Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

A New “pennantracebaseball.com”

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

Yes!!

We’ve “Updated” our ideas about what “Pennant Race Baseball” means to US;  thus broadening our horizons and expanded the universe of topics we will be discussing here.

While I was growing up, and through most of my adult life, professional baseball WAS season-long Pennant Races that WERE the best possible baseball ever.  And if you can believe it (and you can, because it’s true), the Grand Finale, was EVEN BETTER—The World Series.  When MLB expanded to 24 teams in 1969,  baseball fans  had FOUR excellent professional baseball Pennant Races each Regular Season.  MLB’s excellent Post-Season was tripled.  The LCSs, gave fans not 1, but 3 Post-Season Series.  As a matter of fact,  professional baseball’s season-long “Series” format and Pennant Races were a unique quality in all of Professional Sport. We believe these qualities were major contributing factors in Baseball being the best Sport in America—”The National Pastime”.

Sadly, with MLB going to 2nd place finishers making the Post-Season in 1994, the league and its fans lost true Pennant Race Baseball, and it yearly re-creation of  ”The Best Baseball Ever”. While “The Wild Card” was indeed “New”, it was certainly not possible for MLB to “Improve” on “The Best Possible Baseball Ever”.  (True Pennants are claimed by Pennant winners, only after Regular Seasons end.  With this in mind, it is our belief, that the “advertised” claim that Pennants are awarded after LCSs, is an illogical assertion indeed!)

With MLB and other influential groups, organizations, and institutions, apparently seeking to put  the word “Best” on Life’s B -List, we at pennantracebaseball.com feel a growing sense of personal duty to write about the things we experience as “The Best” in all aspects of  Life.  In so doing, we hope to be a leader in bringing to the forefront, “The Best” that Life has to offer all of US.

 

Folks! I Don’t Think This is “Kansas” Anymore!!

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

The group “Kansas” in “Carry On My Wayward Son” mused that wisdom is NOT knowing.  This “unwise” philosophizing is a  combination of: (1) “1984′s”, “Ignorance is Strength” and; (2)  ”The Wizard of Oz”‘s, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”.  Since wisdom IS knowledge, and a Just Republic needs a wise citizenry, I would ask you to look to Pennantracebaseball.com, as we work to reveal what is happening behind ALL of our Nation’s public “curtains”.  Here is a first thought I would ask you to consider.

Why would any wise major league baseball executive, player, or fan do anything to weaken MLB’s best product and game:  Season long Pennant Races and a World Series that is worthy of its name?  This is what we have always thought MLB teams were formed, and their players born, to compete for.  It is only this highly competitive playing field that contributes to their giving to US (a quaint notion?)—their “personal” best effort.  Which wise sports fan would accept less—we ask?

Pennant Races vs. Wild Card

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Every time Commission Selig talks about the possibility of expanding the number of teams that make it to the postseason he compares baseball to football, basketball and hockey.  He does this to assure baseball fans that adding two more teams to the postseason roster is OK, because baseball would still have less teams playing than the other three sports.  If you accept his assumption that the wild card was a good choice to begin with, then certainly what could be bad about adding more of a good thing.  

Baseball is so different from the other three sports that no good comparision can be made.  By accepting the premise that the wild card is good for baseball, the argument for adding more is just one in which the Commissioner is arguing with himself.  By making the case for pennant races, we will make this a fair fight by putting another person into the ring.

The fact that the regular baseball season is twice as long as the season in hockey and baseball is the reason that any comparision between the sports is meaningless.  Pennant races are superior to wild cards because they better represent the quality of play that occurs during baseball’s extra long regular season. When you give pennant losers any chance to resurrect their season by defeating pennant winners in the postseason, the integrity of the sport is seriously weakened.  Having a 2nd place wild card team winning the championship is bad.  Giving a potential 3rd place team the same opportunity would be even worse.   Any talk of wild card teams needing a handicap in the postseason is an admission of the mockery that the wild card makes of the regular season division races.  In a season as long as baseball’s, these teams don’t need a lesser chance at the World Series;  they need to be given no chance at all by eliminating them entirely! 

