didnít help attendance since their season was sold out in February.† It didnít help the Aís or the White Sox because Boston had their spot sewn up long before the last few games.†

Maybe itís a good thing that Boston, who actually had the second best record in the AL will be facing the Yankees in the American League Championship Series.† Thatís a big enough rivalry to arouse my interest.† And of course, Iíll be interested in finding out whom the Yankees will be playing in the World Series after the Red Sox inevitably lose to them.†

But for me, the Division Series are an extraneous round of playoffs that just donít interest me unless the Sox happen to be in them.† Iíve caught a few innings on the radio and less than an inning on TV.† I spent Saturday night watching the Science Channel reruns of James Burkeís ďThe Day the Universe ChangedĒ and J. Bronowskiís ďThe Ascent of Man.Ē† †

The same wonít be true next weekend.† Once we get to the League Championship Series, Iíll be watching.† Until then, Iíll take a pass.†

--------

Apparently the last two season, in which teams with low salaries won the World Series, werenít a precedent.† This year the one team with a modest budget† was easily dispatched by the club with the highest payroll in the game.† †

Hereís hoping that The Chairman learns a lesson.† A low-payroll team making it to the World Series, let alone winning it, is a fluke.† The Soxí payroll, somewhere in the $60 millions wasnít enough to put them close to the Twins.†

That should teach them another lesson.† The single most important reason that the Twins made it as far as they did while the Sox didnít was that the Twins put together a pretty balanced team for the budget they had.† The Sox under The Chairmanís ownership have done that maybe twice.†

Yet, the Twins talent didnít even come close to matching that of the Yankees, even in a down year for the Bronx Bombers.† This leads to two conclusions as far as the path The Chairman and his minion Kenny Williams must take.†

First, the purse strings must be opened.† The Sox have to quit spending like a middle-market team when they are in the third largest market in the country.† They need to actually go after big-name free agents, rather than try to acquire talent on the cheap.† They need to put together a strong club for April, not fill holes in July.†

Second, as weíve been harping on for weeks, the money needs to be spent wisely.† For once, all three areas of the game (pitching, offense, and defense) need to be strong.† For two many years the Sox have tried to bludgeon the league into submission to overcome mediocre pitching and sometime horrible defense.†

Itís time for balance, and itís time to spend money to attain that balance.† Unfortunately, the history of The Chairmanís stewardship of the Sox shows that whatever Kenny Williams tries to do, heíll have to do it cheaply.† †

And if that happens, look for Cleveland, and maybe even the Tigers, to overtake the Sox in 2005.


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

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