Baseball has a big problem. One that threatens the credibility of the game.
No, it's not steroids, nor runaway contracts, nor mal distributed team revenue, though each of these is bad enough.
Baseball's biggest problem right now is tying its post-season schedule directly and unalteringly to T.V. network requirements. In other words, games can only be played (or must be played) when the TV network decides.
This phenomenon has completely changed the post-season vis-a-vis how teams are built and compete during the regular season. And, it demeans, diminishes and degrades baseball as a sport. Furthermore, it is fundamentally unfair to the players who are expected to perform at peak levels as professionals.Check this out: since winning their respective divisions, being the two best teams in the American League, the Yankees and the Angels have played only 8 games over the last 3 weeks. That's 8 games in 20 days.
Partly because they each swept their division series, the Yankees and the Angels have played just eight games in 20 days since the end of the regular season.
That's not even taking into consideration that, since both the Angels and the Yanks clinched their divisions a week ahead of time, they cruised into the playoffs on autopilot. How are players supposed to maintain their peak performance when they only play once every three days?
Yet, the Twins, who also won their division, albeit in a one-game playoff on the Tuesday after the end of the season, had to race to New York on a "champagne flight" the same night after conquering the Tigers in order to play a Wednesday game in New York.
So, let's get this straight: the Angels and Yankees have been sitting and waiting for the better part of a month for the playoffs, but a team, like the Twins, have to beat hell to New York on the same day they clinch a division because the playoffs can't wait?
Why is post-season baseball like this?
The reason for the elongated schedule is the recent change in the start of the World Series. From 1985 through 2006, the World Series was scheduled to start on a Saturday. Then baseball and the networks concluded that Saturday was a dead night for ratings. They built a few extra days into the schedule, which pushed Game 1 to a Wednesday.
Oh, television ratings?
Here is America's past-time, revered because it is played EVERY SINGLE DAY (almost) throughout the summer, with a long history of characters, franchises and amazing games--all predicated on a team's ability to persevere and adapt as a unit to the daily grind.
And yet, when it comes to the final few series of the year, baseball becomes something else. One game here, then a break, then a game, then a travel day, then a game, then a break, then a travel day.
Don't take my word for what this change is like at the level of a team. Here's the Angels' manager:
“Ridiculous,” Scioscia said. “I don’t know. Can I say it any clearer than that? We should have never had a day off last Wednesday. We should never have three days off after the season. You shouldn’t even have two days off after the season.
“It just takes an advantage away for a deep team, which everybody feels very strongly is an asset. It takes that advantage away and I think that’s something that Major League Baseball hopefully will consider looking at.”
What MLB is looking at is making as much money as they can from TV revenues. Like so many things in our culture, the "marketplace" has become more important than the product itself, because the bottom line is money, not quality of product.
This has happened time and again, and first began when shippers realized that certain apples "looked better" after handling and a couple of weeks in boxes than the heirloom varieties that tasted better. Give them apples that "look" good, but not the ones that are good.
Maybe this would be acceptable if it weren't so diametrically opposed to the reality of regular season baseball. The playoffs are now going to favor the teams with a BIG STARTING PITCHER and a couple of ace relievers. I mean, how many times do we have to watch Captain Cheeseburger throw a game? We are rewarding teams who have the ability to hide behind just a couple of key players. Over and over again all the way to the championship. The time is not far away when a single pitcher wins all FOUR games in a championship series. Mark my words, it will happen.
Mainly though, baseball is just wrong about this. When you give up the every day drama, you lose connection with the fans. This is not like football. All the media hype, reporters filing meaningless stories about this or that. It's baseball. The only real thing to do is to play. And play every day. And may the best TEAM win.
Unfortunately, though, at least during the post-season, MLB has decided that playing baseball regularly is not something they can afford to do.
As a result, game 7 of the World Series is now scheduled for November 5th. November 5th!!! If the weather cooperates. If not, they will play it the following spring. So much for the "Days of October" or "Mr. October."
Truly, this is the very definition of corruption. And someone, somewhere has to stand up and call this ridiculous practice of first setting the TV schedule, then the baseball teams who will meet it, for what it is. Kudos to Mike Scioscia.