People are complaining that the baseball season is too long.   If this is true it is because wild cards, and three divisions per league detracts from strong division rivalries and the pennant races they produce.  Pennant races are higher quality, are more competitive and intense, than wild card.  Adding other wild card team to the regular season mix will only weaken still the division races as teams realize they only need to win a wild card to have a chance at a championship.   This will weaken the quality and competition of the regular season not only for contenders, but also for the fans of teams that are not in contention.

Baseball’s weak regular season is most evident during the month of September.  The sport will never be able to compete with football in September and October until it produces a stronger national product.  Pennant race games throughout the season will develop fan interest in baseball’s best teams.  This interest will  increase when the races heat up in August and September.  Instead of losing viewers as their teams drop out of contention,  MLB will experience increased ratings as all baseball fans are attracted to the best baseball of the year.  After season long races in September fan interest will carry into October as they will be ready to watch the best teams they  have been following all season.  Adding more wild cards and postseason rounds will only hurt baseball further.  Pennant races in September are a much better leadin than extra rounds of playoff for the League Championships and World Series.  By focusing on its best feature, attendance, ratings and revenues will increase and there will be no need for extra rounds of playoffs.

MLB needs to reject the false comparisions of baseball to other sports; and 8 vs. 10 postseason teams.  By closely examining pennant races vs. wild cards they will be in a better position to decide the future structure of the sport when their media contract runs out in 2013.  When this comparision is made it can be seen that between good and bad, pennant races are good for baseball and the wild card is not.  In this light, adding more wild card teams and postseason rounds is only making a bad situation worse.

The Wild Card, League Division Series, and MLB’s Postseason

Monday, November 8th, 2010

The wild card, three divisions, and the League Division Series they create have had a profound impact on Major League Baseball’s regular and postseason. The 2010 postseason and how they did with regard to TV ratings is examined here.  Two important factors that affect ratings are the market size of the teams involved and the number of games played.  6 and 7 games series give a chance to attract more viewers.-1  Competition for viewship by college football and the NFL also influences MLB’s postseason ratings.  Wikipedia discusses the Nielsen Rating system developed by Nielsen Media Research as measuring audiences in two ways: rating points/shares.  Each rating point equals 1 % of the total TV housesholds. “Share is the percentage of TV sets in use tuned to a program.-2

The League Division Series on TBS  lost ratings  this season.  For 15 games the average rating was 2.8, compared to 3.1 for 13 contests in 2009.  These statistics showed both the postive side of series length( Texas v. Tampa Bay, the LDS’s 1st game 5 since 2005 had a 4.1 share) and the negative impact of competition with the NFL and college football.  Game 4 on Sunday afternoon drew a 1.5 rating.  This was the lowest rating since TBS’ cablecasts started in 2007.-3  On Oct 9, a game between LSU  and FLA on ESPN nosed out NY vs. MIN on TBS 3.1 to 3.0.-4  The average rating for 2010 was even with 2008, but the average viewers were up slightly, 4.434 million to 4.282 million.-5

It is worth noting that when MLB reported the ratings for the LDS they lumped it together with the ALCS (which was also on TBS) that went 6 games and also featured the ratings powerhouse New York Yankees. They report a combined 9% jump over last year.-6     When taken as a seperate entity, the LDS does not have the strength to impact positively on the rest of baseball’s postseason.

As was stated above, the ALCS was on TBS this year.  The NLCS  was on FOX.  Game 2  of the ALCS between New York and Texas was the 2nd most watched program in TBS history with 11.9 million viewers.  Number 1 was the 2008 ALCS  Game 7 between Boston and Tampa Bay (13.4 million).-7   MLB reported that the 6 game ALCS in 2010, with ratings juggernaut New York, did 29% better than 2010.-8  TBS’ 2009 match up was the NLCS between PHI and LAD and went 5 games.-9  MLB’s problem when competing with the NFL was further illustrated, when a mediocre match-up between Tennesee and Jacksonville on Oct 18, beat out the Yankees and Rangers 7.2 to 6.5.-10

While information is sketchy on this years NLCS between San Francisco and Philadelphia on FOX (Blackout of games in New York probably gave FOX and MLB little to brag about),  the two games that were reported show the contrast of the LCS’s positive and negative sides.  Game 2 on Sunday October 17 again pitted the LCS against the NFL and the numbers were not good.  Football at 13.2/20 doubled baseball’s 6.5/10.-11  On the other end, Game 6 was able to hold its own against college football, beating Oklahoma at Missouri among the all-important 18-49 age group, 3.0/9 to 2.1/7.-12

Overall the addition of wild cards, and the LDS that comes along with it, has not fulfilled the promise of making MLB competitive with the NFL  in October.  Furthermore, the percentage of ratings important 6 and 7 game LCSs has declined with the addition of the LDS, going from 67% to 59%.  The best series of all, the full 7 game series, has dropped from 33% to 25%.-13   Once again, baseball can do better.

This year’s World Series between San Francisco and Texas with an average rating of 8.4 and a share of 14 was the lowest rated  in history.  While part of the problem may be attributed to Cablevision’s dispute with FOX in New York,  things did not pick up after getting back on the air for Game 3.-14  The series also lacked the money-making 6th or 7th game.  MLB has not avoided lethal competition with football in primetime, as there are now college games on Friday and Saturday, and the NFL on Sunday night.-15  2010′s Game 4 drew a 10.4 rating while the Steelers and Saints had a 11.8.-16

The fact that this year’s series was the worst in history should not be a surprise.  Wikipedia has listed all rating and share results for the World Series starting in 1984.  Of those 26, the worst 5 are all since 2005 (26th 2010: 8.4/14;  25th 2008: 8.5/14;  24th 2006: 10.1/17;  23rd  2007:  10.7/18;  22nd 2005: 11.1/19).  Even the game’s last 6 and 7 game World Series, in 2009 and 2002 respectively, could not escape the bottom of the list.  The 2009 series was 21st at 11.7/19; and 2002 was 20th at 11.9/20.  Conversely, the top 5 rated series all took place before 1991 (1st 1986: 28.6/45;  2nd 1985: 25.3/39;  3rd 1988: 23.9/39;  4th 1987: 23.8/40;  5th 1991: 23.7/39).  Big market teams could be found in the top 5 (New York, Boston, St Louis, and Los Angeles) and the bottom 7 (Philadelphia, St. Louis, Boston, Chicago,  New York, and Anaheim ).-17

While MLB and TBS can point to major gains in this year’s ALCS, the  picture in general, and the World Series in particular, does not point to a situation that favors the status quo.  Interesting division races between Tampa Bay and New York, Philadelphia and Atlanta, and San Francisco and San Diego did not translate into positive rating growth throughout the postseason.  Competition between baseball and football on many dates is still a major problem.   Improving competition with football in September and October was a major reason for changing MLB’s structure in 1994. 

The lack of real season long pennant races that climax in dramatic fashion in September deprives baseball of a strong product to compete with college football and the NFL.  Baseball believes when they allow more individual teams into the postseason it increases fan interest. In reality, this piecemeal strategy leaves MLB without a strong national product.  It decreases October viewers as their teams drop out of contention.  The Division Series has cut into baseball’s ability to provide its fans with ratings critical 6 and 7 game World Series (see this blogger’s “The Division Series or ‘Killing the Goose’ ” October 8).  When baseball fails to capitalize on it best products, pennant races and the World Series, it fails to broaden out its fan appeal in September and October.  Is it any wonder they end up losing the ratings war to more popular regular season football games? 

With talk of MLB adding teams and games to the postseason, now is the time to discuss alternatives that would improve baseball’s entire season. Season long pennant races that build through September will increase rather than decrease TV audiences;  and keep building  ratings throughout the postseason.  Baseball executives would be wise to explore expanding its August and September coverage with its broadcast partners.  By designating a package of 10-15 games emphasizing pennant race action, baseball will augment viewership for the game’s final months.  This package would replace the LDS and become baseball’s unique answer to the 1st round of baseball’s postseason. 

In these hard economic times, MLB’s entrepreneurs should take the risks necessary to add value and provide  a better product for all baseball fans.  By letting baseball be baseball that risk will pay off with a growing fan base.  Quality teams that have been followed all season will replace large markets as a reason for higher postseason ratings.  A rejuvinated World Series will regain its importance as the sports world’s premier event.  Just what the doctor ordered to increase ratings; and revenues for players and owners alike.

Footnotes:

1- http://fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/why-mlb-postseason-tv-ratings-could-likely-to-be-down.com

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/wire?section=mlb&id=5682283  ESPN MLB “TV ratings down for baseball’s division series”  Associated Press

2-http://en.wikipedia.org  “Nielsen ratings”

3- see 1- espn

4- http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-10-12/u-s-cable-television-ratings-for-the-week-of-oct10.html Bloomberg “U.S. Cable Television Ratings for the week of Oct 10″ by Rob Golum Oct 12, 2010

5- http://www.sportsmediawatch,net/2010/10 SMW Sports Media Watch “Division Series Ratings Drop on TBS” Oxt 13, 2010

6, 7, 8, 9- http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20101023&content_id=15813716&vkey=news_mlb&c_id=mlb “TBS postseason coverage ends on high note ALCS Game 6 most watched of season, 2010 rating up 9%” by Jane Lee/MLB.COM 10/23/10

10- http://www.usatoday.com/sports/2010-10-19  USA  Today “TV Ratings:NFL tops baseball despite Yankees’ playoff presence” by Michael Hiestand, USA Today

11- http://www.democratandchronicle.com/article/2010/1019/sports0101/10190307  Democrat and Chronicle.com “NFL vs.MLB on TV? It’s no contest” by Bob Matthews Staff Reporter Oct 19, 2010

12- http://tvbythenumbers.com “TV Ratings Saturday: The Giants Win the Pennant! Missouri Knocks Off Oklahoma, Outlaw Drops” by Robert Seidman Oct 24, 2010

13- http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/history/postseason/mlb_ks.jsp

14- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/world_series_television_ratings

15- http://www.bizofbaseball.com “TV Ratings for Game 1 of 2010 World Series Strong, But DFown From ’09″ by Maury Brown Oct 28, 2010

16- http://content.usatoday.com/communities/thehuddle/post/2010/11 ”NFL’s Steelers-Saints beat MLB’s World Series in TV Rating”

17- same as 14

Division Series or “Killing the Goose”-Update.

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

First I need to correct an error in the original post.  The 1st year of the 7 game League Championship Series was 1985 not 1986.  However, I am now combining the 5 and 7 game LCS years to calculate the effect that postseason rounds have on 7 game World Series.  With this year’s 5 game World Series the new figures are as follows:

World Series only (1947-1968):  22 years/12, 7 game World Series (55%)

LCS only (1969-1993):  25 years/10, 7 game World Series (40%)

With Division Series (1995-2010):  16 years/3, 7 game World Series(19%)

The Division Series or “Killing The Goose”

Friday, October 8th, 2010

I’m sure that just about everyone is familiar with the story of “The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs”, but just in case…

….There was this town that came to the magnificent discovery that they were in possession of a goose that every day would lay one marvelous golden egg.  The town leaders, being generous sorts, decided to share the egg by putting it in the town treasury and using it for civic improvement, to provide aid to town people in emergency circumstances, and the like. All the town’s people were happy, and for a while felt they were blessed to have such a special goose.

        As things will happen in the lives of men and beasts, a few in the town began to grumble.  You could hear some say, “Why do we only get one egg a day.  Surely we can figure out a way to get more eggs than that!”  Little by little, the grumbles developed into a great roar; and the town elders decided to hold a meeting to see if anything could be done to increase egg production.  They came to the conclusion that maybe if they fed the goose more, it would increase the production of eggs.  Sadly, all that the goose produced was more fertilizer.  This made the town people even angrier than before.

         Finally, some one got the bright idea, “Why don’t we chop off the gooses head and get all the eggs at once.”  There was such a large mob, the elders could do nothing but consent to the plan.  They brought the goose to  the center of town and in front of all the people cut off the gooses head.  Lo and behold, when they reached in to get the eggs, they found none.  The goose was dead; and there would be no more golden eggs for the town.

This story came to mind as I finished some research I was doing on MLB’s Division Series and the affect it has on the rest of the postseason, particularly the World Series.  The information I discovered pointed to the fact that the more baseball front loaded the postseason to increase revenues, the more  negatively the World Series was impacted.  By trying to get more golden eggs they are slowly killing the best goose they have.

The reason I say this is because the best World Series possible, ones that go the full seven games, have been declining steadily since the beginning of division play.  It appears that baseball, like no other sport, has only a finite amount of quality product they can expect to tap during the postseason.  If I were to hypothesize why this is the case, I would say this fact is due to the increased use of pitchers during extended playoffs. 

The pitcher is unique in baseball as there is a new pitcher in the starting line-up each day.  This is true of no other position in sport’s playoffs.  After a long season, the competitive balance of the event deteriorates as pitchers are required to pitch more innings during the postseason.  A pitcher who might be good for two or three more starts will not hold up as well over six or seven.

Let me give you the information I have found for Division Series, League Championship Series, and World Series.

Divison Series 1995-2009(series outcomes)

  1. 3-0 = 25  (41.7% of series)
  2. 3-1 = 22  (36.7%)
  3. 3-2 = 13  (21.7%)

League Championship Series 1995-2009

  1. 4-0 =  3  (10%)
  2. 4-1 = 10  (33%)
  3. 4-2 =   9   (30%)  
  4. 4-3 =   8   (27%)

World Series 1995-2009

  1. 4-0 =    5  (33%)
  2. 4-1 =     3  (20%)
  3. 4-2 =     4  (27%)
  4. 4-3 =     3  (20%)

7 Game World Series 1947-2009 (Modern Era)

  1. 1947:     ’47
  2. 1950s:   ’52;  ’55;  ’56;  ’57;  ’58
  3. 1960s:   ’60;  ’62;  ’64;  ’65;  ’67;  ’68
  4. 1970s:   ’71;  ’72;  ’73;  ’75;  ’79
  5. 1980s:    ’82;  ’85;  ’86;  ’87
  6. 1990s:     ’91;  ’97
  7. 2000s:    ’01;  ’02

7 Game World Series By Period

  1. No Divisions  1947-1968:    12  (55%)
  2. 5 Game LCS     1969-1985:      7  (41%)
  3. 7 Game LCS     1986-1993:      3  (38%)
  4. 5 Game DS        1995-2009:     3  (20%)

Notice the steady decline in 7 game World Series as playoff games are added to the postseason.  Couldn’t MLB expect more revenues than they get now if they improved the chances of producing closer World Series?  It is also important to point out that the Division Series is not doing the best it could when only 22% of them end up going 5 games.  Since this one extra week of playoffs determines the rest of what happens in the sport, it is safe to say that it is just not worth it. First you lose real pennant races, then you diminish the World Series.   Keep the goose healthy and take the golden eggs as they come.

Reference: http://mlb.com/mlbhistory

What is Pennant Race Baseball

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

Pennant race baseball is baseball played between rivals for the same division or league pennant; and lasts all season until a pennant is won.  Imagine a baseball season with two divisions per league rather than three and NO WILD CARDS. No wild cards will put team and fan  focus, where it belongs, on the regular season.  When this is done, season long pennant races abound.

I’ve heard it said that modern baseball can no longer do without wild cards because there are too many teams competing.  That is why we need to add a “tier system” to the mix.  With !st and 2nd tiers in each division we can reward the teams that finish in the first tier with better schedules for next season.

Next, we look at the pennant race division set-up; and how the teams finished last season.  This should give a clearer picture of what pennant race baseball is all about.

The Pennant Race Baseball Look 2010

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

During the past few seasons, to get the experience of pennant race baseball,   I have been using actual pennant race and tier games to figure out  day-to-day standings.  Let’s take a look at last year’s final standings.

 Since wild card, non-tier, and interleague games don’t count, you will see different game totals for each team.  No problem, the games behind method still works for assigning a team’s place in the standings(Games over and under .500 are what counts). 

Remember, the important thing is to get the feel of how pennant races work during baseball’s tension building long  season.

EAST                               W    L     GB  

  1. Boston              73   41   —
  2. New York        70   40    1
  3. Tampa Bay      61   54    12.5
  4. Detroit              48   42    13
  5. Toronto            50   63    22.5
  6. Cleveland         38   56    25
  7. Kansas City      38   57   25.5
  8. Baltimore          40  72   32

WEST                                 W    L     GB

  1. Texas                   54   43   —
  2. Minnesota         45   36    1 
  3. Los Angeles      53   47    2.5
  4. Seattle                 52   50    4.5
  5. Oakland              47   53     8.5
  6. Chicago               32   43    11

EAST                                   W    L      GB

  1. Philadelphia       69   48   —
  2. Atlanta                 64   54    5.5
  3. Cincinnati            49   44    8
  4. Florida                  60   55    8
  5. Houston                41   47   13.5
  6. Pittsburgh            39   52   17
  7. New York             50   65   18
  8. Washington         40   77   29

WEST                                    W     L     GB

  1. Los Angeles          71   46   —
  2. Colorado                66   49    4
  3. St. Louis                  50  42    8.5
  4. San Francisco       63  55    8.5
  5. Milaukee                 46  47   13
  6. San Diego                57 60   14
  7. Chicago                    42 50   16.5
  8. Arizona                    49 65   20.5 

1st Tier plays 1st; and 2nd Tier plays 2nd Tier.  So this year Boston, New York, Tampa  Bay, and Detroit play only Texas, Minnesota, and Los Angeles from the other division; 

Toronto, Cleveland, Kansas City, and Baltimore play only Seattle, Oakland,and  Chicago;

Philadelphia, Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Florida play only Los Angeles, Colorado, St. Louis, and San Francisco and;

Houston, Pittsburgh, New York, and Washington play only Milwaukee, San Diego, Chicago, and Arizona.

The fact that a team plays most of their games against division pennant rivals increases the possibility of having great season long pennant races.

Next blogs will start to deal with this season’s races.  I look forward to your comment and discussion.

As Natural as “The Fourth of July”

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

Pennant races are as natural as “The Fourth of July”.  Let me first explain what I mean by “natural”.  In a nutshell “The Fourth of July” springs forth naturally from the events of July 4, 1776.  On that day the leaders of  our young American nation declared their independence from England; and we became a nation unto ourselves.  Over time it was decided to commemorate that day, and the history it, made with a national holiday.  From that time, to remember and commemorate our independence, liberty, and values we started  the tradition of parades, picnics, fireworks, and political oratory that we partake in to this very day.  The day has special meaning for us because it is a natural extention of the real event of our country’s birth.

Like “The Fourth of July” , pennant races are natural events that are a result of the day to day competition that occurs between baseball teams that are rivals for the same league pennant.  Year after year teams during the regular season would play only teams in their own league. The two teams that finished on top of their leagues would play each other in the World Series.  This natural tradition of teams winning their leagues pennants and meeting in the post-season continued during the beginning of expansion.  But with the start of divisional play in 1969, the pennant races began to lose a major part of their “naturalness”.  Teams began playing teams competing for different pennants.  These games lost their natural meaning; and pennant races and baseball suffered as a result.

While divisional play diminished the naturalness of the game, the wild card supplied the death  blow.  No longer would teams get to the post-season by winning their league, or even division, pennants.  Now finishing second could still lead to inclusion in post-season baseball.  The natural occurrence of playing division rivals  no longer leads to division pennants. Nor does it lead to post-season play.

There are other aspects of baseball’s nature that are satisfied by pennant races.  Among these aspects are the game’s simplicity, balance and symmetry, and the long season’s natural rhythm.  On the other hand, wild card competition does not exhibit these natural characterisics.  In fact, they display their opposites.

Baseball is a simple sport. The pitcher throws the ball, the batter tries to hit it.  If  you hit the ball between the foul lines you run counterclockwise trying to touch the four bases before a fielder tags you out. If you touch home plate you score a run.  Three strikes and you’re out, three outs and you go back on the field.  You get 9 chances to score runs.  At the end of  9 innings the one with more runs wins. There”s more to fill in, but if you know this much you can enjoy a game of baseball.  Hit and run.  Throw and tag.

Pennant races are simple, too.  You play each team in your division or league the same number of games over the course of a season.  On the last day of the season the team at the top of the standings wins the pennant.  With wild cards you play W number of teams X times, and Y number of teams Z times. At the end of the season you can “win” two ways.  Either finish the season at the top of your division or……take all the teams in all the divisions and figure out who has the better record.  The team with the best record wins, too.  What it comes down to is a team can both lose and win at the same time! 

 Following pennant races or wild card races provides a good illustations of these differences.  Want to know which team is winning a pennant race on any given day?  Look at the top of the standings.  How do you calculate who is ahead in the wild card race?  Look at all three divisons and see who is in 2nd Place, then see who has the best winning percentage.  But don’t blink, because that team might be in 1st Place tomorrow, and not even in the wild card race!

Balance and symmetry are also part of  baseball’s inate nature.  It  has always been characterized as a “game of inches”.  These inches result from a delicate balance between the team at bat, the team on the field, and the symmetry of the field they proceed on. Pitchers stand 60’6″ from batters, bases are set in a square an equal 90′ apart. Baseball’s sacred historic and traditional statistics result from these simple dimensions. Change the distances by inches (the pitching mound was initially 60’0″ from homeplate, but someone misread a diagram and the rest is baseball history) and you have a much different game.   Furthermore, the offense and defense balances historically on a  scale that from time to time needs adjustment by baseball’s off the field managers. (An example is when the pitching became so dominant in the 1960′s that the height of the mound was lowered from 16″ to 10″.)

The balance of pennant races is maintained by the fact that teams play each team in the race the same number of times.  Also the relative important of a long six month season balanced against a shorter post season also exists with pennant races.  Regular season games are played to determine who finishes !st during that season and the winner of the regular season then plays in the post-season. 

 In wild card baseball these balances are stood on its ear.  As has been noted before, teams competing for the same wild card play different teams a different number of times.  With regard to regular and post-season balance, the wild card during the regular season was put into effect so that there would be more teams getting to the post-season.  When a fan thinks of his team winning the wild card, he is already thinking “post-season”.  The balance of each and every 6 month long regular season game has been thrown out of kilter by visions of extra weeks of post-season play.  It is an example of the proverbial tail wagging the proverbial dog.

This discussion of seasons, leads us to baseball’s final natural characteristic, the sports long rhythmic season culminating in two climactic finishes, regular and post-season.  Each game during the regular season is weighed equally in the standings.Season long competition builds day to day, ending with one team at the top of the standings. In a sport with two leagues, the two winners go on to meet in an ultimate contest to determine the ultimate champion for the season.      

To emphasize it naturalness we can see that we have not only described a season, we have also described a pennant race. In pennant races, as in life (and good art), there is a beginning, a middle, and an end.  The season begins and through every game played, the tension builds and the competition concludes in a climax when the season’s champion is crowned.  This is a description of baseball’s natural rhythm! 

If you look at a wild card seasons you see something entirely different.  Teams play games against rivals for the same pennant; then they play games against rivals for the same wild card (and different pennants);  to make matters worse, games are even play against teams that are neither pennant nor wild card rivals.  As has been said before, we cannot decide when pennant race or wild card race begin because today’s wild card leader could be a pennant race leader tomorrow.  What results from all this is not a rhythm, but a patch work quilt of fits and starts that chaotically confuses rather than naturally flows.

All of these factors can lead to only one conclusion. As “The Fourth of July” is a natural part of our countries deep rooted identity, pennant races are a natural extension of baseball’s unifying essential characteristics.  Introduction of mechanical changes to the game, such as wild cards, need to be examined closely by fans of the game to see whether these changes enhance or detract from the game they love.  It is our reponsibility to work toward restoration, if changes adversely affect baseball’s essential qualities.

The Strength of Pennant Race Baseball

Friday, September 10th, 2010

The strength of pennant race baseball can be found in several charateristics that have been greatly diminished by the wild card system.  These factors include the number of teams played against during a season, the number of divisions leading to the number of teams getting  to the post-season, and the strength of a “pennant race only” focus.

Pennant race baseball creates  structures designed to give season long pennant races between rivals for the same pennant the primary focus.  This leads each team to give a concentrated effort competing with 7 teams.    In contrast, the wild card league thins out its schedule by having its teams play between 19 and 21 teams.  As objects spread out they become thinner and weaker, subject to the wear and tear of time. 

It was often said, before the wild card was introduced, that baseball could not go back to the days when there were two leagues with a regular season that ended with the playing of the World Series. This was true because with expansion  there were just too many teams.  This “no division” set-up is exactly what baseball resembles with its spread out wild card schedule. Baseball might as well finish the proess by creating two 14 and 16 team leagues with no divisions. Have the top 4 teams in each league play in the post season.  By adding interleague play, baseball has thinned out its schedule even further.

Pennant race baseball by taking three divisions and merging them into two has the effect of concentrating baseball playoff energy from 8 teams into 4.  The diffused energy of 8 is like a light bulb; the 4 is more like the power of a laser.  Diffusion also  occurs as baseball teams and fans ping-pong their attention between division and wild card competition during the long season.  Pennant races begin the 1st day of the season and continue until its climactic ending, when a pennant winner is crowned.  Finally, the lose of energy in the wild card league can be seen in September when the leagues best teams pull in their reigns in preparation for the playoff.   They leave the stage for the weaker division and wild card  competitors.

Let’s take a look at how this plays out by looking at the pennant race and wild card leagues as they’re competing today. By listing teams who are within 7 games of top (7 games would still put them in contention during the last week of the season), we can see the teams who are still in contention.

Wild Card League Division Races:

East: NY —;  TB .5;  BOS  6     Central:  CHI  —;  MIN  1.5     West:  TEX  —    

East:  ATL  —;   PHI  2     Central:  CIN  —;  STL  .5     West:  SD  —;  SF  2

Wild Card Races:

TB  —;  BOS  5.5;  MIN  6.5

SF  —;  STL  1.5;  PHI  1.5;  COL  5.5;  LA  5.5

Note the 6 teams who show the conflict in the system, as they are competing for both division and wild card. 

Pennant Race League Competition:

East:  TB  —;  NY  3.5     West:  MIN  —;  TEX  .5;  OAK  2.5;  CHI  3.5;  LA  6

East:  CIN  —;  ATL  1;  PHI  1.5;  WAS  3;  FLA  5     West:  SD  —;  SF  3;  LA  3;  STL  5;  COL  5.5;  MIL  7

In the wild card league we have 13 teams that are competing for 8 post-season positions.  62% will go on, while only 38% will go home.

In the pennant race league there are 18 teams competing for 4 post-season berths.  22% will go on, while 78% go home.

This all displays the concentrated energy of pennant races and the dissipating activity of the wild card.